By Scott Barnes
18 August 2013

A JWS Research automated poll out yesterday shows Corangamite is a likely Labor loss, with the ALP on 46.7{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} of the two-party vote, a 3.6{17ac88c265afb328fa89088ab635a2a63864fdefdd7caa0964376053e8ea14b3} swing against it.

Grassroots campaigning in Geelong’s struggling outer suburbs is likely to decide the outcome of the seat of Corangamite.
Colac Herald  journalist
Scott Barnes provides an insight into campaign tactics in Australia’s most marginal seat.

Corangamite is the Liberal Party’s to lose with less than three weeks until the federal election. A ReachTEL poll shows that Liberal challenger Sarah Henderson leads incumbent Member for Corangamite Darren Cheeseman 56 to 44.

Mr Cheeseman, a Labor backbencher, has held the seat for two terms, but he is pushing up hill in his battle to win it a third time. Corangamite has a long history of conservative representation and it looks like returning to its roots, in the shape of the star Liberal Party candidate Ms Henderson.

Ms Henderson is a former television journalist, earmarked by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott as a future government minister. She is running a tight, disciplined campaign. She meticulously massages her lines to the media to control her message and prefers to issue press release instead of off-the-cuff comments to journalists where possible.

Ms Henderson knows the dangers of taking a risk and, after her bruising loss to Mr Cheeseman in 2010, she is leaving nothing to chance.

She knows the benefits of taking her fate out of the media’s hands and is seeking to maximise the benefits of on-the-ground campaigning instead, meeting as many voters as possible and using social media to shape her public image.

By contrast, Mr Cheeseman is happier to take a risk with the mainstream media in the hope that he will receive a boost from getting his face out there.

He has the benefit of incumbency, which means he has kept a raft of funding announcements up his sleeve to announce during the campaign. Ms Henderson, in response, has turned out for photo opportunities with State Liberal minister Terry Mulder when he has announced State Government funding for facilities such as kindergartens and libraries.

The 2007 and 2010 campaigns for Corangamite included hundreds of millions of dollars in election promises, but the budget is tight now, which is has so far limited much pork barrelling. Ms Henderson has announced commitments to fund redevelopments at a football ground in Colac and at a soccer ground in Ocean Grove, which should help her pick up undecided votes.

Grass-roots campaigning was one of Mr Cheeseman’s strengths at the 2010 campaign and was one of the factors that helped him on his way to an unlikely victory. Both candidates are door-knocking, street-stalling and visiting as many community events as time permits.

Corangamite covers a range of geographic areas; outer Geelong suburbs; the Surf Coast; and agricultural hub Colac and surrounding areas. But the main battleground this year is Geelong’s outer suburbs, where the most swinging voters can be found.

Geelong has been hit hard in the past year with an array of job cuts. Mr Cheeseman and Ms Henderson both list jobs as the key campaign focus and they know voters’ minds are open to punishing Labor for overseeing bad news.

With this in mind, government and opposition frontbenchers have given Colac and Corangamite’s rural expanses a wide berth in the campaign so far, instead honing in on the part of the seat where they can get the most traction with limited resources.

Of course Cheeseman and Ms Henderson are not in the race alone. Twelve candidates have nominated to stand for Corangamite. The seat has never had more than seven candidates in an election since its inception in 1901, giving voters more choice than ever before.

While the main race is between Mr Cheeseman and Ms Henderson, more micro-parties have added confusion to the contest and their preferences could get one candidate over the line if things tighten up again.

Cheeseman relied on the Greens’ preferences in 2010 and he will need their help again if he is to come anywhere close to victory.

The micro-parties have limited advertising budgets and their candidates are less accustomed to using the mainstream media to get their messages out to the public, meaning the vote micro-parties receive is likely to be fractured between them.

Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party disendorsed its Corangamite candidate Buddy Rojek when he fell victim to a lack of campaign experience. Mr Rojek had distributed a flyer offering a “rocking” election after party with “hot models” in an attempt to entice people to volunteer to help his campaign.

Other parties fielding Corangamite candidates include the Sex Party, Rise Up Australia, Family First, the Nationals, the Australian Protectionist Party, Australian Christians, Country Alliance and independent candidate Adrian Whitehead.

Despite the minor parties creating a sideshow, the fight between Labor and the Liberal party is the main attraction and Ms Henderson remains the strong favourite to take out the title.


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Michelle Primmer Corangamite seat reports