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Race shaping up in regional Victorian seat

Victorian independent MP Cathy McGowan has confirmed she will retire from politics at the federal election, but whether Nationals deputy leader Bridget McKenzie will vie for her seat remains unclear.

Ms McGowan, 65, on Monday announced she would not contest her northeast Victorian seat of Indi at the upcoming poll, after her supporters anointed rural health researcher Helen Haines to replace her.

Senator McKenzie’s term isn’t due to expire until 2022, but there’s speculation she is plotting a move to the lower house to position herself for a future leadership bid.

Indi is among seats with which she has been linked, after it was reported in October she was moving her electorate office 300km from Bendigo to Wodonga, right into its heartland.

Senator McKenzie is on leave this week and unavailable to comment on her future intentions.

But she has issued some warm words to Ms McGowan, who first won Indi in 2013 by defeating long-serving Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella with a strong grassroots campaign.

“From one regional parliamentarian to another – I would like to recognise Cathy’s service to the northeast of Victoria and the people of Indi and wish her all the very best for her future,” Senator McKenzie said in a statement on Monday.

The Liberal Party has preselected project manager Steve Martin for Indi, while former Wodonga councillor Eric Kerr will run for Labor.

The Victorian Nationals have not yet set dates for their pre-selection process for the seat.

Meanwhile, suggestions Senator McKenzie may run for the seat of Mallee – which fallen Nationals MP Andrew Broad will not recontest after becoming involved in a scandal involving a younger woman – have come to nothing.

Six Nationals options have emerged for Mallee from a nomination process that wrapped up on January 4 – and the deputy leader is not among the group.

A pre-selection vote for the party’s Mallee candidate will be held in the town of Birchip on Saturday.

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