AGRICULTURAL issues dominated Monday’s Mallee Rally in Horsham with Wimmera voters wanting to hear candidates’ plans to improve the industry.
Eight of the electorate’s 12 candidates and a Greens party representative launched an 11th-hour bid to secure Mallee votes ahead of Saturday’s election.
Labor’s Lydia Senior, Liberal Chris Crewther, the Nationals’ Andrew Broad, Independent Allen Ridgeway and the Citizens Electoral Council’s Chris Lahy faced questions from more than 140 Mallee electorate residents.
Rise Up Australia’s Tim Middleton, Katter’s Australian Party’s Vince Cirillo, Palmer United Party’s Mark Cory and Greens representative Ian Christoe rounded out the rally panel at Wesley Performing Arts Centre.
Victorian Farmers Federation vice-president David Jochinke and grains group president Brett Hosking joined Wimmera farmers in their calls for more support for agriculture.
Mr Hosking criticised the candidates for failing to engage with the federation.
He said the Nationals’ Andrew Broad was the only candidate who had called him.
“If you want the support of Victoria grain growers, you need to contact Victorian grain growers,” he said.
The candidates were all in favour of strengthening labelling laws to promote Australian-grown and produced foods.
Mr Cirillo, a Mildura grape grower, said Australia’s major supermarkets – Coles and Woolworths – undermined primary producers.
He called for legislation to limit the supermarkets’ market share.
“The supermarket duopoly is the cause of a lot of other problems,” he said.
“Unless you legislate it you are not going to stop it.”
Tension between the Coalition candidates, who sat at opposite ends of the panel, was obvious, with the Nationals’ Andrew Broad launching an attack on the Liberal Party.
It is the first time the two parties have gone head-to-head in Mallee for 20 years.
Mr Broad claimed the Liberal Party had treated its Coalition counterparts with contempt.
“I was once a Liberal Party member for 12 months, and as a grain grower I was disgusted with how grain growers were treated and that is why I quit,” he said.
“I have had dealings with Tony Abbott personally and Joe Hockey as Victoria Farmers Federation president – they are very Sydney based and they have not articulated a strong vision for regional Australia.
“Joe Hockey called the Nationals a protest movement so that gives you an idea of the level of contempt they think they can treat country representatives with.”
The rally left the Mallee’s minor parties and Independent candidates with a sour taste in their mouths.
Citizens Electoral Council’s Chris Lahy labelled the rally ‘undemocratic’ for favouring the Liberal and Nationals candidates.
“All the candidates, except Andrew Broad, Chris Crewther and the Greens representative, met for a coffee afterwards and we were all quite disgusted about how the minor parties and Independent had been treated,” he said.
“There are 12 candidates running here and I found it really offensive that I had to answer questions about how I would respond to the Nationals or Liberal Party policies.”
Rally organisers Wimmera Development Association and Wimmera Press Club received 38 responses to an exit poll on which candidate performed best.
Association executive director Jo Bourke said most favoured Mr Broad.
Family First’s Neil Buller, the Australian Sex Party’s Amy Mulcahy and Country Alliance’s Michael Coldham were not at the debate.