NATIONAL Party leader Barnaby Joyce’s New England electorate will headline a host of rural seats throughout the nation creating intrigue and anxiety about the final outcome of the 2016 federal election.
After eight painstaking weeks of often repetitive and deliberately dull campaigning, voters will head to the polls today to cast their final opinions on who should govern Australia federally for the next three years.
While voters couldn’t vote fast enough in 2013 to remove the sitting Labor government after six years, this year’s campaign has imitated a live research project seeking a cure of insomnia.
What’s happening in the bush?
Bookmaker odds and voter opinion polls indicate the overall final result will be tight with the same narrow margin expected in New England where former independent MP Tony Windsor is raging political war against his long-time nemesis.
Voters in the northern NSW seat must decide if they’ll continue with the Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture and Water Resources Minister and one-time Queensland Senator for a second term.
Or will they go back to the future with Mr Windsor who held the seat from 2001 until 2013 where he retired and denied his electorate an opportunity to cast democratic judgment on his decision to side with Labor in the hung parliament.
His fellow rural independent MP Rob Oakeshott is also seeking a return to politics having also avoided the scrutiny of his electorate over his balance of power backing of Julia Gillard’s Labor regime, by also resigning ahead of the last election.
Mr Oakeshott recently said he was raising his young family, doing some work for the UN and studying to be a medical doctor but made a last minute move to contest the seat of Cowper against the National Party’s Luke Hartsuyker.
One of the core themes of the Coalition’s election attack - apart from spruiking greater economic stability - has been to warn about the potential “chaos” of returning to a hung parliament scenario by voting-in minor or independent party candidates, like the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT).
According to sports.bet.com.au, Mr Joyce is at $1.30 to retain his seat for the Nationals and Mr Windsor is $3.30.
In Cowper, Mr Hartsuyker is holding steady at $1.50 attracting 50 per cent of the money with Mr Oakeshott on $2.50.
The Coalition as short odds favourite to win the double-dissolution election at $1.08 with Labor on $8.00 with 87 per cent of the betting money backing the Liberals and Nationals to win.
The odds of another hung parliament occurring have shortened to $4.00 from $5.00 with 60pc of the money backing no hung parliament.
Other northern NSW rural seats of great interest at today’s poll include Page where Labor’s Janelle Saffin wants to reclaim the seat she lost at the 2013 election to the Nationals’ Kevin Hogan.
Ms Saffin is at $1.45 to win Page and Mr Hogan on $2.60 despite a series of funding and project announcements by Mr Joyce leading up to and during the campaign including funding to improve farm viability by enhancing the use of agricultural cooperatives.
Mr Hogan claimed Page off Ms Saffin by a 2.5pc margin at the last poll.
This year’s election could also be the first time the bellwether seat of Eden-Monaro in NSW) could change hands but not go with the party that wins government.
Former Labor minister Mike Kelly is at $1.35 to win the bellwether seat off the Liberal’s incumbent MP Peter Hendy who is at $3.00 and won it in 2013.
Since 1972, Eden-Monaro has been claimed by the party that has formed government after the election and this time has undergone boundary changes by the Australian Electoral Commission which has expanded its farm focus with the inclusion of Yass.
The provincial seat of Dobell in NSW won by Liberal MP Karen McNamara at the 2013 poll looks set to change hands with Labor candidate Emma McBride at $1.18 compared to the incumbent on $4.50.
AEC boundary redistributions also look like impacting the Liberals’ chances of retaining the NSW seats of Paterson and Macarthur.
In Paterson, Labor’s Meryl Swanson is at $1.15 and the Liberal’s Karen Howard is on $5.00 following the retirement of long-serving Liberal MP Bob Baldwin.
In the seat of Macarthur south of Sydney, Liberal incumbent Russell Matheson ($2.15) is under pressure from Labor’s Mike Freelander ($1.65).
Nationals’ candidate Matthew Fraser has been putting up a strong fight for the northern-NSW seat of Richmond but at a $1.15 favourite Labor’s Justine Elliot appears set to continue serving her party’s cause in Canberra.
Mr Fraser is at $5.00 to win Richmond followed by Greens candidate Dawn Walker on $16.
In Victoria, the north-eastern rural seats of Indi and Murray are providing great interest with the Liberals and Nationals involved in multi-cornered contests.
Liberal MP Sharman Stone was elevated to Chair of the Coalition’s agricultural backbench committee when Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister in September last year but resigned shortly after which triggered a three-way contest in Murray.
Nationals State member and former Fremantle Dockers AFL coach Damian Drum has moved into favourite at $1.75 from $3.00 to win the seat over Liberal Duncan McGauchie who has reportedly thrown $1 million at his campaign.
