Mallee is Victoria's largest electorate and both the Coalition and National Party's safest seat. It stretches from the citrus farms and orchards of the Murray River in the north to the broad-acre wheat and sheep farms of the Wimmera in the south. The region is known for its dust storms, tough climate and the booms and busts of its rural industries, as well as for the decline of many of its colorfully-named country towns.
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The Mallee is the largest electorate in Victoria, covering just under a third of the state. It is also the safest National Party and Coalition seat in Australia. It is so safe that the sitting member Andrew Broad barely needs to campaign, especially as he won’t face a challenger at this election after defeating a Liberal candidate in 2013.
As a vast and underpopulated electorate, the Mallee is dealing with many complex issues, including its tough climate, isolation, unemployment and declining towns, as well as its lack of diversity and poor transport services.
The Mallee is the closest thing Victoria has to the outback. The landscape is flat and low lying. Straight dirt roads, lined by Mallee gums, separate the broadacre wheat paddocks.
The soil is sandy, but saltbushes and sedges thrive in the patches that haven't been cleared for cultivation.
Mallee MP Andrew Broad says on his website that the electorate contributes around $5.3 billion of revenue each year to the Australian economy.
In the north, close to the Murray River, the main industries are fruit and vegetable production. Further south the economy is based on wheat and other cereal crops, as well as wool and dairy production.
The region was extensively cleared by waves of pioneers through the first half of the twentieth century. Vast tracts of Mallee scrub were rolled by soldier settlers, who were granted unsustainable square mile blocks. Intensive farming and irrigation have exacerbated the problem of salinity.
The areas that survived are now national parks, and include Wyperfeld, Murray Sunset and Hattah Kulkyne, as well as the famous Grampians.
Indigenous people make up 2.6 per cent of the Mallee population, and 8.8 per cent of the total Victorian Indigenous community, according to a survey by Health.vic.
The same survey points to the lack of racial diversity in the region. Fourteen per cent of the Mallee’s residents were born outside Australia, a low number compared to the rest of the country.
In 2010, the then sitting Nationals MP John Forrest, was re-elected with 66.79 per cent of the total vote, confirming the Mallee’s status as the safest conservative seat in the country.
His resignation in 2013 paved the way for a three way contest. However Liberal Chris Crewther attracted only 27.22 of the vote.
Andrew Broad is a former president of the Victorian Farmers Federation and has represented the Mallee electorate since 2013.
In his first term Broad voted against a carbon price and the implementation of refugee and protection conventions. He also supported the Coalition’s controversial plans to deregulate higher education and lift the retirement age.
Broad has had to defend funding cuts for local hospitals, particularly the $79 million cut in 2015 to the Wimmera Health Care Group.
The Loddon Mallee region has the highest rates of obesity and cancer in the state and has a higher than average percentage of people who smoke, drink heavily, drink soft drink daily and do not meet fruit vegetable intake guidelines. Despite this, GP attendances are below average.
Labor candidate Lydia Senior says the Mallee has problems relating to ‘every social indicator you can think of.’
For example, the same survey found the Grampians region has the poorest dental health in the state.
Other local issues include the lack of a train route to Horsham, where residents have long been rallying for a V-Line train service. Currently, the fastest public transport route from Melbourne to Horsham is a V-Line train to Ararat, followed by a connecting bus.