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Seymour and Benalla electorates set to be carved up

Two into one won't go.

CHALPAT SONTI July 4, 2013 4:22am

It’s almost a case of back to the future with the Electoral Boundaries Commission’s proposed shake-up of state electorates.

Under the plan, the seat of Benalla would vanish, with parts gobbled up by a vastly different electorate of Seymour.

The new Seymour electoral district would take in parts of the Benalla, Rodney and even Bendigo East and Shepparton seats, meaning huge changes for both sitting Legislative Assembly members.

The entire Strathbogie Shire Council area returns to an electorate joining the Mitchell Shire, harking back to the days before Seymour was created in 1992, when the region was part of the Benalla electorate.

But both Cindy McLeish (Seymour) and Bill Sykes (Benalla) would be hard pressed to recognise the new electorate.

While the Coalition has an agreement between the Liberals and Nationals not to run candidates against each other where one of the parties holds the seat, the new boundaries pose an interesting problem.

Ms McLeish hails from the Murrindindi Shire part of the electorate, which is now in a new district of Eildon. Dr Sykes’ base around Benalla would be in the Seymour district, but the rest of his electorate has been carved off to Eildon and Ovens Valley.

Benalla, the largest town in the new district, is almost on the north-eastern boundary, while the Campaspe River marks the western edge.

The new Seymour electorate would have about 43500 voters, including 17810 from Benalla, 17579 from the existing Seymour electorate, 7103 from Rodney, 963 from Shepparton and 39 from Bendigo East. The number of voters is projected to rise about 4000 by 2018.

Changes are necessary to ensure each electorate has a similar number of voters, allowed to be up to 10 per cent more or less than the average (about 41000). The shake-up has largely been triggered because Benalla and Rodney were both more than 10 per cent below the average.

The Nationals proposed that Benalla incorporate Seymour, Yea, Alexandra and Marysville, changing Seymour to a long, narrow Yarra Ranges district that stretched along the Great Divide and Upper Yarra Valley. The Greens’ solution was to push Benalla all the way to the Upper Yarra, getting rid of Seymour district entirely.

However the Commission preferred a district that grouped both Benalla and Seymour in a largely regional electorate.

‘‘As Seymour is more central to the district than Benalla, the EBC proposes that the district be named Seymour,’’ its report says.

Its make up would be welcome news on one front to the Coalition, as it appears to have been made safer.

Dr Sykes held Benalla with a 23 per cent margin on a two-party preferred basis, with Rodney also a safe Nationals seat and any swings would likely have to come from the southern, less-populous part.

Ms McLeish said the proposal was only a draft and all parties, including the Liberals, would be putting in a submission before the final decision.

Dr Sykes said politics aside, the redistribution proposal was about the issue of representation.

‘‘My message to people is have a look at it,’’ he said.

‘‘Either consider you’re adequately represented but if (you’re) concerned (you) need to put in a submission expressing that concern.’’

He believed the new Seymour district was ‘‘a bit of a hotch-potch’’ and with the likes of Benalla and Rodney going there would be a reduction in country representation.

‘‘The new Seymour seat has a lot of urban influence (south of Seymour), they’re just not the same people as the people north of Seymour.’’

‘‘People power’’ had worked in the past.

‘‘In a Federal redistribution they eliminated (the Murray electorate) and that was challenged and they got it back,’’ Dr Sykes said.

Submissions on the proposals close at the end of the month. A final decision will be made in October with changes taking effect at the next state election.

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