CURRENT Upper House MP James Purcell will step down to contest the seat of South West Coast in the upcoming Victorian election.
Mr Purcell said the electorate had to become marginalised, or be held by an independent candidate, if the region was ever going to get its fair share of government funding.
"Otherwise we will always be the poor cousins," he said.
"Now is the window of opportunity, with a good field of strong independent candidates who put the two major parties last it can happen," he said.
Mr Purcell said he could remain in the Upper House with a good prospect of getting re-elected but could achieve far more as a Lower House member.
He said a strong field of independent candidates capable of attracting votes was crucial for the seat to at least become marginal.
"Those candidates need to be able to attract a significant number of votes, to preference each other and put the major parties at the back of the field," he said.
"The preferences will be crucial and hopefully the independent candidates will see it the same way I do to take us into that marginal position."
Experts are tipping if Liberal MP Roma Britnell gets under 40 per cent of the primary vote, she could be vulnerable if preferences are directed against her.
Mr Purcell said all current candidates had ties to the Warrnambool and Moyne, while the Glenelg region was not represented.
"No one has put up their hand as yet to stand, it would be good if they did," he said.
"It's important they get well represented. We've set up an office in Portland, we've said that if elected I'll have a permanent office in Portland and that's something Portland district people need."
Mr Purcell said he had put a lot of thought into standing for the Lower House seat during the past 12 months.
"The easiest thing for me to have done would have been to stand and more than likely get elected in the Upper House again," he said.
"But, I believe the best thing I can do is to stand for the Lower House, to try and get elected and if I don't get elected I'll certainly make it close.
"That means we'll get attention from the government, whoever it may be, and we will be in a much better position to get our share of funding."
Mr Purcell said he had seen what Shepparton independent member Suzanna Sheed had been able to achieve for her electorate.
"Suzanna has an office next to mine in Parliament House, we're good friends and what she has been able to achieve - there's a new hospitals, schools and transport," he said.
"Once you see those benefits Shepparton has got from having an independent, it inspired me to throw my hat in the ring for the seat of South West Coast," he said.
Experts say improbable but not impossible for Independent candidates
POLITICAL pundits are claiming it's improbable but not impossible for an independent candidate to win the seat of South West Coast at next month's state election.
Monash University political lecturer Dr Nick Economou's initial response was far less flattering after hearing Upper House MP James Purcell was standing for the seat.
"I would be surprised if he gets his deposit back, that's four per cent of first preference votes," he said.
"I'm not sure why he would think he would do well. It's a Labor Government and it's a very strong Liberal seat. If people were disillusioned they would be voting against the Government for the Liberals.
"If there was a Liberal Government people might vote for an independent. The other situation would be if the local Liberal member was such a disaster that voters were looking for an alternative. I don't think Roma Britnell ticks those boxes.
"I expect that Liberal voters will get behind their side."
Mr Economou said for an independent to get up they would have to get at least 30 per cent of the primary votes, probably into the 40s.
"There needs to be decisions made on who to preference last not just the major parties in the bottom two by the independents (Warrnambool’s Michael Noeh is also standing), but who is actually last," he said.
"But, once again someone would need to poll over 30 per cent of the primary vote - which they won't - otherwise you are just going to elect one of the major parties.”
Dr Economou said it was possible to get into the Upper House with a very small primary vote but not the lower house, because of the compulsory preferential voting system.
However, he said that a candidate was elected with just 16 per cent of the primary vote in the Federal seat of McMillan in 1972, east of Melbourne, due to a anti-Labor vote and a very strong list of independent candidates.
"It's highly unlikely that will happen again," he said.
"I think all the independents will come out of the count and I think preferences will get the Liberal candidate elected, comfortably.”
Mr Economou said Suzanna Sheed was elected as an independent at Shepparton due to a very specific set of circumstances.
He said the sitting Nationals member Jeanette Powell had retired and the Federal Government failed to support the SPC fruit cannery.
"Prime Minister Tony Abbott and treasurer Joe Hockey stuffed things up. They vilified the SPC workers as Labor Government unionists when that was not the case," he said.
"Voters rebelled even even after the Napthine government stepped in. The government was overwhelmed by the attitudes of voters."
Dr Economou said that was a one-off, localised issue and again the Coalition was in government in Victoria.
"In South West Coast that big issue is absent. In Shepparton, the Coalition was in government and had left an element of their core constituent unsatisfied."
Dr Economou said that voters would have seen that Mr Purcell had sided with the government on a number of issues.
"If I was an opponent, one of first points I would be making to the constituency is that," he said.
