Six Nationals candidates vie to replace Andrew Broad in Mallee seat | Australia news

Two women and four men have put their hands up to run for the National party in the western Victorian federal seat of Mallee to replace embattled MP Andrew Broad.

Broad resigned as a junior minister and announced he would not recontest the next election following claims of inappropriate conduct late last year. He has said his decision to arrange to meet a woman on a sugar baby website was a “dumb mistake”.

The Mallee preselection field includes Irymple airconditioning businessman Toby Heil, Birchip farmer Bernadette Hogan, Mildura acting police inspector Paul Mathieson, Mallee Sustainable Farming executive chairman Daniel Linklater and Minyip farmer Shane McGrath. McGrath is the son of the late former Victorian state MP Bill McGrath.

Mildura social worker Anne Webster, who previously ran against Broad in 2013 for preselection, is also in contention.

Webster, 59, founded a community organisation called Zoe Support, which helps mothers in their teens and early 20s reconnect with studying and training. She has lived in Mildura for 41 years and is married to a local doctor.

She recently completed her PhD in sociology on adoption at the Australian National University, and said her six grandchildren were used to her trundling off to Canberra for her studies.

“I think there is significant distrust in politicians and politics more broadly,” she said.

Webster spent the last week travelling around Wimmera towns rallying support among National party members. “There is a feeling of great disappointment,” she said.

“But I think it’s important to understand the difference between a person’s actions and the party’s attitudes, goals and values. The National party continues to be the way forward for regional and rural Australia.”

She nominated road upgrades, lack of rail services, water, energy, healthcare, education and immigration as key issues in the seat.

The region was hoping to attract more refugees to struggling small towns to help fill unskilled job shortages, she said, highlighting the success of the Burmese Karen who have settled in Nhill.

Hundreds of National party members will make a decision on the Mallee candidate on 19 January.

Senior party officials are supporting the push for a female candidate.

The National party state director, Matthew Harris, acknowledged that while a female candidate would be a good thing, it was not set in stone.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to the membership in Mallee,” he said.

“They’ll vote for whoever they think is the best candidate.”

While Broad holds the seat of Mallee on a margin of about 20%, the Nationals could face a tough battle to retain it.

In a surprise upset during the November Victorian election, the independent Ali Cupper wrested the previously safe state seat of Mildura from Nationals MP Peter Crisp.

Cupper believes there is strong local anger about a lack of resources and infrastructure after decades of being taken for granted.

She said there could be fertile ground for a strong independent candidate to rise.

The former Yarriambiak mayor Ray Kingston has announced a bid to run as an independent.

The Liberal party is also likely to run a candidate in the seat of Mallee. One of the names being bandied about is Peta Credlin, Tony Abbott’s former chief of staff turned Sky News presenter, who grew up in the town of Wycheproof.