November 26, 2014 – 3:15PM
By Keryn Reynolds
Nationals sitting member and candidate for the upper house seat of Western Victoria, Mr David O’Brien, was busy handing out how to vote cards that preferenced Buninyong Liberal candidate Mr Ben Taylor second at a pre-polling booth in Ballarat on Monday.
Nothing exceptional in that, one might think. But for the fact that last week, the National’s lower house candidate for Buninyong, Ms Sonia Smith, vowed that she would reject her party’s official how to vote cards, and would instead have her own printed that would not preference Mr Taylor.
Ms Smith’s resolution followed recent comments by Mr Taylor about rolling back abortion laws – views which upset Ms Smith. See UniPollWatch’s story here.
So when locals saw Mr O’Brien handing out the official Nationals how to vote cards on Monday and Tuesday, there was understandable speculation that Ms Smith had been overruled, and that the maverick candidate, who has threatened to cross the floor in issues such as fracking, might be in trouble with her party.
Not so, says the woman in question. Ms Smith told UniPollWatch that she had a ‘very good’ relationship with her colleagues, and it was natural for Mr O’Brien to hand out the official cards, given that he was also named on them.
Ms Smith said she had attended the Bakery Hill pre-polling booth on Monday to meet voters and other candidates, but had not handed out any how to vote cards herself.
So will she be sticking to her resolution to reject her party’s official how to vote cards? She said that on Saturday, her volunteers would be given a choice of handing out her cards, which do not allocate preferences, or the official party cards, which preference Mr Taylor.
‘On Saturday I will be asking people to vote first for me. People should make up their own mind on who to preference. National volunteers can choose either card to hand out, it will be up to them,’ Ms Smith said.
In the meantime, there seems to be cooperation between the coalition parties, despite Ms Smith’s views. When the pre-polling booth closed on Monday, Mr Taylor and his staff were seen packing up the National Party official campaign material before loading it into Mr Taylor’s truck.
Ms Smith told UniPollWatch that she understood Mr O’Brien had packed up her campaign gear up when the pre-polling booth closed.
Mr O’Brien did not respond to UniPollWatch questions on this matter.
On Tuesday morning, Liberal volunteers were again seen setting up Ms Smith campaign gear at the Bakery Hill pre-polling booth, but Ms Smith arrived late in the afternoon and packed up her own materials.
Ms Smith’s new personal how to vote cards were widely distributed across the electorate in Monday’s edition of The Courier. They contain no advice on preferences for either lower or upper house seats. See UniPollWatch’s story here.
Mr Taylor told UniPollWatch that ‘All questions regarding preferences and pre-polls are to be directed to the State Director.’
Keryn Reynolds is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne