INDEPENDENT candidate for the federal seat of Farrer Kevin Mack has been the subject of a betting plunge with online bookmaking giant Sportsbet as it emerges his bid is being assisted by two former editors of The Border Mail.
Mr Mack's odds have tumbled from $6 into $1.95 with Sportsbet, while incumbent Liberal MP Sussan Ley, who has safely held the seat for 18 years, has drifted from $1.03 to $1.70 to remain a slight favourite.
The Border Mail can reveal that its former editor Di Thomas, who has most recently been chief of staff for retiring independent Indi member Cathy McGowan, will join Mr Mack's team as campaign leader ahead of the federal election on May 18.
Another former editor of The Border Mail, Simon Dulhunty, now a media advisor and troubleshooter based in Sydney, is understood to have helped launch Mr Mack's announcement bid in February and is advising the Albury mayor's team, which has the serious backing of grassroots campaign group Voices For Farrer.
For the first time since Ms Ley swept to victory in 2001, Farrer is shaping as a hotly contested seat, and despite the dominance of Ms Ley at the last federal election, and her many years of service, the Mack team's private early polling suggests the race is neck and neck.
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Ms Thomas, editor of The Border Mail from 2012 to 2015, said her choice to officially join the Mack team was based on two key factors, "my belief that Kevin would do a great job as a strong voice to represent every town in Farrer, and the fact that the rise of independents is re-shaping Australia's political landscape for the better".
"The success of an independent in these parts is something I have seen first-hand with Cathy McGowan, who showed what attention and action can be brought to an electorate by being an independent focused on the region first rather than any party. Indi is an electorate that has grown in confidence and courage and that is what has delivered better governance, pride and real outcomes," she said.
When contacted, Mr Dulhunty downplayed his own role in Mr Mack's bid, saying he was "on the sidelines cheering for a better outcome for the Farrer region".
He said he had "bumped into" Mr Mack when visiting family in Albury last Christmas and spent the next day having coffee with the mayor to learn of his plans.
"I think Kevin Mack would have won the state seat of Albury if he had contested it, so I was interested in why he would pass up that opportunity to run federally, and I liked what I heard from him," Mr Dulhunty said.
"Kevin has a lot of support and I think he's definitely in with a chance, for sure.
"In my experience, the betting markets usually have it right, especially in punting on politics, so it's going to be a fascinating few weeks."
Interestingly, Mr Dulhunty was editor of The Border Mail 18 years ago, in the same year Ms Ley was victorious at the 2001 federal election.
"It was a momentous occasion for the regions with Sophie Panopoulos (later Mirabella) winning Indi and Sussan Ley winning Farrer, but as we have seen - a lot has changed since then.
"I have great respect for Di, and what she has been able to assist Cathy in achieving for Indi, and I think her vote of confidence in Kevin is telling."
- Xavier Mardling has been The Border Mail editor since October 2016. He worked under Mr Dulhunty and Ms Thomas when they were in charge. The Border Mail, as it has done since 1903, will continue to report without fear or favour.
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