A first term Liberal holding one of Victoria's most marginal seats
Sarah Henderson won this seat from Labor's Darren Cheeseman in 2013 following a redistribution. It is one the Coalition is very keen to defend in 2016.
The most contentious topic in the marginal seat of Corangamite isn't even a federal issue.
But the dispute involving volunteer firefighters and the potential unionisation of the CFA could undermine Labor’s hopes of winning the seat
The Coalition is campaigning hard on the issue and has launched a petiion called "Hands off the CFA", which is hosted on a website registered to the Liberal Party.
With memories still fresh of the Christmas day 2015 bushfires that destroyed 116 homes at Wye River and Separation Creek along the Great Ocean Road in the electorate, a number of volunteers have come out in protest over the state Government's plan to unionise the volunteer organisation.
The Liberal MP, Sarah Henderson, who has held the seat since 2013, says that there is “no doubt” that Labor is proposing a union takeover and she will work to help rectify the “enormous anger” in the community.
However, her opponent, Labor's Libby Coker, says that while she thinks the issue needs to be resolved and is willing to facilitate a meeting between volunteers and the State Deputy Premier James Merlino, she believes it is a state issue.
Henderson has retaliated by saying that the Fair Work Act concerning the changes is federal legislation and that “Australia cannot afford a leader who will not stand up against unionisation”.
The issue will ensure that this marginal seat will be even more contentious.
Henderson holds the 7624-square km seat, which includes the Surf Coast area as far as Lorne, the southern suburbs of Geelong and rural centre of Colac,
She defeated Labor’s Darren Cheeseman by approximately 7000 votes in 2013.
While the electorate has historically been a conservative seat, having only been won four times by Labor, changing electoral borders and expanding coastal populations had increased the ALP's vote.
The Australian reported in June that the Coalition had 45 per cent and Labor 36 per cent of first preferences respectively.
Recent two-party preferred polls show the Liberals narrowly in front, by 51 to 49 percent.
The Greens, represented by candidate Patchouli Paterson, may also find increased support on the back of its biggest success (12 per cent) at the last election.
The rise in Labor’s popularity could be due to the expansion of the Surf Coast Shire, where the ALP's Coker, has twice served as Mayor.
According to Herald Sun political commentator, Genevieve Alison, Henderson may “struggle to shore up votes from the younger, surfer demographic [in the Surf Coast Shire] where environmental issues are at the forefront of voters’ minds.”
Infrastructure and the environment were among the issues recently discussed at a debate at Deakin University between Henderson and Coker, both former journalists.
Differences between the parties were highlighted by disagreement over the Surf Coast council’s now cancelled plan to build an aquatic centre in the populous town of Torquay.
Henderson, who has publicly supported the proposal, says that Coker’s backing of a pool tax in order to fund the structure was “an attempt to shut the project down”. She said that Coker had “let down the Surf Coast” by depriving children of their right to learn to swim.
However, with Torquay surrounded by several beaches including the famous Bells Beach, Coker says that the plan was scrapped due to a lack of support and interest from residents.
Henderson says that her long history within the electorate gives her the edge, citing her mother’s time as a member of the Kennett Government and local MP for the state seat of Geelong in the 1990s as an inspiration.
She says that as a member of the Coalition, her policies centre around jobs growth, families, infrastructure, and political stability.
Coker also emphasises her passion for the region, highlighting her varied career within the electorate, including owning a small business. She says her focus is on education, health, manufacturing and renewable energy.
Dairy production is a primary industry, mostly in towns such as Colac and Winchelsea. Henderson and Coker both say the dairy crisis is a priority. Coker says her party supports the Coalition's $575 million rescue package, which was described by Henderson as a “complete overhaul of the dairy industry” that will lead to all businesses being on a “level playing field”.