Victorian Opposition National Leader Peter Walsh speaks to media
Peter Walsh says the Nationals are already planning what seats to target at the next election. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics (general)

Nationals eyeing more state seats as party gathers

Adrian Black May 24, 2024

After a turbulent week for the Victorian government, the party that won the biggest swing at the last state election is heading to the premier’s home town.

State and federal Nationals MPs and party faithful will converge in the central city of Bendigo for its annual two-day state conference from Friday.

While the party’s Victorian leader Peter Walsh declined to say what motions will be debated to set the agenda, he and his team are already looking ahead to 2026.

“We’re already laying plans as to what seats we’ll be targeting at the next election,” Mr Walsh told AAP.

The Nationals won nine seats in 2022, a net gain of three after reclaiming Shepparton, Mildura and Morwell from independents.

A Resolve Strategic poll showed Labor’s primary vote has dropped to 28 per cent, down 11 points since Jacinta Allan became premier in September and the lowest figure recorded since the poll began tracking it three years ago.

“The government is just not delivering,” Mr Walsh said.

“The way they are treating Victorians is appalling, thinking that all Victorians should be mushrooms; kept in the dark and fed fertiliser.”

He said the regions had been forgotten in the May 7 state budget, with money found for “pet” metropolitan projects like the Suburban Rail Loop while regional hospitals were potentially facing mergers and service sharing.

“Victorians will not cop that,” Mr Walsh said.

“The voters are far more intelligent the Labor party gives them credit for and it will come back to haunt them.”

Ovens MP Tim McCurdy said the state budget had been a sore point with his north-eastern constituents.

“Nobody minds if there has to be a tight budget as long as we learn from our mistakes and it’s fair,” he told AAP.

“I don’t think it’s very fair because 25 per cent of Victorians live in regional Victoria but we don’t get 25 per cent of the funding.”

Mr McCurdy was expecting member motions on roads, health care and energy prices but much like his party leader, was tight-lipped on details.

“I’m looking forward to conference because that’s when the grassroots really get to have their say,” he said.

“That is the thinking, that is the voice of people living and breathing regional Victoria.”

Federal Nationals leader David Littleproud was in Mildura on Thursday ahead of the conference, outlining some of the national points of contention.

“We’ve seen this (Albanese) government tear up the dedicated Agriculture Visa, continue to use an unworkable Pacific Australia Labour Mobility Scheme, try to introduce a reckless fresh food tax, or biosecurity protection levy, and press ahead with shutting down the live sheep export industry,” he said.

The conference kicks off with the inaugural Big Ideas Forum, focusing on the future of artificial intelligence in the regions, before Friday night’s gala dinner.

Former Ararat mayor and current deputy Jo Armstong will take the reins as Victorian Nationals president after the conference, with Neil Pankhurst stepping down after eight years.