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Labor candidate for Morwell faces the aftermath of the coalmine fire

He first knew that he wanted to be involved in politics in year 8. In year 10, after a year of lobbying, he persuaded his secondary school principal to give him a place on the school council, which he sat on until he finished VCE.

While many year 10 boys can only find time after school for sport, video games and skateboards, Jadon Mintern was so focused he pursued a spot on the school council to give students ''a voice'' and make a contribution.

Fast forward a few years and Mr Mintern, now 23, is on a school council again, this time of the Stockdale Road Primary School in Traralgon. And later this year he will make his first tilt at politics when he stands as Labor candidate in the seat of Morwell in the state election, after being endorsed as the party's candidate last month.

He faces an uphill battle to reclaim the seat for Labor, which the party held for 36 years until 2006. The Nationals' Russell Northe retained it at the last poll with a massive 56.1 per cent of the primary vote, and 66.3 per cent of the vote after preferences.

''When you look at the numbers it will be difficult,'' Mr Mintern said of the challenge. ''What it takes is convincing people that used to vote Labor why they should return, voting for me and Labor, and I think there's a bit of work to do there.''

But the one-sided result in the seat was almost four long years ago - well before Morwell's 14,000 residents were subjected to falling ash and stinking smoke from the Hazelwood open-cut coalmine fire, before State Parliament repeatedly produced scenes of chaos and before virtually anyone outside of Frankston had heard of Geoff Shaw and the political damage the former Liberal MP was inflicting on the government.


Mr Mintern may only be 24 come election day, but he is not without political experience. He joined Labor as a 17-year-old and handed out Labor how-to-vote cards in the 2007 election that saw Kevin Rudd rise to power. For the past three years he has been an electorate officer for Labor parliamentarians, including John Lenders.

Now, he feels ready to run for Parliament himself. ''I've always cared a lot about the valley obviously, having grown up there. But I've also seen a lot of missed opportunities and the effect government policy can have both on individuals and the township,'' he said.

''I grew up through the privatisation process of the SEC, where that basically put a lot of my family members and friends of the family out of work, or pushed them on to casual, short-term contract work. That had huge effects on the valley both economically, but also psycho-socially. The whole mood of the place shifted. So I've always been reasonably politically aware and as I've got older that's intensified,'' he said.

Mr Mintern said it was unclear how the fire would affect the way people voted. ''It really depends on whether the government gets its act together in responding to what the community has been asking for, for a month now. The community is, in my view, rightly asking 'why are we left to pick up the pieces and pay for this' when this disaster was through no fault of their own.''