In Tura Beach, between Tathra and Merimbula, Chris Young is doing everything he can to help the Liberals win the election. The 75-year-old says he hardly sleeps and developed an eating disorder since Labor's Chris Bowen announced in March 2018 that the party would stop cash refunds on franking credits if elected.
Young says he would lose a third of his income under the changes, cutting into the dividends paid from the bank shares he and his wife, Yvonne, support themselves with.
He says he isn't alone. "I can tell you right now that when this election's held, that the Bega Valley will not vote for Labor. I can say that categorically," he says. "What the rest of Eden-Monaro does I can't comment on but from talking to all my friends and all the rest of it, there's a definite push in the Bega Valley against this [change]."
A member of the Liberal party, Young spoke out against the proposed changes at the Merimbula hearing of the parliamentary inquiry into franking credits in February. He tells The Canberra Times that through his working life as a mining geologist in Melbourne he and his wife saved so they wouldn't be a burden on the taxpayer in retirement. It makes him angry that Labor leader Bill Shorten says people like him were rich.
"We're certainly not rich. We're not even really comfortable. We've got enough money to retire and not to have too many worries. We've got a son and a daughter, and we need to support our son at times, and that takes any surplus that we've got," Young says. His accountant has told him to wait and see what happens after the election, but that isn't helping him sleep at night.
"I don't know what we'll do."
Young is one of the politically engaged citizens in Eden-Monaro, a harsh challenge for any candidate standing for federal parliament. Any candidate has to battle distance and people who are disengaged and switched off from politics. Across more than 41,000 square kilometres that surrounds the ACT and spans from cool, rugged country in the west to a long stretch of coast in the east, a candidate has to navigate varied communities with their own particular frustrations.
The Canberra Times spent two and a half days travelling across the electorate to see what issues people were talking about in a tightly contested seat that remains a closely watched political contest, a usually reliable barometer of Australian political mood that only lost its bellwether status at the last election.
It's one of Australia's oldest electorates, contested at every election since 1901. Between 1972 and 2016, the party that held the seat formed government, making it a closely watched contest.
The seat stretches from Jingellic, near the Murray River, in the west to Boat Harbour Point, south of Mystery Bay, in the east. The large area takes in farm land, the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme, Australia's highest peaks and pristine coastal areas, with a swinging middle section and conservative pockets in the Bega Valley.
In 2016, buoyed by a 5.93 per cent swing in primary vote, Labor's Mike Kelly beat the Liberal's Peter Hendy to win back the seat he had held from 2007 to 2013. The Greens picked up 7.6 per cent of the primary vote in the last election, while two independents could not manage 2000 primary votes between them.
Away from Young's house at Tura Beach, there was only one consistent message: people were sick of politicians. At the first stop in Yass, a man parked in his ute by the river says it is a "disgrace" Australians are forced to vote. "Vote for the Logies. At least you've got a chance of knowing who they are," he says.
Building a profile in the electorate is a tough job. Eight candidates are vying to replace Labor's Mike Kelly, who is contesting the seat he holds with a margin of 5.8 per cent. Liberal Fiona Kotvojs, Green Pat McGinlay and Tumut-based independent David Sheldon are joined by National party candidate Sophie Wade, Christian Democratic Party's Thomas Harris, the United Australia Party's Chandra Singh and Queanbeyan independent James Holgate on the ballot paper.
The National party is running a candidate in Eden-Monaro for the first time since 1993. Wade, who cut her political teeth campaigning for the duplication of the Barton Highway, says it gives people a choice when they voted. She says it won't split the vote between traditional Coalition supporters, but will give either her or Kotvojs a "very good chance" of being elected.
Kotvojs says bad media coverage has worked against her campaign, failing to acknowledge her involvement in solving issues at the grassroots level since she was preselected in September. "To be brutally frank, the media hasn't run most of the press releases I've made, not attended the events," she says.
People close to Kelly's campaign are confident the incumbent member will retain the seat and hoped he would build a margin larger than 6 per cent. It might be why there seems to be less attention on the seat at this election, with residents noting the campaign's quieter feel.
Christian Democratic Party headquarters say that Harris has provided a name to the party to appear on the ballot paper but he will not be contactable during the campaign.
Tumut-based independent David Sheldon's corflutes have found their way into the windows of mechanics, dentists and microbreweries in the town. No one has heard of him on the eastern side of the electorate, but in the west he has got people talking. Sheldon says he is running to pursue a "bigger picture" agenda for the region, starting with better National Broadband Network coverage and fixing mobile phone blackspots.
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Then better infrastructure, expanded regional university campuses, tourism opportunities and more investment in renewable energy. The Brindabella Highway has "been on the cards since 1903 but no one will have a serious look at it", Sheldon says.
Kotvojs, Kelly and Wade all agree the road, which would cut journey times from Canberra to the area between Tumut and Tumbarumba, is important but they say there are more important infrastructure projects for the region
In Batlow, orchardist Ralph Wilson, who has grown the region's famous apples for more than 30 years, says he has already seen the effects of climate change and has participated in climate studies on his orchard. "Virtually all the orchardists here haven't got an education, so they tend to follow what their fathers said or did. They tend to be very conservative," Wilson says. It makes it hard to get political support in the region for proactive climate policies.
McGinlay conceded that Eden-Monaro would only elect a member of the Greens when climate disaster struck. "We're way behind the eight ball. ... The time to act is actually now. It should have been a decade ago but now is probably our last window of opportunity," he says.
It's a view almost shared by Labor's Kelly, who nominates climate change as the biggest threat facing the electorate. "This region is the canary in the coal mine for that issue," he says. Kotvojs says it isn't the most prominent issue people are raising with her. The biggest issue in the electorate is the invasive weed African lovegrass, she says. Wade says the biggest issue in the electorate is the farmgate price Bega's dairy farmers are paid.
The Canberra Times encounters mixed views on climate change around the region. Some say it is a cycle and the climate has been changing for hundreds of years anyway, while others say there is nothing humans can do anyway, so why bother?
In Yass, Sandy Giddy says she is worried about the Safe Schools program, which encourages schools to be safe environments, free of discrimination, for LGBTI students. Giddy is also concerned about Christians being persecuted. "The Liberal party would do a better job [in government]," she says. "The campaign doesn't really affect my vote."
It is a common refrain. The campaign, the promises, the appearances and televised debates have done little to sway voters, who have either made up their minds long ago or are sick of the whole political business.
In Eden-Monaro, a unique Australian microcosm, it is telling how deep and how pervasive the vein of political frustration runs.
- A battle for votes is being fought in town and cities all around the nation. To understand the issues resonating in regional Australia this federal election sign up to receive a daily email with curated stories of people and places from all around Australia.