In the electoral battleground of Euroa, about 160 clicks north-east of Melbourne, the Nationals' youngest candidate, Stephanie Ryan, is causing quite a stir.
Party elders are talking her up as the face of the future; one to watch; a rising star - should she be lucky enough to win a seat at this year's poll. Whatever the outcome in November, there's no doubt the 28-year-old is emblematic of a shift in state politics as each side tries to modernise and broaden its base.
Inside the Nationals - where the average age of its frontbench is 54, and 12 of 13 MPs are men - the transition is significant. Until now, women were traditionally involved at the grassroots level, but only one, retiring former minister Jeanette Powell, was elected to State Parliament.
This year, for the first time in party history, rank-and-file members preselected three women, all aged under40. It's a generational change many agree is long overdue.
''Our candidates are selected by the membership, so I think what we're seeing is a reflection of shifting attitudes more broadly in regional and rural Victoria,'' says Ryan, a former journalist and adviser in the Baillieu/Napthine governments. ''Most of the party seem really excited by my decision to contest the seat, but women in particular have been incredibly supportive.''
Regeneration is hardly a new concept, but in a difficult political climate - compounded by the 24-hour media cycle, the rise of independents and micro-parties and voter fatigue - it's necessary. Parliament, after all, is meant to represent the broader community. At Spring Street, representation looks something like this: of 128 MPs, only 42 are women: 24 from the ALP, 15 Liberals, one Nationals MP and two Greens. The average age of a Labor frontbencher is 48, while for the Liberals it's 50. And cultural diversity? Only 14 per cent of state MPs are foreign-born, compared to 40 per cent of Victorians who are born overseas or have at least one parent born overseas.
The good news is most parties have sought to broaden their pool of candidates this year. In the sandbelt seat of Frankston, for instance, the Liberals have selected Sean Armistead, 37, an employment manager at Crown who could end up being the first indigenous state MP if he can oust controversial independent Geoff Shaw.
Across town, in the inner-city electorate of Melbourne, the Greens have pinned their hopes of snatching a lower house seat on 29-year-old Ellen Sandell, who used be a policy adviser for John Brumby's department of premier of cabinet and recently headed a national climate change non-profit organisation.
Back in country Victoria, Edenhope and District Memorial Hospital chief executive Emma Kealy has been preselected in the safe Nationals seat of Lowan, while a few kilometres south-east of the CBD, Labor has also looked beyond its traditionally trade union/lawyer gene pool in picking Neil Pharaoh, a former director at the Foundation for Young Australians.
''Political parties will benefit more if we pool from a broad variety of experiences,'' says Pharaoh, 30, who spearheaded the campaign to change the ALP's national platform on gay marriage. ''It leads to better policy outcomes.''
Sandell puts it like this: ''I think people are crying out for fresh ideas and an independent approach to politics. They don't want political hacks who have to toe the factional line and take voters for granted.''
Monash University politics expert Paul Strangio says renewal in the main parties is usually cyclical. ''The tendency is … there's a period of renewal, usually when they're in opposition, then they move forward to a period in government, and then once a major party loses there's an exodus,'' he says.
The defeat of the Brumby government in 2010, for instance, saw several of its most experienced hands quit politics - John Brumby, Rob Hulls, Bronwyn Pike, Tim Holding - opening the way for new blood. This year, the retirement of four National MPs ahead of the election - Jeanette Powell, Hugh Delahunty, Bill Sykes and Peter Hall - presented the Nats with a similar opportunity.
''What is interesting in the transition seats is that there has been a change in the members' attitudes in seats like Lowan and Euroa where they have selected dynamic young women to replace the sitting members - something that would not have occurred 10-15 years ago,'' Nationals state director Jenny Hammett told The Sunday Age.
In recent months, the Liberals have begun an internal review to boost female representation, both in its organisational wing and in parliament more broadly. Liberals state director Damien Mantach says that for the past decade, the party has also made a concerted effort to broaden its membership and pool of candidates ''by strengthening grassroots engagement into a number of multicultural communities''.
Back in Frankston, Liberal candidate Sean Armistead says that for parties to flourish, they too must change ''to reflect the changing face of Victoria. We need to create an open and inclusive party. People don't just come to you,'' he says.
THE YOUNG GUNS
28, Nationals candidate for Euroa
Ryan grew up on a dairy farm, worked as a journalist at the Riverine Herald, and later became a media and policy adviser under the Baillieu/Napthine governments. Deputy Premier Peter Ryan (no relation) describes her as ''the future of the Nationals'', while former premier Ted Baillieu also endorsed her publicly last week after the Liberals preselected a candidate to run against her. Euroa is notionally held by the Nats with a 13.6 per cent margin, taking in some of the abolished seat of Benalla.
30, Labor candidate for Prahran.
Neil Pharaoh quit his job as director of partnerships at the Foundation for Young Australians in February to stand as a candidate in the seat of Prahran, now held by Liberal Clem Newton-Brown with a margin of 4.7 per cent. As someone who has never been a trade union official, a lawyer or political staffer, Pharaoh's preselection is seen as a welcome step outside Labor's ''traditional'' gene pool. He helped spearhead the campaign for the ALP to change its national platform on same-sex marriage.
29, Greens candidate for Melbourne
Sandell trained as scientist and began her career as a researcher with the CSIRO. She worked on climate change policy for former Labor premier John Brumby's Department of Premier and Cabinet, and later became the chief executive of a national climate change non-profit organisation. ''The old parties are failing to tackle the big issues,'' she says. ''There is an opportunity for the Greens to be in balance of power after the election and get some action on the issues we care about.''
37, Liberal candidate for Frankston
Born in Darwin (his mother is a Ngunga Aboriginal woman), Armistead could become the first indigenous person elected to the Victorian Parliament. ''You don't do things to try to hit a historical milestone, but if I'm successful, for me it's about breaking ground … and being able to tell every single Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander kid who lives in Victoria that they have a voice.'' A manager for indigenous programs at Crown, Armistead was raised in Frankston.