National Party MP Darren Chester secured the seat of Gippsland at the 2008 by-election after long-time Nationals politician Peter McGauran resigned. Mr Chester was subsequently re-elected at the 2010 and 2013 elections.
Gippsland has been a National/Country Party stronghold since 1922, despite having minor swings towards the Australian Labor Party (ALP) over the years. Known as a rural electorate, Gippsland has a wide range of industries, including agriculture, fishing, energy production, mining and tourism.
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The Gippsland federal electorate in eastern Victoria is primarily a rural area, known for its dairy and other farming industries. Established since Federation, Gippsland has historically been a coalition seat. The National Party has held Gippsland since 1922. Named in 1840 after New South Wales Governor, Sir George Gipps, this region has remained one of the largest electorates in Victoria.
Gippsland has varying landscapes, with mountainous regions in the north, to wide-sweeping farmland and coastal areas in the south. As a dairy and agricultural centre for Victoria, Gippsland is known as an economically stable electorate.
Darren Chester, 48, was first elected to federal Parliament in June 2008 and has held the seat for eight years. In February 2016, Mr Chester became the Federal Minister for Infrastructure and Transport. He was the former parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Defence and was the Assistant Minister for Defence until February 2016.
Mr Chester has in previous campaigns focused on improving services in Gippsland with a particular emphasis on health services, tourism and the rights of the indigenous community. Darren Chester has experience in print and television journalism and previously held the position of chief of staff to Peter Ryan, the former leader of the Victorian National Party.
Agriculture and fishing are the major industries in Gippsland, which accounts for 37% of its businesses. A further 15 per cent is involved in upstream processing operations.
Gippsland contributes 32% to the Victorian dairy industry. In addition, a large proportion of high-quality grass-fed beef is exported throughout Asia.
Energy production is also one of Gippsland’s major industries, based in the Latrobe Valley and the Bass Coast oil and gas fields. The region produces around 90% of Victoria’s electricity and 97% of Victoria’s natural gas. About 45% of Australian oil is from the Bass Strait fields.
Gippsland, which is mostly rural, has a higher percentage of workers in the trade and labor fields compared with professionals. The electorate also has a relatively high rate of unemployment at 8%.
Public transport use is comparably limited (1.2% usage versus the 11.1% state average in Victoria) because of Gippsland’s vast country landscape. This has led to a reliance on motor vehicles, in which their use is 5.1% higher than the rest of the state.
According to the 2011 census, Gippsland has a median age of 42, which is higher than the Victorian average of 37.
Three local governments cover the Gippsland electorate, including East Gippsland and Wellington shires and Latrobe City Council.
Gippsland’s local governments face a number of challenges, including:
- large areas of public land, which affects the number of ratepayers;
- environmental conservation; and
- promoting new housing in dispersed communities.
There have been calls for improvement of Gippsland’s rail service, to keep up with the maintenance of its trains. Local council representatives met with Public Transport Minister Jacinta Allan in February 2016 to protest ongoing disruptions of V/Line services because of wheel-wear issues.
Gippsland’s roads and infrastructure are central to the economy and need ongoing repairs to maintain its function. Reducing mobile phone black spots has been critical for safety during the bushfire season. High levels of ice use threatens to cripple isolated rural communities that are not equipped to handle its associated issues.
Same-sex marriage remains a divisive issue, as less than a third of people support the upcoming plebiscite. Gippsland also has a diverse agricultural sector with 28% of the region being agricultural land. A new Green Army project has been created to protect costal biodiversity for Gippsland’s vast southern coastal areas.
Gippsland regional town, Sale, has seen median house prices rise $70,000 in the last eight years, with 20.7% of the town’s population being made up of older couples and families. Paynesville, a coastal town, reported a median house price drop of $4000, with 24% of its residents being older couples and families. Mallacoota’s median price has increased by $20,000 since 2007, with 44.8% of the town’s population being over the age of 60.
Gippsland’s agricultural, manufacturing and export industries are worth $3 billion a year. Gippsland plays a vital role in supplying energy, earth resources, water and food through Victoria and Australia. Main business centres include Traralgon in West Gippsland and Bairnsdale in East Gippsland. Gippsland is home to various correctional and defence services, including the RAAF Base at East Sale. Gippsland has a relatively high crime rate compared with other Victorian regions. Gippsland is forecasted to be one of the fastest growing regions of Victoria, as cited in the Gippsland Regional Growth plan in 2014.