Ag region set for battle

02 Mar, 2013 01:00 AM
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A PROLIFERATION of independent candidates has ignited an intriguing battle for the six Agricultural Region seats at the upcoming State election.

And the mishmash of preference votes is likely to conjure an upset result similar to 2001 when Pauline Hanson's One Nation party won a seat off the major parties, along with the Greens.

A record 41 candidates have nominated for the upper house farming region, sparked by an unprecedented rush of 16 independents and the usual gathering of minor and major parties.

There were 25 nominations at the 2008 election which eventually saw the Nationals win three Agricultural Region seats in an upset result driven by popularity of the party's Royalties for Regions policy.

The Liberals claimed two seats and Labor maintained its traditional single seat.

However, a repeat of that scenario seems remote this time, with the expanded field of candidates diluting the flow of preferences, mostly away from the major parties.

Max Trenorden and Philip Gardiner have defected from the Nationals and are campaigning for re-election heading up a band of five independents that includes prominent Wheatbelt farmer Bill Cowan.

They're focussed on fighting key rural issues they feel have been ignored by the Nationals and Liberals in this term of office, like the retention of Tier 3 rail lines for grain transportation.

The WA Nationals other Agricultural Region MLC Mia Davies will contest the lower house Central Wheatbelt seat vacated by Leader Brendon Grylls who's trying to win the northern mining Pilbara seat off the ALP.

That's likely to pave the way for fresh representation from the traditional farming party's five candidates headed by former chief of staff to O'Connor MP Tony Crook and co-owner and Jennacubbine Livestock Services director Paul Brown.

The Liberals and ALP have six candidates each, while the Greens, the Australian Christians, the Shooters and Fishers and Family First Party have two each.

But it's the field of six different independent tickets that's generating the most intrigue, including three that have banded together to fight a single issue against commercial production of Genetically Modified crops.

ABC's political analyst Antony Green says the Agricultural Region was "very difficult to model" with the results depending on initial first preference choices.

Mr Green said with so many minor party groups with preferences "floating around", one of the smaller parties could get up and that's likely to be the Shooters and Fishers.

If the party polls well enough to be ahead of groups like Family First and the Australian Christians, then the Greens' decision to put the lead Shooters and Fishers candidate Rick Mazza ahead of the second Labor, Liberal and National candidates could be critical.

"This region is the one most likely to throw up surprises," he said on his election analysis website.

The departure of two Nationals - and one potentially becoming an independent - would also have an impact on the overall dynamics in the Legislative Council.

The Nationals currently hold the balance of power with five upper house seats (including Mr Trenorden and Mr Gardiner) adding to the Liberals 16, while the ALP holding 11 seats and the Greens four.

WA Nationals President Colin Holt said the minor parties and smaller independent groups had "no real chance" of winning a seat.

But he expressed concerns about the minor parties and independents giving the Nationals low preference.

According to details of the preference voting released this week, Mr Trenorden's independents have allocated their preferences to minor parties and independents, while placing Labor, the Nationals and Greens at the bottom.

Mr Holt said "that's for them to decide - we're just going to get onto it".

But he warned that strategy could see Mr Trenorden's independents win one seat, or assist the ALP with winning two.

Mr Holt said the Liberals giving preferences to Mr Trenorden ahead of the Nationals second candidate would strengthen the former National Party leader's re-election chances.

Mr Trenorden said the voting ticket preferences, as submitted by the Liberal and National parties for the Agricultural Region, showed that "in reality, the two parties were preferencing each other".

"It is imperative that the electorate be aware that by voting for either the Liberal or National party candidates that it endorses the current Government's policy namely: the closure of Tier 3 and no active Government participation in Crop Risk Mitigation Insurance," he said.

And in a second scenario; Mr Trenorden's independents giving their preferences to the minor parties and putting the ALP ahead of the Nationals, would only increase the possibility of the ALP winning two positions.

But he said those dilemmas could be avoided by voting for the Nationals first, to retain Royalties for Regions, "and that's been our story all along".

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