SOUTH-WEST Victorians are being wooed by an unprecedented election cash splash as the state goes to the polls today.
Premier Denis Napthine and Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews are both facing their first election as leaders of their respective parties, with last-minute opinion polling indicating a close contest tonight.
The Coalition has pledged nearly $120 million to the South West Coast electorate compared with $5 million from Labor, the biggest for an election campaign in the Western District.
Dr Napthine, who is also South West Coast MP, said the Warrnambool Base Hospital was the centrepiece of his campaign for re-election.
He said today’s poll would be a tight contest like the 1979 or 2010 state elections, with a result possibly not clear tonight.
“This is a government that has the interests of our region at heart and wants to build stage two of the base hospital, build a new special developmental school and fix our road network,” the Premier said yesterday. “Getting out and meeting people (during the campaign) has been very positive. Last election, we committed to building six passing lanes and all six were built.
“We committed to local radiotherapy services when Labor ignored this area and now we’re on track for the centre to be built.”
The office of the Opposition Leader was contacted several times by The Standard this week although an interview could not be arranged.
A record number of Western District voters have cast their ballots at pre-polling stations, reflecting a statewide trend.
More than 43 per cent of South West Coast voters had cast their ballots pre-poll by 5pm yesterday, with smaller numbers recorded in neighbouring Polwarth and Lowan.
The voting shift was particularly conspicuous in Warrnambool yesterday with queues witnessed at times outside the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) office in Fairy Street.
A VEC spokesman said more sparsely populated electorates such as Lowan and Polwarth were more likely to vote on the traditional election day.
Dr Napthine is expected to vote at a south-west polling station some time this morning, the first time a government leader has cast their ballot in the region since former prime minister Malcolm Fraser at the 1983 federal election.
Election eve polling released by Roy Morgan yesterday revealed Labor and the Coalition were split 50-50 on a two-party preferred basis, indicating a late swing to the Napthine government. Roy Morgan research was the only polling agency to forecast a late swing to the Baillieu opposition in 2010.
However, a Galaxy poll released late Thursday pointed to a Labor victory with a two-party preferred margin of 52 per cent Labor to 48 per cent Coalition. Both polling companies suggested Greens preferences would play a role in a Labor victory.