For Indi, Independent MP Cathy McGowan is the $1.15 favourite to retain the seat she took from Liberal Sophie Mirabella in a shock result, at the 2013 election.
Ms Mirabella is at $9.00 to reclaim the seat while the Nationals’ Marty Corboy sits at $6.00 and is rated a strong potential local member and future MP.
In far north Queensland, long-serving independent MP Bob Katter looks set to retain his seat of Kennedy despite an election advertisement depicting him shooting ALP and LNP candidates in a stance against foreign investment.
Mr Katter is at $1.05 to retain the electorate he’s held since 1992 following a concerted challenge by LNP candidate and fifth generation sugar cane farmer Jonathan Pavetto on $8.50.
The Nationals will be anxious about the result in Capricornia which covers the beef capital of Rockhampton in Central Queensland, with incumbent first-term MP Michelle Landry on $2.60 to retain the seat over Labor’s Leisa Neaton at $1.45.
Ms Landry won Capricornia off Labor by 0.8pc at the last election and has been regarded as a strong local member who’s won funding for a number of vital projects including for a local dam to boost farm production by $1 billion per year.
With a 6.5pc margin, the Nationals’ Ken O’Dowd ($1.20) is expected to retain Flynn in Central Queensland and the party’s George Christiansen ($1.10) should also keep Dawson which he won by a 7.6pc margin at the 2013 poll.
Another seat of interest in Queensland is Petrie held by the ALP’s Luke Howarth by a marginal 0.5pc.
Labor’s challenger Jacqui Pedersen is the favourite to win the electorate at $1.40 while Mr Howarth is on $2.75.
After one term, mining magnate Clive Palmer’s rural seat of Fairfax is expected to be claimed by the LNP’s Ted O’Brien who is at $1.001 to win followed by Labor’s Scott Anderson.
The seat of Wide Bay held by retiring former Nationals’ leader Warren Truss appears to be in safe hands with LNP candidate Llew O’Brien at $1.001 and Labor’s Lucy Stanton at $16.00.
In Maranoa where LNP MP Bruce Scott also stepped down after 26 years LNP candidate David Littleproud is also at $1.001 and Labor’s Dave Kerrigan at $21.00.
In the Tasmanian rural seat of Lyons, Liberal MP Eric Hutchinson ($2.90) is trailing Labor’s Brian Mitchell ($1.35) to retain the seat he took form Labor in 2013.
Close races are also expected in other rural or provincial seats held by the Liberals in Tasmania including Andrew Nikolic in Bass and Brett Whiteley in Braddon.
In the seat of Denison – the smallest of Tasmania's five electorates covering 289 square kilometres or just under 0.4pc of the State – independent MP and live exports critic Andrew Wilkie is at $1.001 to win the seat he holds by a 15.5pc margin over the ALP.
In the NT, popular Labor MP Warren Snowden is at $1.15 to retain his sparse rural seat of Lingiari while the Territory’s other seat, Solomon, could be lost by the Country Liberal Party’s Natasha Griggs, to Labor candidate Luke Gosling.
Mr Gosling is at $1.27 taking 80pc of the betting money and Ms Griggs $3.50.
In WA, the large farming and mining electorate of O’Connor is set to stay with the Coalition but eyes are on a three cornered contest due to there being no formal agreement between the Liberals and Nationals in that State.
Incumbent Liberal MP Rick Wilson is favoured to win at $1.10 while another sheep and grain farmer and CBH board member John Hassell is on $6.00 but could cause an upset.
Mr Wilson is attracting 95pc of the betting cash while in the other large rural WA seat of Durack sitting Liberal MP Melissa Price is at even shorted odds of $1.08 to retain her seat.
The WA Nationals’ rookie candidate Lisa Cole is on $7.00 to Win Durack followed by Labor’s Carol Martin on $34.
The south-west WA farming dominated seat of Forrest is expected to be retained by Liberal MP Nola Marino while the party should keep Andrew Hastie in the outer metropolitan seat of Canning and Christian Porter in Pearce.
The new WA metropolitan seat of Burt that resulted from electoral boundary changes is likely to go to Labor’s Matt Keogh.
In South Australia, safe held rural Liberal seats of Grey (Rowan Ramsey), Barker (Tony Pasin) and Mayo (Jamie Briggs) will be closely monitored due to serious challenges from NXT candidates.
In Mayo, Mr Briggs is at $2.50 while the NXT candidate Rebekha Sharkie is in front on $1.50 to win.
