NO matter who wins tonight’s state election count, the Lowan electorate will have a new representative.
Incumbent MP Hugh Delahunty called time on his parliamentary career earlier this year, leaving a vacancy in the massive constituency encompassing the Wimmera wheatbelt in the north to fertile grazing territory around Hamilton and Penshurst in the south.
The former Essendon footballer and Murtoa farmer held Lowan for the National Party for 15 years, most of which was spent on the opposition benches.
He was part of the move towards the Liberal and National parties returning to a Coalition and later served as a minister in the Baillieu-Napthine governments, covering the sport and veterans affairs portfolios.
The good relations between the two centre-right parties meant he rarely faced a Liberal challenger and his successor as National Party candidate has also been given the same clean run.
Edenhope Hospital chief executive Emma Kealy was preselected as the National Party contender in April and has covered a lot of ground in the months since. The 37-year-old has enjoyed meeting and greeting voters and tackling issues ranging from health to decentralisation.
“I’ve lived in Alice Springs, in Melbourne, in Adelaide but my husband and I wanted to raise a family and wanted to return to the country,” Ms Kealy said.
Ms Kealy has secured Coalition pledges for the region including work on the Grampians Peak Trail and an upgrade of Hamilton’s Baimbridge College.
The candidate with arguably the greatest campaign experience is Katrina Rainsford. The Hamilton vet was a long-term member of the Liberal Party and unsuccessfully stood as its candidate at the 2002 state election.
The Southern Grampians councillor had her sights set on federal politics, contesting the party’s Wannon preselection five years ago, a ballot she lost to then policy adviser Dan Tehan.
Her loss precipitated her exit from the Liberal Party and she stood as an independent candidate at the 2010 federal election. Mr Tehan also won convincingly at the ballot box in their second head-to-head contest.
Dr Rainsford said she relished a return to the political fray and believed the time was right for Lowan to change its political stripes. “The National Party have taken Lowan for granted for far too long, that’s the feeling I get from voters,” she said. “There are a lot of Liberal voters that wanted a Liberal candidate and although I’m no longer a member of the party, I have strong liberal values and want to provide an alternative to what we’ve had in this area for years and years.”
The Liberal Party last held Lowan when Rupert Hamer was premier in 1979.
Another election veteran is Labor true believer Bob Scates. The Murtoa retiree has served as an ALP candidate at two federal elections but tonight will be his first state ballot count.
“There’s no doubt I’m the underdog in Lowan but I’ve always been keen to give it a go,” Mr Scates told The Standard in August.
Other Lowan contenders include Country Alliance candidate Steve Price and Greens candidate Nkandu Beltz. Mr Price is a small businessman based at Brimpaen in the northern Grampians while Ms Beltz is a community worker from Horsham. Despite the lack of an incumbent MP, the bookmakers have tonight’s Lowan result as a foregone conclusion. Ms Kealy is an almost unbackable favourite with the state’s largest constituency considered a National Party bulwark.
It has always been held by the conservative side of politics and punters believe 2014 will be no exception.