It’s going to be a tricky eight months for the National Party in Ovens Valley.
Tim McCurdy and his party colleagues are making all the statements they would be expected to – “it’s business as usual” – after deciding to fight the MP’s fraud charges and continue towards November’s Victorian election as planned.
But it will not be that simple.
Magistrates Court cases are notoriously slow when an accused chooses to fight his or her charges.
The first hearing on April 24 is likely to be brief, as Mr McCurdy’s lawyer tells the court his client intends to plead not guilty.
Then it will go off to a committal mention on another day, for the defence and prosecution to discuss the issues of the case, then it can be adjourned again for a full contested hearing.
This process could, and usually does, take many months.
The Coalition has been working on an agenda of law and order over the past year, setting itself up to convince voters it will be the party to tackle Victoria’s crime problem.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s ties with alleged mobsters did not help this, and neither will Mr McCurdy’s charges.
It will not be a good look for an MP who last year hosted a crime forum in Wangaratta and has aligned himself with campaigners fighting for tougher laws.
Mr McCurdy maintains he is innocent of the charges and The Border Mail respects his right to challenge them in a courtroom.
It is unlikely his political opponents will let the allegations go without a mention as the campaign heats up closer to November.
Even in safe seats such as Ovens Valley, elections are a good opportunity for residents, councils and community groups to lobby politicians about funding needs or important issues.
Let’s hope the focus on fraud charges does not completely overshadow the region’s very real need for health, school, roads and drug rehabilitation funding.
And if Mr McCurdy is found guilty before November, that will throw up another challenge for the National Party of replacing him as a candidate.
It is speculative for now, but the National Party will need to plan for all scenarios over the coming months, while making sure the Ovens Valley electorate still gets the focus it deserves for the right reasons.
It will be tricky, but as Nationals state president Neil Pankhurst told The Border Mail yesterday, “what will be will be”.