"His likelihood of being elected member for the seat of South West Coast is not impossible but highly improbable.
"Rural voters do have a better track record of looking at independent candidates. My impression is that in this situation there wouldn't be a prima facie reason for rebellion to that extent."
Dr Economou said voters in Mildura and Gippsland had rebelled in the past but only after six years of the Kennett Government reducing services.
"That stuff really angers voters. While the Labor Government is now seen as providing resources to the city, that's likely to prompt a vote for the Liberals,” he said.
"I would be surprised if any one of the independents got over 10 per cent of the primary vote. I would bet London to a brick that Mr Purcell is seen as a Labor stooge because of the way he's voted in upper house.
"It's very difficult to get elected outside of the major parties and not in South West Coast at this time. My feeling is that it's most likely that there will be the return of the sitting Liberal candidate.”
Deakin University commentator Dr Geoff Robinson said the Upper House vote in South West Coast region in 2014 was 42 per cent for Liberals and Mr Purcell got 6.3 per cent.
The former Warrnambool resident said he expected there would be a swing to Labor from former Liberal Premier Denis Napthine voters.
"I expect Greens would preference Labor, so it's quite a hill for Purcell to get over," he said.
"Portland was Napthine’s base and with him gone, voters there are up for grabs there, but that has traditionally been a strong Labor area.
"Mr Purcell needs to push down the Liberal vote but also needs Labor voters to come across in large numbers and I'm doubtful about his chances of doing so."
Dr Robinson said with Labor, Liberal and the Greens highly likely to get about 70 per cent of the vote, it would be difficult for the independents to make significant inroads.
"It's been a safe Liberal seat. Mobilising people who vote for one party to shift to an independent is not easy," he said.
"With the Greens preferencing Labor, I would expect the Labor vote to push into the low 30s.
"There's more drift in the country but Mr Purcell even needs to encourage Green voters to vote for him.
"It's an uphill road for him. It's worthwhile giving it a go but I just think it will be difficult."
Dr Robinson said when there was a strong core Liberal vote it was always difficult to unseat a sitting MP.
"Napthine supporters are up for grabs, but it's a safe-ish Liberal seat, not as safe as when Napthine was there, but still safe," he said.
"I think the final result will be the Liberals will hold the seat fairly easily with Labor increasing their vote."
Dr Robinson said a high-profile Portland candidate would have an impact but with more independents may not work in their favour.
"They tend to cannibalise each other’s vote," he said.
"This is not a campaign polarising or divisive for Labor voters which is going to lead to them deserting their party and moving across to support an independent.
"I'm guessing a reasonable swing to Labor considering that Napthine is not the candidate," he said.
"The best I think the independents could manage between them 25 per cent of the vote but that is not enough for one of them to be in the final running.
"The problem for candidates like Purcell is they want to contend for Labor votes while trying to win a conservative seat.”
Historically South West Coast a toss of the coin, preferences now crucial: Napthine
HIGHER-profile independent candidates like James Purcell will make preferences crucial in the South West Coast poll next month, according to former Premier Denis Napthine.
Dr Napthine, who first contested the newly established seat in 2002 and won by a couple of hundred votes over Labor's Roy Reekie, said there was much Labor support in Portland and Warrnambool.
Mr Reekie actually won the 2002 primary vote by just under one per cent (352 votes), but Dr Napthine pushed forward after preference to take the seat by 543 votes, on the back of National candidate Gerald Madden securing 11.46 per cent of the primary vote.
"You only have to go back to 2002 in South West Coast. It was a very marginal seat, there was only a couple of hundred votes in it," Dr Napthine said.
"Roy Reekie got within a bee's diaphragm of winning it.
"Over successive elections, we were able to build up the margin through hard work. It's not naturally a safe seat.
"The city of Portland traditionally vote Labor and there's a significant Labor vote in Warrnambool."
Dr Napthine said hard-working sitting members had an advantage.
"That's a message for all candidates," he said.
The former premier, who built up his vote to a staggering 57 per cent in 2014, said high-profile independents would make the vote far more interesting.
"And more exciting. I would say to South West Coast voters to be absolutely alert and interested and active. Take your vote very seriously," he said.
"I think Roma Britnell has done an outstanding job as a new members. She's extraordinarily active and vocal on behalf of the community.
"In regional and rural areas good hard working members have a significant advantage.
"Much depends on the quality of the candidate and Roma has been outstanding.”
Dr Napthine said country people like to support someone who was doing a good job.
"Most people in regional areas vote for or against Labor and then choose depending on the quality of the candidates," he said.
"Roma has done everything to be the best candidate.”