The threat of strong independent candidates to the major parties in the upcoming federal election won’t be as pronounced in rural seats according to a leading political commentator.
Independent candidate Dr Kerryn Phelps remains on track to win the seat of Wentworth with a massive swing of nearly 19 per cent against the Liberal Party – a result many say highlights the threat of high profile independent candidates to the major parties.
University of Queensland political lecturer Dr Chris Salisbury said while there was an appetite for change across Australia, the trend in rural and regional seats tended to be more towards minor parties rather than independents.
“There is definitely a mood for a different kind of response from political leaders and we have seen it over a number of years,” he said.
“More voters are drifting away from the large parties and are being picked up by the minor parties.
“That might very well translate to a push for independents but I would see that being the case in metropolitan seats - not so much in rural seats.”
There is no doubt the two major parties are on the nose in electorates outside major coastal cities.
In regional areas, between 2004 and 2016, the minor party vote rose from around 20pc to more than 30pc, with some seats far higher.
Recent regional byelections back the trend toward minor parties.
In 2017 the Nationals held on to Cootamundra and Murray, but suffered a primary swing of 20pc and 15pc, respectively, with the minor Shooters Fishers and Farmers party gaining significant ground.
In 2016 SFF picked up a 35pc swing to nab Orange from the NSW Nationals, which had held the seat since 1947.
Last month the Wagga byelection delivered around a 30pc swing against the Liberals in favor of an independent. The Liberals had held the seat for 60 years.
While Dr Salisbury couldn’t rule out strong independent candidates stealing regional seats from either of the major parties, he said there was less competition for the vote in rural areas as well.
“There were 16 candidates in Wentworth - I doubt you will see many seats in rural areas that will field that number,” he said.
Dr Salisbury said the major parties tended to know their competition better in rural seats and were more practiced at countering the push from minor parties.
“I think the Nationals have a more straightforward contest,” he said.
“It can see who the opposition is in rural and regional seats – parties like One Nation and KAP especially in Queensland and these minor parties on the right that have appeared in NSW and WA, they are a clearer target.
“They know what they need to do to counter their messages.”
The swing against the Liberals in Wentworth has been linked to various factors including leadership instability in both the Liberal and National parties and the governments’ reluctance to engage on climate change debate.
But Dr Salisbury believes the general performance of Prime Minister Scott Morrison on issues such the Ruddock religious freedom review and comments on moving the Australian embassy in Israel were also crucial.
He said both smacked of “policy on the run” and appeared to reveal a “panicked” government.
“I think there as been aspect of rushed policy or not particularly well considered statements and policies from Scott Morrison that indicated a certain panic,” he said.
“I think they were issues that were particularly significant in that part of the country.”
Additional reporting: Mike Foley