"WE have retained the seat of Calare."
At 9.20pm on Andrew Gee confirmed what most had suspected much earlier in the evening but there was still a resounding cheer from his family, staff and The National Party faithful who gathered at the Orange City Bowling Club to hear the progress of the Federal Election on Saturday night.
As of Monday morning 104,115 of Calare's 121,564 eligible votes had been counted and Mr Gee had increased his lead to 48.27 per cent of the primary vote, or 48,296 votes, representing a 3.5 per cent swing his way and enabling The Nationals' to maintain their iron grip on Calare.
Independent Kate Hook had 20.6 per cent, or 20,569 primary votes, while Labor endured a 7.2 per cent swing against them with candidate Sarah Elliott claiming 14.9 per cent (14,913 primary votes), One Nation's Stacey Whittaker 8.3 per cent (8,346), the Greens Kay Nankervis 4.2 per cent (4,229), and the UAP claiming 3.7 per cent (3,703).
Just under 4 per cent of votes cast were declared informal.
In claiming the win, Mr Gee thanked his family and friends for their support and his staff for their commitment and work throughout a long campaign.
"Political campaigns are never easy," he said.
"It doesn't matter if you're from a big party ... you never really know until the results are in and it's hard to get a gauge as to how it's going, I was at Bletchington (on Saturday) and a lot of people weren't taking how-to-votes so it's very difficult to know how you're going.
"It's one of those things, everyone always hopes for the best - it's been a strong result and, yeah, it's been a relief to actually win."
During his speech last night, Mr Gee said he felt humbled by the result.
"It's a very strong endorsement and I'm very grateful for it."
Mr Gee also paid tribute to his opponents who he said he had become quite familiar with during the campaign.
"One of the things politics is about is the battle of ideas, that's what democracy is all about," he said.
Despite Mr Gee's resounding win, the Coalition Government was in trouble on Saturday night meaning he will likely serve Calare in opposition.
"I'll just have to wait and see who forms the government. The constant is that the work representing the people of Calare won't end. That commitment goes on.
"If that's what the nation decides then that is what I will do. Ensure the interests of the people of Calare come first."
LABOR candidate Sarah Elliott admitted on Saturday she was frustrated with her party's late start to its campaign in Calare.
A midwife and mother of five, Ms Elliott spent Saturday afternoon campaigning in Orange before heading back home to Lithgow where she planned to have quiet meal at the Lithgow Workmens Club with supporters.
Ms Elliott said her first political campaign had taught her an enormous amount but she conceded Calare was out of Labor's reach, this time.
"We were very disappointed, I have to say extremely disappointed," she said, referring to the lateness of her official endorsement from the ALP, which came on April 21, almost two weeks after the election date of May 21 had been announced by PM Scott Morrison.
It also gave her five rivals weeks' head-start on campaigning.
"A lot of people said we wouldn't blame you if you walked away but I signed up for it, it quit my job for it," she said.
"We've just been so robbed of campaign time but we'll hit the ground and fly the flag."
Ms Elliott said she believed Labor had thrown the majority of its resources at margin seats but wouldn't be drawn on that being a sign the party felt Calare was a lost cause.
"Out of frustration I did say, "you can easily lose a marginal seat but gain a long-shot in its place if you just gave us a bit more time," she said.
She said her objective was to reduce the margin The Nationals enjoyed in Calare and hopefully improve on, or at worst equal the result of 2019 candidate Jess Jennings, who gained 23 per cent of the primary vote.
Ms Elliott also felt there was a change in demographic in Calare and would consider running in 2025, or throwing her hat into the ring for the State Election next year.
"There is a really bit of an unknown. We had that really big [influx] of tree-changers during COVID, so I think the voting demographics are actually a bit different.
"I'd consider a state tilt but I'd rather support someone else who wants to stand up," she said.
One Nation candidate Stacey Whittaker, from Bathurst, chose Anson Street Public School in Orange to spend her last morning on the campaign trail on Saturday afternoon.
She said, at the time, she was unsure as to how the vote count was to go but predicted there would be a chunk of votes taken off Mr Gee in what loomed as a "wake up call".
"It's very hard to say (though)," she added when asked for a prediction.
"People in the Calare region want a (person) who represents them."
UAP candidate Adam Jannis polled the least amount of votes out of any of the candidates in Calare on Saturday, but he boldly declared his presence in this election is "only just the beginning".
Taking to social media post-election, Mr Jannis thanked all of his supporters for their help throughout the campaign.
"We've only just gotten started," he added.
"It's been a fantastic journey, a huge learning curve and a great experience."
He said the "freedom movement is growing", and regardless of the result he would "keep fighting for our freedoms and our Australian way of life".
"... because there is nothing in the world more important," he said.
by Kate Bowyer
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