Change turns out to be patchy
The Nationals’ heartland in Nicholls delivered for Sam Birrell, who predictably carried nearly all the smaller rural booths, but, crucially independent Rob Priestly struggled in the larger towns outside of Shepparton.
The Priestly camp expected to poll well in the major population centre of Shepparton, but the results across the booths were not uniform.
St Brendan’s in central Shepparton was won easily by Mr Priestly with 61 per cent to Sam Birrell’s 39 per cent after preferences.
If that result had been repeated across Shepparton the result would have been a lot closer.
The independent also won Shepparton North 57-43 and Shepparton South 53-47 but Kialla was evenly split and the Nationals narrowly won Shepparton East.
While his performance on polling day was better, the margin and number of votes cast were not enough for Mr Priestly to cut into the margin.
Pre-poll turned out to be critical in Shepparton with more than 15,000 votes cast at two centres not reflecting the same support for the independent as on polling day.
At the main pre-poll 11,000 votes were cast and Mr Priestly captured 33 per cent of the primary vote to the Nationals’ 28 per cent and Liberal’s 15 per cent.
Preferences favoured Mr Birrell and while Mr Priestly won 50.6 to 49.4, the narrow margin wasn’t enough to make a difference overall.
It was a similar story at the second pre-poll where 5853 votes were cast, with Mr Priestly receiving 35.5 per cent of the primary vote, but after preferences led by a similarly slender 51-49.
One of the big questions before the count was whether the independent could make an impact outside Shepparton where he was less well-known and had to build a profile during a long campaign.
The picture was bleak.
In Cobram, the home of Liberal candidate Steve Brooks, he romped in the primary vote with Mr Priestly diffing to 12 per cent (Nationals 20 per cent).
After preferences, the Nationals carried it 62-38.
Pre-poll in Cobram was even stronger for the Nationals at 65-35.
In Echuca, where the vast majority of votes were pre-poll, Mr Priestly’s primary vote dropped to 20 per cent and the Nationals’ margin after preferences was 59-41.
It was a narrower win for the Nationals in all three booths on election day.
Seymour was the worst result for the independent where he finished fourth behind the Nationals, Liberals and ALP on the primary vote.
Even with a higher pool of Labor preferences, the Nationals still won 54-46.
Yarrawonga was a thumping win for the Nationals 59-41 on polling day and 64-36 on pre-poll.
In Kyabram, the Nationals won 56-44 but in the surrounding district of Ky Valley and Lancaster the vote reached 60 per cent.