IT could be up to 10 days before Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella finds out if she’ll be returned for a fifth term — or if she’s been unseated by independent challenger Cathy McGowan.
The “maverick” seat of Indi will be decided on pre-poll and postal votes, with the Australian Electoral Commission confirming it was unlikely there would be a definite result this week.
If she loses, Mrs Mirabella will be the only Liberal MP to lose her seat and not benefit from the nationwide swing toward the Coalition — while Ms McGowan could potentially become the nation’s first female federal independent MP.
A commission spokesman said yesterday additional scrutineers would be sent from Melbourne this morning to help with the count.
By close of counting on Saturday night, Mrs Mirabella had claimed 44.36 per cent of the vote — a swing of 7.49 per cent from the 52 per cent she polled in 2010 — while Ms McGowan had 32.18 per cent.
Ms McGowan is benefiting however, from preferences from the ALP and Greens — both of whom saw their vote decimated in favour of the independent.
An ABC poll prediction has Mrs Mirabella on 51.8 per cent and Ms McGowan on 48.2 per cent, based on estimated preference distribution.
Indi is telling the opposite story of Farrer, where sitting Liberal MP Sussan Ley — who was elected to her seat the same year as Mrs Mirabella, 2001 — was swept in for another term with an increased majority of more than 20 per cent.
Mrs Mirabella was lying low yesterday, while Ms McGowan courted national media, which have increasingly turned their attentions to the North East in recent weeks.
“I feel really, really proud to belong to this community,” Ms McGowan said yesterday.
“I feel like a home-grown leader and I was owned last night.
“Everywhere I went there was a sea of orange. It was just fantastic.”
Indi is a “maverick seat”, which happens when results go against the anticipated two-party preferred outcome.
In Indi’s case, an Australian Electoral Commission state manager instructed that, based on historical data for the electorate, the two-party preferred result would be between Liberal and Labor, battling it out on preferences.
But this election, the primary vote has shown the parties named are not the two favourite candidates and because of this, the commission has no two-party preferred result yet.
“We’ll probably get closer to an indication a week-and-a-half away,” returning officer for Indi Jenny Essex said.
“We’re waiting for all the postal votes to come in. We can’t say they’ve all been counted until 13 days post-polling.”
A spokesman for Mrs Mirabella said she was unavailable for comment yesterday.
The incumbent spent much of Saturday night tucked away in her Wangaratta office, while a party of small but loyal supporters gathered half a block away at Cafe Martini, among them Wangaratta councillor Julian Fidge.
Media were asked not to attend the “private function” until Mrs Mirabella was ready to make a statement.
It was in stark contrast to the party atmosphere over at Wangaratta’s Performing Arts Centre, where about 300 supporters of Ms McGowan celebrated as the results came in from polling booths across the electorate.
Mrs Mirabella attended soon after Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott’s speech, to address the gathering of about 40 people, where she said it was “victory for the Coalition” and that Australia had been returned to “a strong and stable government”.
She said those who had voted independent in Indi had been had by a Labor-Greens-independent alliance in the electorate,.
“We saw them all working together on the booths today,” she said.
In the past 30 years, the Coalition vote has never dipped below 50 per cent in Indi, except on those occasions when Liberal and National party representatives were running against each other.