POLITICAL campaigning in Ballarat stepped up a gear yesterday as Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced a federal election would be held on September 14.
Ballarat MP Catherine King and Liberal challenger John Fitzgibbon both welcomed the surprise announcement, starting an unofficial campaign set to last more than seven months.
Traditional issues of jobs, the economy, health and education appear set to dominate the region’s political agenda until polling day with both major parties and the Greens already working to win over voters.
Ms King praised a “smart move by the Prime Minister” after she learned of the election announcement.
“Having been through a number of campaigns, I know there is generally heated speculation about when the election date will be and this leads to significant uncertainty for business and community organisations.”
She nominated employment, infrastructure spending and health as the most important campaign themes.
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Ms King, who has held the seat since 2001 and has a two-party preferred margin of 11.8 per cent, declined to assess her chances of winning re-election.
“I never take any election outcome or a single vote for granted.”
Mr Fitzgibbon said jobs, the carbon tax and cost of living concerns would be the top priorities for what he expected would be a “tough campaign”.
“The electorate has a clear choice on whether they want their local member to be Ballarat’s representative in Canberra or Canberra’s representative in Ballarat,” he said.
“I am focused on the needs of people in the region, on issues like jobs, the cost of living and accessibility of child care, and on the government stripping money of out Ballarat’s health system.”
Online bookmakers Sportsbet.com.au gave Labor odds of $1.10 of retaining the seat, with the Liberal Party paying $7.00.
Ms Gillard’s move confirmed what political watchers already knew - the 2013 political year would be bruising and relentless, and is unlikely to warm a politically tired electorate to the antics of Canberra.
Greens candidate for Ballarat Steph Hodgins-May said she welcomed certainty about the date of the poll and had begun informal campaigning.
“I am pleased the Prime Minister has chosen an election date in September rather than dragging it out until the very latest possible date,” she said.
Other minor parties including the Democratic Labor Party are yet to announce their candidates for Ballarat, with Bacchus Marsh resident Mark Farrell last week revealed as the DLP Victorian Senate candidate.