The opposition's industry spokesperson Sophie Mirabella has a fight on her hands to keep an independent at bay in her nominally sate seat of Indi.
Source:
AAP
21 Aug 2013 - 3:41 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 4:31 PM

Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella is facing the fight of her political career in her nominally safe seat of Indi.

The feisty Mirabella's danger comes not from Labor but from an independent with impeccable local roots and a near-lifetime of community involvement, Cathy McGowan.

The odds still favour Mirabella, who is the opposition's industry spokesperson and would almost certainly be in Tony Abbott's cabinet if the coalition wins on September 7.

But unlike 2010, she will probably have to go to preferences in the seat that includes Victoria's alpine country.

McGowan, assuming she finishes second on the primary count, will pick up the bulk of these as both Labor and the Greens will preference her.

But there's a cricket team of candidates and who knows where some of their preferences will go.

One close observer said Mirabella was facing her most serious challenge and while she would probably get over the line, the result will be much closer than originally thought.

The contest revolves partly on whether the electorate will be better off with an MP at the centre of power or one who's embedded in the community.

Mirabella said: "It will be up to the people of Indi to choose whether it is best to have our electorate's voice in cabinet or shadow cabinet by voting for me, or in the backbench wilderness by voting for someone else."

McGowan said she had engaged a lot of people in the community who were feeling disenfranchised and many were disillusioned with the major parties. One of her main pitches is that she consults widely before adopting policy positions.

She feels young people will be the "dark horse".

"Rural young people are really backing me," she said.

But McGowan is wary.

"People say to me `Good on you Cathy, we wish you well'. But country people hold their cards close to their chest," she said.

However, she is helped by a redistribution that's pushed the southern end of Indi into Labor territory closer to Melbourne. That's probably knocked one or two points off Mirabella's almost 10 per cent cushion from 2010.

McGowan has a biography from community central casting.

She's a six-generation local with an AO for community service. She's been prominent in the Country Fire Authority, LandCare, and the state and national farmers' federations. She's a coordinator for rural business women. She worked as an electorate assistant to former Indi member Ewen Cameron and has a Master of Applied Science in agriculture and rural development.

McGowan has also walked the Kokoda Track and the almost 1000km pilgrim's way to Santiago de Compestela in Spain.

As ever in tight contests, there are side issues.

One of these revolve around local Nationals believed to be supporting McGowan.

They include former state MP Ken Jasper who took McGowan to a football derby at Wangaratta last Sunday.

Jasper told the Albury Border Mail: "I think she is a very good candidate and she came to me to get some advice in the early part.

"I am not on her committee and I am not involved directly in her campaign."

Much of the talk about the Nationals' role suggests it's payback against the Liberals for running a candidate in Mallee, a seat further to the west, which has been vacated by National John Forrest.

Mirabella didn't address the claim directly, saying the coalition was united in "getting rid of this bad government".

McGowan said the coalition was having a "bicker", but doubted there was much in it.

"I'm not a front for anybody," she added.

McGowan said it's a David and Goliath contest.

But `David' is going well. A ReachTEL poll taken on August 15 gave Mirabella 43.5 per cent (52.6 per cent in 2010), McGowan 23.3 and Labor's Robyn Walsh 16.9.

All McGowan has to do is take a couple more points from Mirabella and get a perfect storm of preferences.