South West Coast and Polwarth by-elections: October 31

Challenges to the Liberals from the Nationals have added a certain amount of zest to two Victorian state by-elections being sat out by Labor.

Two state by-elections will be held in Victoria on Saturday, for the neighbouring western Victorian seats of South West Coast and Polwarth. This follows joint retirement announcements on August 31 by Denis Napthine, the former Premier, and Terry Mulder, the former Public Transport and Roads Minister. Both seats are safely conservative, to the extent that Labor is not fielding candidates. The seats will, however, be contested by the Nationals – a threat the Liberals are taking seriously enough to be running advertising on regional television. The Liberals are having preferences directed to them ahead of the Nationals by the Greens, the Australian Country Party and Animal Justice; the Democratic Labour Party is favouring the Nationals; and Australian Christians are having two bob each way, favouring the Liberals in South West Coast and the Nationals in Polwarth.

South West Coast

South West Coast is centred on the coastal towns of Portland and Warrnambool near the South Australian border, and also encompasses 5800 square kilometres of surrounding rural territory. It was created at the 2002 election, prior to which Portland and Warrnambool had been separate Liberal-held seats, respectively held by Denis Napthine since 1988 and John Vogels since 1999. The new electorate was bequeathed to Napthine, while Vogels moved to the upper house.

Candidates in ballot paper order:

Rodney Van De Hoef (Independent). A Warranambool businessman who is directing preferences to the Nationals ahead of the Liberals.

Roma Britnell (Liberal). The vice-president of the United Dairyfarmers of Victoria, Britnell won a September 20 preselection vote ahead of Donna Petrovich, a former Northern Victoria region MLC who abandoned her seat for a narrowly unsuccessful run in the federal seat of McEwen in 2013. Petrovich’s decision to run had been described by Denis Napthine as “inappropriate”, since she “has not much in common with the local area”. Others in the field were Denis Napthine’s 24-year old son, Tom Napthine, who works at MacKillop Family Services in Warrnambool; Anita Rank, a Glenelg Shire councillor; Jacinta Anderson, who ran a fashion boutique in Warrnambool before opening a Melbourne outlet; and Deborah Keiller, who runs an accountancy firm in Portland.

Roy Reekie (Independent). Reekie is a solicitor who ran for Labor in the Warrnambool electorate in 1999, and again in South West Coast in 2002 and 2006. He is directing preferences to the Nationals ahead of the Liberals.

Jim Doukas (Australian Country Party). Macedonian-born Doukas has been on Moyne Shire Council since 2002, and served as mayor from 2010 to 2013.

Michael Neoh (Nationals). The mayor of Warrnambool, and a councillor locally for 12 years, Neoh won Nationals endorsement after initially announcing his intention to run for Liberal preselection.

Pete Smith (Independent). Smith has variously worked for BlueScope Steel, AWB, Australia Post, the army and the navy.

Thomas Campbell (Greens). A 24-year-old education student at Deakin University’s Warrnambool campus, who also ran at the 2014 state election.

Swampy Marsh (Independent). Allan “Swampy” Marsh is a Purnim chicken farmer whose efforts to save Middle Island’s penguin population are the subject of the feature film Oddball.

Jennifer Gamble (Animal Justice).

Lillian Len (Australian Christians).

Michael McCluskey (Independent). McCluskey is a Warrnambool veterinarian who polled 1.6% as an independent candidate at the 2014 election.


Polwarth covers over 100 kilometres of the Great Ocean Road coast west of Melbourne, from Bells Beach and Anglesea through Lorne, Apollo Bay and Cape Otway to Peterborough, and extends inland through 12,500 square kilometres of rural territory to encompass Colac and Camperdown. Party support is finely balanced in the Great Ocean Road centres, but the rural interior keeps the seat safely conservative. The Liberals have held the seat since gaining it from the Country Party in 1949, and it has never been in Labor hands in an uninterrupted history going back to 1889.

Candidates in ballot paper order:

Joe Miles (Greens). A disability support worker from Apollo Bay.

Carmel Kavanagh (Democratic Labour Party). According to the party website, Kavanagh “operates a charity providing advocacy, housing and resettlement assistance for asylum seekers and refugees”.

