By Colin MacGillivray
INDEPENDENT candidate for Nicholls Rob Priestly believes challenging the long-term dominance of the National Party at the upcoming federal election can only benefit the electorate.
Mr Priestly, a former City of Greater Shepparton councillor, will contest Nicholls in an effort to disrupt the stranglehold of the Nationals on what he termed ‘the second-safest conservative seat in Australia’.
Nicholls has been represented by retiring Nationals member Damian Drum since its creation in 2019, and its predecessor, the division of Murray, was consistently represented by either a National or Liberal party member since 1949.
Mr Priestly said while he was committed to representing the interests of rural voters, Nicholls’ status as a safe Nationals seat had proven detrimental to the interests of voters.
“It’s much harder to run as an independent, but the way I see it is that we’re the second-safest conservative seat in Australia, and ultimately the seat has been held by the National Party for a good while,” he said.
“Sometimes the needs of our community are not necessarily understood by that party, which is dominated by some northern seats that are more linked to mining interests.
“I wanted a situation where the seat became more competitive. At the moment one side doesn’t need to try, and the other side doesn’t try because it’s so hard to win.
“I want to change that and make sure our community genuinely gets a choice and that we’re on the political landscape as a community that can no longer be taken for granted.
“I want to make sure the way that I vote, if I’m elected, represents what’s best for Nicholls, rather than what’s best for any party.”
Northern Victoria is no stranger to electing independents with Helen Haines the current federal Member for Indi and Suzanna Sheed the state Member for Shepparton.
Mr Priestly said infrastructure in growing areas across the south of the electorate would be a priority.
“I think infrastructure is critical to communities like Seymour and Broadford. They’re both right now, or very soon going to be, in the crosshairs of trying to deal with well above normal growth levels.
“To support those growth levels, all of those assets that you need to run a community need to be upgraded.”
Mr Priestly said he had discussed priorities for the region with Mitchell Shire Council representatives.
“One of the really big pieces of infrastructure that will take a long time to deliver is the Hume Freeway upgrade into Melbourne,” he said.
“Whether people commute to Melbourne or not, the whole of the Nicholls electorate is going to suffer over the next five years if we don’t get our skates on and deal with that.
“Every week you see it become slower and more congested. That will affect the whole of the electorate in terms of access to our capital city.
“The new Seymour Community Wellbeing Hub is also a stated priority for council and I’ve got all the details of the funding requirements of that.”
Mr Priestly promised to set higher standards of behaviour and accountability if elected.
“People are still a bit uncomfortable with the smelly part of politics, and they’re looking for strong independent mechanisms to make sure that our politics has high standards of behaviour and meets community expectations,” he said.
“The things I’m hearing as I get around are about standards of behaviour, anti-corruption and more clarity about how decisions are being made and funds are being allocated.”
Mr Priestly said he would launch a touring ‘community caravan’ this week, taking it across the electorate to talk to voters.
“If anybody wants to get a group of 20 or 30 residents together, I’m very happy to attend any evening meetings for people to hear about what I’m offering,” he said.
“Aside from that, I’ll be in the main street in Broadford and Seymour and other smaller communities in the coming months as often as I can be.”
Mr Priestly said regardless of whether he was elected, making Nicholls more marginal could only benefit its residents.
“My view is that it’s already working. We’ve seen a number of ministers in the electorate in the last two weeks, and that’s a sign that we’re being taken seriously and they’re going to run perhaps a much stronger campaign than they might otherwise have run without competition,” he said.
“There is a very straight-up symbol of the importance of having a viable alternative for people to consider.”