Democracy is the winner from candidates’ forum

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The full video of the Nicholls Candidate Forum can be viewed online at Photo by Murray Silby

Nine of the 11 candidates for the federal seat of Nicholls fronted more than 200 voters at the forum on Tuesday night — and the clear winner was the democratic process.

While history, and more recent polling, points to a tightening contest between Nationals candidate Sam Birrell, Liberal Steve Brooks and independent Rob Priestly, the preferences of Labor, Greens and minor parties will play a critical role.

When Damian Drum won the seat for the Nationals in 2016 following the retirement of Liberal Sharman Stone he did so with 55.13 per cent of the two-party preferred vote. The Liberal Duncan McGauchie finished second.

Before preferences, the primary vote sat at Nationals 35 per cent, Liberals 32 per cent and Labor just under 15 per cent.

There were four independents in a field of 11, who garnered 7.5 per cent of the primary vote collectively. The Greens managed 4.41 per cent.

In the field of 11 this time there is one independent, Rob Priestly, who is coalescing that vote.

The remaining places on the ballot paper have been filled by minor parties that were not there in 2016.

So the Committee for Greater Shepparton-hosted forum was an important opportunity to hear from all candidates.

Elections should be a genuine contest of ideas and policy.

Experienced political operatives have remarked on the corflute divide.

From whatever direction, when you drive into Nicholls, the proliferation of signs is strikingly different to the electorate you have just left.

In the past, at election time, Nicholls (formerly Murray) has been a bit of a campaign desert.

When the incumbent holds an unassailable margin, there is less incentive for others to seriously compete — and the loser is democracy.

The forum was at times lively, but at all times respectful, which would have satisfied many in the audience who applauded positive responses from candidates on standards of parliamentary behaviour, the level of discourse and the need for independent oversight of political conduct.

From cost of living and climate change to water policy and a First Nations voice, the candidates spent their allocated time promoting preferred outcomes rather than political point scoring.

The forum served to illuminate a clear shift in campaigning, to focus on what you can and should do if elected.

If the contest remains tight, expect that to change in the last three weeks of the campaign, but for now, relish the opportunity to compare and contrast the candidates on the main issues.

Every vote counts, and preferences will play a key role in the outcome. The nine candidates who participated in the public forum have each given voters a respectful and informative tool to make up their mind.