Melinda Cass (Australian Country Party).

David O’Brien (Nationals). O’Brien held an upper house seat in Western Victoria region from 2010 and 2014, when he lost it to James Purcell of Vote 1 Local Jobs, and was previously a Supreme Court barrister.

Brendan Eckel (Independent).

Meredith Anne Doig (Australian Sex Party). Doig is a leading figure in secularist and voluntary euthanasia advocacy groups, and has been a board director with the Port of Melbourne Corporation and Bakers Delight. She is currently on the council of Federation University Australia, and a director of the Federation Training TAFE.

Richard Riordan (Liberal). Riordan is owner-operator of Colac Hire and Riordan LPG. The Warrnambool Standard reports he won a preselection vote on the first round from a field that included Adam Jenkins, president of United Dairyfarmers of Victoria; Stephen Hishon, a Lorne real estate agent and former Ballarat councillor; and Jennifer Cromarty, operator of a Geelong public relations firm.

Geoff Rogers (Australian Christians).

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

23 comments on “South West Coast and Polwarth by-elections: October 31”

  1. Have put my money on Liberals in Polworth but put a small wager on the Nationals in South West Coast but think the Liberals will just Hang On. Not Sure how much the National Candidate being mayor of Warrambool will influence the vote ?

  2. I get the feeling these by-elections will be won and lost on local issues. Will be interested to see how the Greens poll in Polwarth, the Great Ocean Road towns would likely be fairly strong for them I would imagine

  3. South-west Victoria has never really been Nationals territory. I personally would be surprised to see them get very close. They needed the Liberals to stuff up their pre-selection and/or a very strong preference flow from other parties, and neither of those seemed to have happened.

    The Greens should finish second in Polwarth IMO, the Ocean Road towns are good for them.

  4. The Nationals are going pretty well, and will get the Liberals over the line.

    Their Candidate is Mayor of Warrnambool (biggest city), presiding over a divided council, an ex teacher with strong ties to the community.

    He has been been at the early voting center most of the time, more than once school kids stopping to take selfies with him (take it as an indicator of how well known he is)

    He personally wont help their vote much in Portland (2nd biggest city) or with the rural areas. But thats where the traditional Nat voters will come from, and they havent had a chance to vote National for a long time

    Another factor i believe in play is infighting between LIB+NAT, there are a lot of conservative liberals around here, and i suspect the federal power shift from Abbott (conservative) to Turnbull (Liberal) will cause some traditional Liberal coalition voters to vote National as a protest.

  5. The real question is whether or not the Nats voters will follow the HTV – if they preference independents at random, maybe Roy Reekie will end up above the Libs, then we’ll see what happens (incredibly wishful thinking, I know)

  6. Roy is being preferenced higher than LIB or NAT by everyone except LIB, NAT and Christians (who will get their 2.5% like they always do)

    Its likely that Roy will be 2nd on primaries, but if not, he will be 2nd when it comes down to the final three.

    Roy was the ALP candidate for 4 of the last 5 state elections, and came within 540 votes of defeating Napthine in 2002.

    He knows the election process enough that doesnt need someone from Melbourne to come down and “help” him, and he is known well enough by Labor voters that he doenst need the brand to introduce him.

    Being an independent has meant Roy can talk policy, he wouldnt have been able to do that as a Labor candidate because head office would likely use fancy words to say ‘we wont commit to doing anything in a non-targeted seat’. But still he has the closest ties to the current government so is in a better position to negotiate than any other candidate.

    There is no Labor candidate for him to compete with. I suspected a significant percentage of Labor voters would switch to Green, and some have, but it doesnt look much busier for them than they normal are down here. And greens didnt get a mention in the leaked poll.

    The greens really shine when their is a cause to rally against, and CSG has almost been an issue in this election, but nobody is for it, so its not a wedge for them to use.

    I think Roy might do a bit better than 24%, but dont think he will get as high as 30%. (but he says i am a pessimist)

  7. Roma (Lib), hasnt run as a candidate previously, people say she is tough, but i not sure she expected all the heat coming from her own side.

