Liberals retain seat of Warrandyte
by James Poyner
4th September 2023
A WEEK after the Warrandyte byelection, the final result has been declared.
On Friday, September 1, the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) officially declared Liberal candidate Nicole Werner as the new Member for Warrandyte in the Victorian Legislative Council. Ms Werner told the Diary the campaign from pre-selection to this point was an “incredible journey.”
“I am humbled and deeply grateful for the trust and support I received from our community.
“Throughout my professional life, I’ve dedicated myself to service, particularly in the community and not-for-profit sectors.
“This campaign was an extension of that commitment — a chance to listen to and give back to our local community.”
The middle of August saw 12 candidates, comprised of Liberals, Greens, minor parties, and a handful of independents, vying for a vote from the 50,986 enrolled voters in the District.
Early in the byelection cycle, Labor had stated it would not contest the Warrandyte byelection, which is in line with party policy around byelections in “Liberal safe seats”.
Of the 50,986 enrolled, 38,664 were marked off the roll by 6pm on August 26, a turn out of 75.83 per cent, consistent with historical data regarding byelections, noting there are still postal votes to be counted.
Following rechecks, Ms Werner took 57.27 per cent of the primary vote, while the Greens Tomas Lightbody took 18.66 per cent, giving Ms Werner an outright victory without having to conduct a preference count.
The indicative two candidate preferred count saw Ms Werner’s majority at 71.10 per cent, with Mr Lightbody at 28.90 per cent.
With no Labor candidate and current Manningham Deputy Mayor Tomas Lightbody running as the Greens candidate, community perception was that the Greens might have a chance of taking the seat.
While the Greens gained a significant swing in this byelection, and Mr Lightbody performed well in the booth of Warrandyte, however, those gains were not replicated across the other booths, culminating in a Liberal landslide victory.
The Diary asked Ms Werner what the victory meant to her and the Liberal Party.
“I’m honoured by the strong support and vote of confidence from the people of Warrandyte.
“We campaigned on the local issues that matter most to our community, and it’s a sign that we are ready for positive change, a fresh approach to addressing local issues, and a commitment to protecting what makes our community special.
“The result is a testament to the faith the voters have placed in me, and I take that responsibility seriously.
“This result was significant for me personally as it represents the realisation of my parents’ choice to immigrate to Australia in 1988, all in pursuit of a better future for our family.
“For the Liberal Party, this result signifies that we are on the right path and are connecting with Victorians.
“I believe this result demonstrates that the Liberal Party can offer change and that we can continue to be a strong voice for Warrandyte and Victoria,” she said.
The Legislative Council is due to sit again on October 3; the Diary asked Ms Werner what her representation will look like in the last half of the calendar year.
“In the coming months, my focus is on fighting for and serving the people of the seat of Warrandyte.
“My top priorities include addressing the pressing issue of the deadly Five-Ways intersection, tackling the rising cost of living, safeguarding our precious Green Wedge, and advocating on behalf of the recently devastated Heatherwood School in Donvale.
“I am committed to working tirelessly to fulfil these promises and to ensure the concerns of our community are heard in the state parliament.
“I am deeply honoured to represent this community, one in which I grew up and attended school in.
“My roots in Warrandyte run deep, and I’m here to serve, to listen, and to stand up for the interests and wellbeing of our community.
|“You have my commitment; I will give my all every day to serve you as your member of Parliament.”
The voter experience
With this being the only byelection running in the State at that time, the major and minor parties were able to throw more resources at their respective campaigns as there were significantly fewer voting centres (compared to a full State election).
Voters have been critical of party representatives’ behaviour, especially during early voting at the Warrandyte Scout Hall.
The number of party representatives outside the Scout Hall frequently made the centre look busier than it was, and there has been criticism regarding this on social media. Warrandyte local Don Hughes, who is also involved in Warrandyte Scouts and Warrandyte Men’s Shed, spoke to the Diary about voters “running the gauntlet” during voting.
“Despite being well organised, the topography of the site channelled voters down a narrow driveway to the polling station.
“With so many candidates, each having at least one or more supporters handing out how-to-vote literature, the experience for many was like running a gauntlet.
“The narrow driveway had a funnelling effect. “Particularly with enthusiastic supporters thrusting literature at voters and enthusiastically trying to engage in political rhetoric, many felt anxious and even threatened.
“Several people I spoke to around the township decided not to attempt to run the gauntlet and went home to organise a postal vote,” he said.
How an election is run is managed by the VEC, but the legislation that defines what can and cannot happen is defined by the Electoral Act 2002.
The only people who can enact changes to the Electoral Act are those who we vote in to represent us.
Everything from how an election is conducted, what is needed to identify any material related to an election, what party workers can and cannot do, and where, to what a how-to-vote card looks like are all defined by the Act.
To its credit, the VEC trialled low sensory (quiet hours) voting for one day during early voting, which aimed to provide neurodiverse and voters with hidden disabilities with an opportunity to vote without being confronted by excessive noise. The Diary spoke with a voter who attended the special session, she said she was disappointed with the behaviour of most of the candidates, who had been asked to not approach voters on their way into the centre, however she understands there is nothing in the legislation to make the candidates comply with the VEC’s request.
“Once I got into the centre, the VEC staff were great, allowing me to vote in a quiet space at my own pace, but to get into the centre was still challenging as I was still confronted by multiple people with how-to-vote-cards,” she said.
With the community now experienced with two elections within six months of each other, now is our best time to voice what worked and what can be done better next time.