Riverina candidates gear up to challenge Nationals MP Michael McCormack as PM calls federal election

INCUMBENT: Riverina MP Michael McCormack says he is not taking anything for granted as he gears up to retain his seat in this year's election. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
INCUMBENT: Riverina MP Michael McCormack says he is not taking anything for granted as he gears up to retain his seat in this year's election. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Scott Morrison has called the election for May 21, officially launching what is set to be a hotly contested battle for the seat of Riverina.

At least six candidates will be challenging incumbent Nationals MP Michael McCormack for his seat, with cost of living issues and major infrastructure projects expected to play a key role in swinging Riverina votes.

Mr McCormack has held the seat since 2010 and retained it with 69 per cent of the two-party preferred vote last election, but said he will not be taking anything for granted as he looks to keep voters onside after a chaotic few years.

"We will go to the election based on our economic record and what we've been able to do given we've had drought, fires, floods, a mouse plague, and of course COVID-19," he said.

"It has had such an effect on people's lives and our country but Australia has done so well compared to other nations - our unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in decades."

Skyrocketing petrol prices and the regional housing shortage have piled pressure on Riverina residents over the past year, leading Mr McCormack to target the rising cost of living as a key issue.

"Cost of living pressures are the bread and butter issue around the dinner tables of people in the Riverina," he said.

Mark Jeffreson (Labor), Michael Organ (Greens), Daniel Martelozzo (UAP), Dean McCrae (Liberal Democrats), Pennie Scott and Darren Ciavarella will be among those looking to show voters they are better placed to tackle these issues.

Mr Jeffreson was the biggest threat to Mr McCormack in the 2019 federal election, but ultimately the Labor candidate secured just over 30 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.

The local businessman said he was glad a date had finally been set for this year's poll and he can now officially launch his party's campaign - which is promising Australians "a better future".

"The government are offering the same as they've offered over the last three years whereas we've got a plan for cheaper childcare, cheaper bills and more well-paid jobs for Australians," Mr Jeffreson said. He said vital services in the Riverina have been "left short" in recent years and strategies to address these deep-rooted problems will be the key to improving Labor's foothold in the electorate.

"The Wagga Airport, the Parkes hospital, the Cootamundra hospital - there are lots and lots of problems around the Riverina and I think voters want to see those addressed," he said.

The official launch of the election was met with delight by Liberal Democrat candidate Dean McCrae, who said this year's vote was shaping up to be "pretty exciting" for his party.

"It's game on isn't it - it's all happening now," he said.

Mr McCrae echoed the sentiment that cost of living issues will define the way Riverina voters sway this year and said he thinks the economic management of the government will also come into play.

"The reality is your average working class families have been to hell and back in the last few years," he said.

"People want to see us get our budgets under control and get more frugal rather than just throwing money at things."

CHALLENGER: Labor candidate Mark Jeffreson says voters want solutions to struggling health services like hospitals and Wagga's airport. Picture: Madeline Begley

CHALLENGER: Labor candidate Mark Jeffreson says voters want solutions to struggling health services like hospitals and Wagga's airport. Picture: Madeline Begley

Ms Scott and Mr Ciavarella will be looking to harness the widespread frustration with the major parties in their ambitious bids to be elected as independents.

"I've been travelling around the electorate since November and the words that keep cropping up consistently are 'we need change'," Ms Scott said.

"Accountability and integrity come up every time because there seems to be a blatant disregard from the government in spending taxpayer money without any scrutiny."

The Cowra farmer also said major infrastructure projects like the NBN and the Inland Rail will be "huge ticket items" for voters.

Mr Ciavarella said there are "a lot of topics" which will be influencing Riverina votes but he expects the rental and housing crisis will be top of the agenda for many.

"The rental and housing crisis is a real issue and people are struggling to even get a house," he said.

Mr Organ and Mr Martelozzo could not be reached for comment.