In SA, following the retirement of Andrew Southcott, newspaper columnist and Liberal candidate Nicolle Flint - who Chaired the State’s rural affairs committee - is at $1.15 to win the Adelaide seat of Boothby over the NXT’s Karen Hockley on $5.00.
Rural seats unlikely to cause any upsets but of note include; Liberal MP Angus Taylor in Hume in southern NSW where’s he’s at $1.001 to win a second term; and Riverina where senior Nationals MP Michael McCormack is attracting the same odds.
The rural seats of retiring veteran MPs and farmers John Cobb for the Nationals in Calare NSW and Ian Macfarlane for the LNP in the Queensland seat of Groom are expected to be retained by the Coalition.
Shadow Agriculture Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has had some nervous moments due to boundary redistributions but is likely to retain his NSW seat of Hunter.
Other rural seats likely to remain with Labor include; Nick Champion for Wakefield in SA; and Rob Mitchell for McEwan in Victoria.
In NSW, federal Liberal Health Minister Sussan Ley will hold the rural seat of Farrer as will the Nationals Dr David Gillespie in Lyne and Mark Coulton in Parkes.
In Victoria, senior Coalition MPs Andrew Broad (Mallee), Darren Chester (Gippsland), Dan Tehan (Wannon) and Russell Broadbent (McMillan) are also set to retain their safe rural electorates.
Barnaby Joyce’s Assistant Minister Keith Pitt is also in a strong position in his Queensland seat of Hinkler while other seats likely to remain conservative in that State include Warren Entsch in Leichhardt and Scott Buchholz in Wright.
In the Senate, most interest will be on Tasmania where Liberal Senator Richard Colbeck the Tourism Minister and former Parliamentary Secretary to the Agriculture Minister has been dropped to the dangerous fifth position on the party’s Senate ticket.
In SA, Liberal Senator and Assistant Agriculture and Water Resources Minister Anne Ruston is expected to be returned but rural advocate and SA Liberal Senator Sean Edwards also faces a similar battle to Senator Colbeck from fifth position.
Veteran NSW Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has resigned at this election and his replacement Hollie Hughes also faces a tough battle to win from sixth spot on the party’s ticket.
Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm is tipped to be re-elected and has attacked several critical farming issues in his previous term, including increased scrutiny of agricultural levies and the subversive activities of animal rights activists.
NSW Nationals Senator and Rural Development, Health and Communications Minister Fiona Nash is set to be returned along with NSW Nationals Senator John Williams.
Rural advocates, Northern Australia Minister Matthew Canavan, Ian Macdonald and Barry O’Sullivan are expected to hold onto their places for the LNP Senate in Queensland while One Nation’s Pauline Hanson could cause an upset in that State.
Victorian Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie is in a safe Senate position but independents John Madigan and the Australian Motoring Enthusiasts Party’s Ricky Muir may struggle for re-election.
In WA, Liberals with rural advocacy claims Chris Back, Dean Smith and Linda Reynolds should be returned along with veteran Labor Senator Glenn Sterle and the Greens agricultural spokesperson Rachel Siewart, while Palmer United Party Senator Dio Wang is an outside chance of re-election.
Mr Turnbull said a stable Coalition majority government which he would lead, if elected, would deliver a “strong, clear, national economic plan” to deliver stronger growth and “more jobs”.
“On the other hand we have the Labor Party, promising higher debt, higher deficits (and) higher taxes and if that wasn’t bad enough, the prospect of a hung parliament and some sort of chaotic alliance with the Greens and independents,” he said.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten said his party was “ready to govern” and implement its policy agenda, economic and social program for the Australian people.
“We are ready to serve,” he said. “I hope we have done enough to earn the votes of the Australian people.
“It is now in the hands of the Australian people, this election.
“I make one last promise in this election campaign.
“If you vote for Labor, we will save Medicare and we will not let you down.”
• All odds provided by sportsbet.com.au
How it’s defined
ACCORDING to the AEC’s demographic rating system, 68 members in the current House of Representatives have rural, provincial or outer metropolitan electorates and the remaining 82 can be considered inner metropolitan MPs.
Overall, 21 of the 68 non-inner-metropolitan seats are in NSW, 18 in Queensland, 14 in Victoria, five in SA, five in WA, four in Tasmania and one in the NT.
Labor has 13 of those 68 seats, while the Coalition has 52 with the remainder being rural seats held by Victorian Independent Cathy McGowan, Indi, and Queensland’s Clive Palmer, Fairfax, and Bob Katter, Kennedy.
Of Labor’s 13 seats, six are rated provincial, five rural and two outer metropolitan.
The Green’s only lower house seat is held by deputy-leader Adam Bandt who represents the inner metropolitan electorate of Melbourne.