Left Menu
Development News Edition

Australia's conservatives likely to struggle in rural areas as drought woes persist

Devdiscourse News Desk | Updated: 16-05-2019 13:41 IST | Created: 16-05-2019 13:21 IST
Australia's conservatives likely to struggle in rural areas as drought woes persist
Driven by anger on issues from climate change to water allocation, the splintering presents a problem for the governing conservative coalition. Image Credit: Wikipedia

A conservative stronghold for a century, Australia's hinterland is now cracking like the drought-parched earth, voters say, with once-safe districts in jeopardy ahead of Saturday's election. Driven by anger on issues from climate change to water allocation, the splintering presents a problem for the governing conservative coalition that normally considers itself secure in rural areas but is trailing in national opinion polls.

In Mildura, a city of 30,000 people on the edge of the outback and part of the safest of 16 electorates held by the coalition's junior partner, the farmer-based National Party, nobody can recall it ever needing to campaign so hard. "If you just look at the distribution of posters, they're up everywhere," Stefano de Pieri, a politician-turned-chef who has run a restaurant there for almost 30 years, told Reuters from his kitchen by a bend in the Murray River.

Mildura was one of five constituencies to spurn the Nationals at state polls in November and March, its disillusionment stoked by a deepening drought and a feeling the 99-year-old party of "the bush" was taking voters for granted. "There is a sense of Mildura wanting to go through a political renewal," de Pieri added, a contrast from previous years when the Nationals were seen as sure-fire winners.

In the agricultural heartland beyond, the mood is similar. "Everyone I've talked to is not going to vote National Party," said Leonard Vallance, the livestock president of the Victorian Farmers' Federation.

"They need a good shake and I think they'll get it," Vallance said by telephone from his farm south of Mildura where he grows wheat and barley. "I will be lodging a protest vote. It definitely will not be Liberal Party or National Party or Labor Party."

INDEPENDENTS' DAY

Seat-by-seat polling is tricky in vast and varied electorates sprawling over cropland, grazing runs, orchards and family farms. But nationwide surveys put the opposition Labor Party ahead, and bookmakers suggest contests are tight in Mallee, which takes in Mildura, and in similar seats nearby, are tight. The coalition holds 73 of the 151 seats in Australia's lower house, and Labor 69, with 76 needed to govern.

Betting markets suggest the Nationals will retain Mallee with a reduced margin but the coalition could lose the neighbouring electorate of Farrer for the first time since it was established in 1949. Few independent candidates are likely to back the Labor Party into power because social conservatism runs deep in their constituencies, but they have said the Nationals' policies on mining, climate change and water are inadequate.

Party leader Michael McCormack said contests could be hard-fought when the incumbent was stepping down, as in Mallee, where the MP resigned after a sex scandal. "Nationals never take for granted the voters of the Mallee," he said in comments emailed to Reuters, adding that the party was responding to voter concerns with steps such as a re-examination of the region's water allocation plan.

"The Nationals'...grassroots structure ensures we can allocate resources where needed to run seat-by-seat campaigns." But spending to shore up safe districts saps funds for other contests in an election where the government must win additional seats to keep power.

"Even if they don't lose the seat they've lost resources elsewhere, which might contribute to a loss elsewhere, so it is very significant," said Dominic O'Sullivan, a political science professor at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, the capital. "It also shows the Nationals are perhaps not as well in touch with their communities as they once were," he said. The party has struggled in recent years to parlay its status in the ruling coalition to win benefits for farmers, he added.

DRIEST CONDITIONS

With swathes of the countryside gripped by the driest conditions in 100 years, voters feel they need a strong voice more than ever. After Australia's hottest summer on record, the drying-up of the Darling River, which winds through 1,500 km (900 miles) of the outback, overgrazing country and irrigating crops from cotton to grapes, has stirred discontent.

Many feel National Party support for a water allocation plan that drained reservoirs upriver in flood years has worsened the drought, prompting protests. "People here deal with water. Water is their livelihood," said Lance Tumes, who runs a hardware store and petrol station on the banks of the Darling where it meets the Murray River just outside Mildura.

"I think the Nationals have just treated them like mugs, and I think they've had enough," he said.


TRENDING

OPINION / BLOG / INTERVIEW

Migration post-COVID 19: Taking cues from the past to rebuild economies

Migrants are an irreplaceable part of even the essential workforce of developed countries and are on the frontline in the fight against the crisis, making an immeasurable contribution to saving the lives of natives with voting rights....

Socialization Post-COVID-19: Local associations and online groups to play crucial role

Though every age group is suffering due to the global lockdown caused by the ensuing COVID-19 pandemic, the challenges before adolescents are unique. Their social space has shrunk drastically, besides, they have become highly vulnerable to ...

Pharma post-COVID 19: Reducing political clout can alter business models

Powerful governments that have historically supported the pharma industry in enforcing global intellectual property rules are changing course and introducing legislation that can override normal patent rights during emergencies....

COVID 19 response: Big data is of big help but concerns remain unanswered

Public monitoring tools developed to fight the pandemic could pave the way to more invasive forms of mass surveillance post COVID-19....

Videos

Latest News

Entertainment News Roundup: Lori Loughlin, husband to plead guilty via Zoom; U.S. charges ousted Hollywood executive with defrauding and more

Following is a summary of current entertainment news briefs.Lori Loughlin, husband to plead guilty via Zoom to U.S. college admissions scamFull House actress Lori Loughlin and her husband will appear by video on Friday to plead guilty to pa...

France has lowest daily rise in new coronavirus cases and deaths since lockdown

French authorities reported the smallest daily rise in new coronavirus cases and deaths on Sunday since before a lockdown began on March 17, raising hopes that the worst of the epidemic is over in France.The number of confirmed cases rose b...

White House limits travel to U.S. from Brazil due to coronavirus

The White House on Sunday said it was prohibiting most non-U.S. citizens from traveling to the United States if they had been in Brazil in the last two weeks, two days after the South American nation became the world No. 2 hot spot for coro...

UPDATE 1-Earthquake strikes near New Zealand capital, no immediate damage reported

A magnitude 5.8 earthquake struck near New Zealands capital Wellington on Monday, but there were no immediate reports of damage.The earthquake was 37 kms deep and the epicentre was 30 km northwest of Levin, a city in New Zealands North Isla...

Give Feedback