The seat of Wagga Wagga has again snubbed the major parties to remain independent and elected Dr Joe McGirr for a third time in a landslide win with a swing of more than seven per cent.
“Five years ago, this seat had been a Liberal seat for 61 years,” he reminded a gathering of the faithful in the courtyard behind his wife Keryn Fielding’s office.
“This is our third election. And let’s face it, there’s been a lot of controversy and they’ve got a lot of different parties vying for it, but we have kept this as an Independent seat.”
As Labor roared to a swift decisive victory across the state, Dr McGirr also emerged the clear winner in the hours after polling closed and was confident enough to take a bow shortly after 8 pm.
On a two party preferred basis, Dr Joe steamed home with more than 72 per cent, leaving Nationals contender Andrianna Benjamin in his wake.
While on first preference he fared slightly worse than previously, by midnight Dr McGirr was predicted to claim 43.4 per cent of the vote while the Nationals took a hit as Coalition voters were split for the first time since disgraced Liberal member Daryl Maguire’s departure in 2018.
As the count continued, Andrianna Benjamin claimed 14.6 per cent of first preferences, a swing of -11.4 per cent that can largely be attributed to the arrival of Liberal candidate Julia Ham who claimed 13 per cent. No doubt much will be made of the Liberal’s decision to run a three-cornered race as the knives come out for the election post-mortem.
Labor’s Keryn Foley managed to finish in third place ahead of the Liberals with 13.8 per cent while Shooters, Fishers and Farmers’ late arrival Chris Smith hoovered up 8.5 per cent of the vote for the embattled party.
Dr McGirr confessed to a nervous final week after testing positive to COVID-19 and spending days in isolation as his staff and volunteers picked up the slack.
“It’s amazing, the feedback I get from the other candidates and from the community about all of you, and your commitment, and your enthusiasm and your belief in what we’re trying to do in creating an independent seat that is contestable, and that the parties have to fight for,” he declared to enthusiastic applause from the orange-clad crowd.
“They were fighting tooth and nail, so that is what we want. We want interest in this seat from the other parties. That will guarantee our relevance.”
With the magnitude of Labor’s win beginning to become clear, Dr McGirr said that he was ready to work with a new government.
“I believe that I have got some strong relationships on both sides and I will continue to hold the government to account and I think the crossbench still has a very important role,” he said.
“It’s going to need scrutiny from people not toeing the party line and that’s what I and my Independent colleagues will provide.”
Indeed, Independents remain in charge across most of the Riverina with Murray MP Helen Dalton romping to victory with more than 62 per cent on the two party preferred count and a swing of almost 12 per cent, against the Nationals Peta Betts.
The straight-speaking Ms Dalton triumphed in a fractious campaign in which she was targeted by former Shooters, Fishers and Farmers colleagues, ClubsNSW and the Nationals who were desperate to gather marginal regional seats to stave off the predicted swing to Labor.
Ms Dalton celebrated the victory with a traditional Aussie ‘shoey’.
The one ray of sunshine on an otherwise gloomy day for the Nationals across the Riverina was Steph Cooke who strengthened her hold on the seat of Cootamundra with more than 82 per cent on preferences.
However it is a bittersweet victory for the former Emergency Services Minister and her Nationals colleagues, most of whom retained their seats but now find themselves in opposition.
The final word goes to Dr McGirr, who reminded his team in Wagga to accept the election win with humility and to recognise the privilege it is to serve the people of the seat of Wagga Wagga for another four years.
“I take that privilege extremely seriously because, at the end of the day, my role is to serve the people,” he said as supporters raised their glasses to toast the victory.
“So we will sit back and enjoy this, but let’s all keep in mind, the job is to serve.”