IT was ironic that those overseeing the counting of state election votes didn’t prioritise Mildura as one of the “close seats” until the middle of last week.
That was even though fewer than 900 votes ever separated independent Ali Cupper and Nationals MP Peter Crisp after preferences, according to the Victorian Electoral Commission’s progressive tally.
After all, Mildura largely remained off the radar throughout the Victorian election campaign, despite ultimately producing one of its biggest stories.
National and statewide media turning their attention to the election over recent months focused largely on two areas – the sandbelt seats of south-east Melbourne that the Coalition needed to win to have a chance of forming government and the regional seats of the state’s north-east, where some high-profile female independents threw a couple of sitting male Coalition MPs a challenge.
There was some sense to the media frenzy in the north-east. It’s Cathy McGowan territory and Tammy Atkins and Jacqui Hawkins, who contested the seats of Ovens Valley and Benambra respectively as independents, both had close ties to the Voices for Indi movement that propelled McGowan, an independent federal MP, into office.
But Mildura merited far more attention than merely being summarised as a contest between a sitting MP and a high-profile independent that was expected to be “decided by local issues”, as the ABC’s election preview put it.
For months now, Mildura voters have fiercely debated their biggest issues: hospital management, concerns about horticultural development, the burden of council rates on rural communities and the best way to convince governments to spend more on infrastructure here.
In the end, Ms Cupper dispelled her own campaign’s myth of the safe seat and did what her other regional independent counterparts could not – convince much of a traditionally conservative electorate not only that there was a case for change, but that a progressive candidate was the one to deliver it.
Restaurateur and celebrity cook Stefano de Pieri, who knows a thing or two about the challenges of promoting Mildura to a city audience, lamented a lack of wider interest in the district’s cliffhanger election result on Sunday.
“We don’t even rate when we have spectacular change,” Mr de Pieri said.
One of Ms Cupper’s greatest challenges is to convince political and business leaders, as well as metro media, that Mildura has an important part to play in the fortunes of the state.
Based on the number of times the leaders of both major parties visited Sunraysia over the past four years, she will have plenty of work to do.
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