ROB HARRIS THE WEEKLY TIMES DECEMBER 23, 2014 12:00AM
RURAL voters have turned to the Greens in record numbers amid growing community concerns over coal-seam gas exploration in western Victoria.
The Greens, whose party room grew from three to seven at last month’s Victorian election, doubled and in some cases trebled its vote in almost 20 small rural booths across the southwest.
Amid widespread opposition to the unconventional gas industry in Branxholme, in the Glenelg Shire, 13 per cent of the township voted Green in the Upper House, up from just 4 per cent four years ago. The Green vote went up more than 250 per cent in Yanac, Streatham, Skipton, Buangor and Merino — where Lloyd Davies campaigned on a strong anti-CSG platform.
The party fell short of winning the fifth Legislative Council spot for Western Victoria, but leader Greg Barber said a “tectonic shift” had occurred in the way regional Victorians were voting.
The Greens were “disappointed” not to win a regional seat, but Mr Barber said it was “not for lack of trying”.
“Our grassroots, bottom-up, people-powered campaign rolled out in all parts of the state and grew our support in some interesting places,” he said. Mr Barber said the Western District town of Merino, population 364, had increased its Greens vote from 6 per cent to 14 per cent because of CSG.
Brian Costar, professor of political science at Swinburne University, said although the statistics were distorted due to the small booths, many of them were “all in the same direction”.
“It used to be the further you get outside Melbourne the lower the Green vote was, but they managed to harness community angst over CSG and renewable energies,” Mr Costar said. Liberal MP Simon Ramsey, who snared top billing in the region, said there were clearly concerns in the region over CSG and both government and industry needed to take this into consideration.
Labor has committed to the current full moratorium on CSG until a parliamentary inquiry has handed down its recommendations.