ACT News


Gauging the mood in crucial seat

In Australia's longest-standing bellwether seat, not even the echidnas are safe.

Unwisely crossing the road during an election campaign, one of the spiny mammals burrowed its nose into the ground while being photographed.

It is a feeling many voters relate to in Eden-Monaro, one of the nation's most-watched seats.

The Canberra Times spent a week driving through the electorate and found voters were annoyed by the Labor Party and Kevin Rudd but respected incumbent Labor MP Mike Kelly, whom they rate as being active.

It is a week until election day and Dr Kelly says the minions of Rupert Murdoch have nothing on the professional killers who once tried to take him out.

Dr Kelly notes negative stories run against him by News Limited and broadcaster Ray Hadley about some climate change comments he made and he laughs, remembering the time he switched on a radio in Somalia to hear the followers of warlord Hussan Gutaale Abdul had put a price on his head.


''All I can say is, 'Ray Hadley, do your worst,''' Dr Kelly said.

The 53-year-old, defending his 4.2 per cent margin in Eden-Monaro, is trying to create history by retaining his seat when polls suggest Labor will lose the election.

If this happens it would be the first time in 40 years Eden-Monaro has not been won by the side which forms government.

Talk to voters in the 30,000-square-kilometre electorate in south-east NSW and it is clear Dr Kelly has been omnipresent.

Most people said they had seen him down the street, shaken his hand or had a phone call from his office.

His main opponent is Liberal candidate Peter Hendy, 51, who hopes to ride a swing to the Liberal Party into an MP's office.

Voters seemed lukewarm about Mr Hendy; many had heard the name but not seen the face.

The only fact they could recite about him was that he was a former chief of staff for a Coalition minister.

In the words of Labor voter and Batemans Bay retiree Kim Odgers, ''I heard he once worked for Peter Reith but that doesn't do him any favours with me''.

Mr Hendy said Liberal Party research showed his profile was strong for a challenger and had strengthened in recent weeks.

Because he has the lower profile, his success is tied even more to Tony Abbott, whose personal approval rating has always struggled.

Mr Abbott has visited the electorate five times since the start of the year, although Mr Hendy conceded each visit stopped at Queanbeyan.

The voting booths in Queanbeyan will probably decide who wins the seat. Dr Kelly has won the most votes in Queanbeyan at the last two elections.

Both candidates will be attentive to nearby Jerrabomberra, which has more power than any other polling place in the electorate with its 4000 voters, but Dr Kelly lost that booth in 2007 and still won the seat.

''If [Mr Abbott] was to visit this coming week I'd be advising it be somewhere else in the electorate [other than Queanbeyan],'' Mr Hendy said.

The Liberals' traditionally strong support in Eden was threatened when Labor promised a $10 million wharf extension for the struggling town to bring in cruise liners.

But the Liberals managed to match the promise in an announcement this week.

There have been only a few Liberal funding pledges for Eden-Monaro, including $500,000 for Queanbeyan's Seiffert Oval, and Mr Hendy said the plan was moderate spending, not a cash splash.

The Liberals say scrapping the carbon tax will save money for all households.

Meanwhile, Dr Kelly is driving 600 kilometres daily and spruiks $329 million of Labor spending and pledges for health facilities.

''Sleep's vastly overrated,'' he said.

''It's a bit like when I spent a year in Iraq where I was working pretty much every day around the clock.

''I'm probably taking years off my life but I wanted a life where I made a difference.''

The government money has been spread throughout the electorate, including health cash for a new regional hospital in Bega, GP super clinics in Queanbeyan and Jerrabomberra, and $10 million each for medical training hubs in Bega, Moruya and Cooma.

Dr Kelly said his aim was to offset the decline of traditional industries such as fishing and timber by turning tourism into a year-round money-maker, as opposed to just summer and winter.

At the same time that the Labor Party has been criticised for reducing commercial fishing grounds and not supporting the timber industry and farmers, Dr Kelly has been able to hand out grants to tourist-based businesses, such as $110,000 for a skydiving operation based in Moruya.

He wanted to focus on clean, green industries and spoke about the role he played in getting a private company to set up a $700 million wind farm at Nimmitabel.

Nimmitabel grazier Howard Charles blamed Dr Kelly for low beef prices following the ban on live cattle to Indonesia and cited Dr Kelly's title at the time as parliamentary secretary for agriculture.

The farmer's claim was as sharp as the echidna photographed ambling across the road in the electorate, and in response Dr Kelly said: ''Live export wasn't in my portfolio. I did defend the long-term nature of trade.''

In eight days the federal election result should be known, much to the joy of all mammals in the electorate, especially the ones without spines to protect them.


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