Settled over a beer

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Time to reflect: As the vote counting began, the three main protagonists in Nicholls headed to a pub to enjoy a beer together. Photo by Irene Dowdy

For months they had battled each other, but as soon as the voting closed, The Nationals’ Sam Birrell, Liberal Steve Brooks and independent Rob Priestly caught up for a beer at Shepparton’s Terminus Hotel.

The private gathering was instigated by Mr Brooks and followed weeks of campaigning that included negative attacks by The Nationals on Mr Priestly that angered many in the electorate.

All three said it was an opportunity to clear the air, especially for Mr Birrell and Mr Priestly, who are friends and previously worked closely together through the Committee for Greater Shepparton.

“It has been tough,” Mr Birrell said on election night.

“Steve Brooks is a wonderful individual who I had not met before this election campaign. Rob Priestly is an old friend and that made things very difficult amongst a group of people and friends in Shepparton.”

He said the gathering was the perfect circuit-breaker.

“It was wonderful. It was so nice because I like Rob so much and Steve Brooks, there was no animosity, it was just a lovely moment between three people and it won’t be the last,” he said.

Mr Priestly said he was keen to clear the slate between the pair after the negativity of the campaign.

“I didn’t take anything that happened in the campaign personally,” he said.

“I don’t condone the negative campaigning strategies, not because they are personally aligned at me, but because they drive people away from talking about the issues and into generating fear.”

Mr Priestly said he continued to focus on policy and problem-solving.

“I’m disappointed about the negative aspect of the campaigning. I’m not offended in any way,” he said.

“The beer was really important. There will be people in this community that on my behalf feel aggrieved about what has gone on in the campaign and I need people in the community to know that If I’m prepared to build a bridge and get over it, then they should be too.

“If Sam’s going to be our local member, then we need to work closely with Sam and give him the best opportunity to work closely with whoever is in government.

“Leaving those bridges burnt doesn’t help anyone.”