On Saturday 4 July, residents of the federal electorate of Eden-Monaro will go to the polls for a by-election brought on by the resignation of sitting Labor MP, Mike Kelly.
There are 14 candidates vying for the seat, however since 1943 the division has been represented by either a Liberal or Labor candidate.
The Eden-Monaro by-election will see former Bega Valley mayor, Kristy McBain, attempt to retain the marginally held seat for Labor against second-time Liberal candidate – local farmer and community leader, Fiona Kotvjs.
The federal electorate of Eden-Monaro surrounds the ACT, covering the townships of Yass, Bega, Cooma and Queanbeyan, with many voters for this by-election having endured the triple threats of drought, bushfires, and COVID-19 in recent months.
The seat lost its famed bellwether status at the 2016 election, voting against the government of the day for the first time since 1968, but now it has an opportunity to regain national notoriety as the first block of voters to pass judgement on the federal government – post-pandemic.
Both candidates for this Eden-Monaro by-election have connections throughout the diverse electorate, impressive resumes and a list of community achievements a mile long.
They both cite hard work as a core value and say jobs and local economic growth are their focus.
Both are women and could become Eden-Monaro’s first female representative.
Substantial points of difference between Ms McBain and Ms Kotvjs involve their approaches to bushfire recovery, coronavirus stimulus spending and climate change.
Meet the candidate: Kristy McBain
Kristy McBain grew up on the coast and credits her working-class upbringing for her “traditional Labor values”; she was the first in her family to go to university.
To earn her double degree in journalism/law, she relocated to Canberra. The move imprinted in her a desire to provide more choice and career opportunities for regional Australians.
Ms McBain said she had watched many people leave the regions to secure meaningful employment and it made regional growth more difficult.
Her work in the legal world helped to forge her leadership style.
Working one-on-one with clients, listening, and helping them through complex situations to achieve an outcome was her favourite part of the job.
She continued this process as mayor of Bega Valley during last summer’s horrendous fires.
An appearance on ABC’s Q&A helped boost her public profile and gave her a platform to critique the federal response to the bushfires.
Ms McBain believes that far too often, public figures are constrained from honest dialogue and fail to represent their electorate.
She said during the bushfires she relied on simple communication like talking to people about their experiences to help them through their trauma and frustration.
Ms McBain was frustrated by the focus on the distinction between state and federal responses and it was a distraction from the real issue – which was getting people the help they needed.
The Labor candidate for the Eden-Monaro by-election has just released a job plan, heavy on infrastructure builds (including telecommunications), a climate change plan to help business adapt and reducing gaps in the JobKeeper program.
“Our electorate has more mobile phone black-spots than any other region and many areas still don’t have NBN and aren’t likely to get it in the next rollout. How can regional communities grow without it?”
Meet the candidate: Fiona Kotvjs
Fiona Kotvjs gained a 2% swing against Mike Kelly at the 2019 election, reducing the margin to less than 1%. Despite her narrow loss, she was forced to withstand ill-fated challenges from NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance and NSW Deputy Leader John Barilaro.
When the usual fun and games of politics had subsided, Ms Kotvjs sought to take her candidacy one step further.
A farmer of 40 years, she believes in freedom of speech, private ownership, and freedom of religion.
Ms Kotvjs’ Jewish grandmother escaped the Nazis in Vienna through snow-covered mountains and inspired with her tales of hardship and survival, straight from the pages of history.
As a small business owner, Ms Kotvjs praised the government’s JobKeeper and HomeBuilder schemes and said feedback from industry was these schemes had kept people in jobs and saved businesses in tough circumstances.
The Liberal candidate plans to reinvigorate the local economy and create jobs by funding local tourism opportunities such as gourmet food trails rather than extending JobKeeper.
A dedicated community leader, Ms Kotvjs’ volunteer credentials span Lifeline, Rotary, Oxfam, the Army Reserve and the Rural Fire Service.
She experienced the bushfire season personally, both as a member of the devastated Cobargo fire brigade and as someone who defended her own property from threat of fire for more than a month.
Ms Kotvjs said the emergency relief came into her community quickly but she sees a strong need to improve coordination between government and to smooth out the processes.
She said it was difficult for traumatised people to give information to multiple authorities.
As for the causes of the unprecedented fires, Ms Kotvjs welcomes the Royal Commission to examine all the elements, including fuel loads and climate change, which she does not deny, using the wording: “Climate is changing and humans are contributing to that change”.