Shepparton swarmed with politicians yesterday as the full front bench of the Victorian opposition came for a shadow cabinet meeting at KidsTown.
During the day, individuals and groups broke off to tour the town, speak with businesses and council, address the media and hand over a substantial donation to the Greater Shepparton Lighthouse Project.
It was a lot of activity for one Victorian state seat out of 88, but shows how important the electoral district of Shepparton has become.
Part of the responsibility for the evolution of Shepparton into a critical battleground seat can be laid at the feet of independent incumbent Suzanna Sheed.
Taking the seat from the Nationals last election in a move that surprised many, not least of which the Nationals themselves, was one of those unexpected events the scripted world of politics occasionally throws out.
The message sent to the state’s political leaders was ‘‘do not take anything for granted’’, least of all a so-called ‘‘safe seat’’ that had loyally delivered the Nationals (formerly the Country Party) a member of state parliament since 1945.
Ms Sheed was able to leverage her independent position to secure a swag of contributions for the region, including commitments to increase rail services made by both sides of politics and a redevelopment of Goulburn Valley Health.
Yesterday, opposition leader Matthew Guy hinted that more sweeteners were to come in the lead-up to November’s election.
The Coalition is mounting a double attack to recapture Shepparton, fielding two candidates under the Liberal and Nationals banner.
So far those candidates have avoided mounting attacks on each other’s character and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain that unity.
They certainly cannot attack each other’s policies as, theoretically, they are exactly the same.
Personal qualities are all that really differentiates Peter Schwarz and Cheryl Hammer, but to capture the widest possible voter base, they will need to differentiate themselves from the other lest the pair be viewed two sides of the same coin.
It is to be expected both will preference the other at the coming poll, forming a substantial block.
That could be all that is needed for one of them to win.
It is also to be expected that Labor will run a candidate and preference Suzanna Sheed in the hope of returning her to the parliament or, more correctly, in the hope of keeping a Coalition member out.
Last election’s 18 per cent first preference vote was never going to get a Labor member elected, but it did give Ms Sheed a substantial boost after preference allocation.
November’s poll is shaping up to be a fascinating contest and it would a foolhardy move to try and predict the outcome.
But one thing is certain, yesterday’s visit of close to 30 sitting politicians was no aberration. Expect a lot more of that type of activity up until election time.