Federal Member for Farrer Sussan Ley is expected to face the fight of her political life on May 18.
The Liberal incumbent is so far one of four candidates confirmed for the seat in the federal election, which was called by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at 8am yesterday.
Providing the biggest challenge for Ms Ley will be Independent Kevin Mack, a former police officer, current Mayor of Albury City Council and chair of the Riverina and Murray Regional Organisation of Councils.
Other confirmed candidates include Labor’s Kieran Dabsch and Mathoura’s Mike Rose who, as announced this week, will stand for Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.
Mr Mack has the backing of district grassroots farmers, community members and small business owners who formed Voices or Farrer earlier this year.
Among its members are former staunch Liberal and Coalition supporters, who say they are fed up with the lack of action from a party which has taken their safe Farrer seat for granted.
At a rally organised by the group and Southern Riverina Irrigators in Albury on Tuesday, Ms Ley received what is believed to have been her most hostile reception in her own electorate since she was elected to Parliament in 2001. The rally attracted about 1000 people and almost 140 trucks brandishing messages to pause the Murray-Darling Basin Plan for the sake of future farming in the electorate (see page 3 and 25).
Ms Ley was met with ‘boos’ and had ‘Pause the Plan’ signs thrust in her face as she tried to address the rally.
Mr Mack said the NSW election results on March 23 — which saw the Nationals lose their stronghold seat of Murray to Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate Helen Dalton — shows this region is disillusioned with its representation. Mrs Dalton won the seat with a swing of nearly 27 per cent, and Mr Mack will have to achieve about 20 per cent to take Farrer.
He said he expects a similar message will be delivered in May.
‘‘What we saw in Albury on Tuesday was a great representation of how Farrer is feeling,’’ Mr Mack said.
‘‘They feel their voice is not being heard.
‘‘The voice in Murray shows it did not have a lot of faith in the major parties, and they are now seeing that they can make change by voting.
‘‘That to me is far more important (than pre-polling numbers).
‘‘I have already done 6000 kilometres getting around the electorate and listening to a lot of great people.
‘‘The election being called just formalises that process — I don’t just sit around and wait for an announcement, I just get it done.’’
Ms Ley said she intends to keep up the same pace she has been working at — which has included visits to Albury, Finley, Berrigan, Deniliquin, Griffith, Hay, Balranald, Wentworth and Urana already this week — now the election has been called.
She said her top priority remains the recently announced review of the impact of zero per cent general security allocations.
‘‘I suspect that’s the type of schedule I’ll have right up to polling day and that’s because this election is about hearing what people want from their MP not what I want to tell them,’’ she said.
‘‘Tuesday’s protest in Albury was about the Basin Plan being too inflexible, with not enough give and take between environmental water and water for farmers, and I actually agree with that argument.
‘‘But as I said after the rally, if every one of Farrer’s farmers and irrigators wanted to pause the Plan then I would fight for that — the reality is different.
‘‘And that’s because if you either stop the plan or hold another Royal Commission, what happens next could actually be worse for us, and certainly will be if Labor, the Greens or Independents have control of the Parliament.
‘‘That’s why my biggest priority was to secure an ‘independent’ review of how our communities are being impacted by zero general security water allocations through this drought.
‘‘The Minister announced this review on Wednesday, and I was pleased to see it received immediate backing by both the NSW Irrigators Council and National Farmers Federation.
‘‘The report will evaluate the current rules, water trading and outcomes affecting the Basin Plan, and I am confident it will lead to the common-sense changes our region is crying out for.’’
Mr Mack’s priorities heading in to the election are on mobile and NBN connectivity, improved health services, the development of a national strategy to tackle domestic violence and support its victims and sustainable regional policy. He said unpinning each is water policy, and getting a general security allocation for the NSW Murray Valley.