    Roma is probably better known by influential people in the liberal party than regular liberal voters. e.g. When Abbott was down here a few months back he visited her farm. (not an onion farm, i would pay money to see Abbott visit a Medicinal Marijuana farm, but i digress) And these dairy farmer grounds are all breeding grounds for the Liberal party.

    She isnt that well known by local liberal supporters or voters, she did get some criticism for ‘only joining the party 5 minutes before the deadline (for nominations)’. She has received other criticism, enough that i wonder if there is some sexism involved, these Liberal conservative voters might be being extra hard on her, they havent had to contemplate voting for a woman before.

    She has had good support from her party, lots of money, campaign manager, a few other Liberal MP’s handing out HTV’s for her. The amount of activity from the Lib camp is more telling than than any leaked poll IMO.

    Country Party are doing pretty well, there candidate is really good with older people at the early voting center, he seems to know a lot of people. He is Mayor of the Moyne shire, which encomposes most of the rural area, and its home is Port Fairy, which was Dennis Napthines stronghold, i suspect he might get good support there, but wont get much in Warrnambool or Portland. They got 2.3% in November, but it could be closer to 5% this time.

    The coalition typically get around 50% around here on primaries, they got 57% in November, but this time i feel it will be reduced to mid thirties.
    It might end up an embarrassing victory, but they will be happy with that.

  8. Airlines, Libs are above Roy, so they get the donkey vote.

    I do think there will be a bit of a protest vote from some libs, but it wont be strong enough for them to put Roy above Libs i dont think.

    If people dont follow HTV it will favour the Libs im sure.

  9. bug1, 7/8/9

    The Greens are preferencing Reekie second anyway, so most of their votes are guaranteed to flow to him. Also that’s right, I forgot that Britnell was leading the voting slip.

  10. I think the Greens are putting more resources into Polwarth anyway, considering it had a higher PV than South-West Coast at the last election & there is only one other progressive candidate standing (Meredith Doig)

  11. I have heard greens will be busing people in for South-West Coast HTV’s on the day. Dont know if they have done that before.

    Perhaps they are struggling for local volunteers (supports theory they will get a low vote), or maybe they just have lots of offers of assistance from outside.

    Its been mostly just the candidate at early voting, so i go with first theory.

  12. I do not think the Greens will have a Good Result in both electorates Polwarth maybe 10% and going by the South West Coast Poll well under 10%. Hope the National in South West Coast runs 2nd in front of Roy the Labour Independant as he is pref the Nats in front of the Libs but I doubt it. But on the face of it the South West Coast result looks more interesting than Polwarth where I think the Lib have it in the Bag

  13. For some historical context; Warrnambool, the biggest town in South-West Coast, has been held by the coalition at both state and federal level since 1955.

  14. 15

    However, Portland was won by the ALP, on Country Party (the one that is now the National Party, not the Australian Country Alliance that people are misnaming here) preferences in 1970 but then lost by the ALP in 1973 (unlike Kara Kara), when the Country Party preferences changed back.

    This was part of the strategy of the Country Party, which was not in Coalition at state level between 1950 (There was a minority Country Party Government, Victoria`s 3rd, 1950-52 and it was propped up by the ALP) and 1988, to end the Bolte Government`s majority and get themselves into the balance of power. They delivered 3 seats (Portland, Dundas and Kara Kara) to the ALP with preferences and also nearly Naracan as well. This was however messed up by the ALP executive who both handed the Liberals 3 seats on ALP preferences and publicly undermined the parliamentary leadership of the ALP on state aid to private schools, causing the ALP not to win at least a few seats more.

  15. 15

    The Country Alliance has been renamed as the Australian Country Party. Frankly I’m surprised the Nationals didn’t put up more of a fight to stop it.

  16. I have heard Britnell has struggled & she has admitted it has been much harder work than she expected but I can’t see Reekie getting enough preferences to close the gap even if he finishes ahead of Neoh

  17. Just went on the Victoria Election Website in South West Coast there is 22116 Pre-Poll and Postal Votes and in Polwarth 12179. If these votes are not counted tonight ? We might not find out who wins till next week if it is not clear cut.

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