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Independent candidate, Phil Cleary, and the Australian Democrats announce they will swap preferences in the Wills by-election; Labor does not believe a combined vote will beat the major parties

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: The seat of Wills, which is at the centre of the present political debate, saw a setback for both the major parties today as that key independent candidate decided where his preferences will go. Independent and local Coburg footballer, Phil Cleary, and the Australian Democrats announced that they'll swap preferences despite Phil Cleary having a strong Labor background. In Melbourne this morning, Ali Moore asked the ALP's Victorian Secretary, Jenny Beacham, whether the Democrats and the Cleary vote together could beat the major parties.

JENNY BEACHAM: I think the people in Wills are intelligent enough to work out that their destiny is really tied up with the major parties. The Democrats can promise the earth - they have for years; it doesn't affect what happens to people in Wills - they know that. They've really - the local voters - have got to come to terms with who offers them the most chance of economic recovery - the Hewson package or the Keating package.

ALI MOORE: But what about Phil Cleary? He's a local candidate. It looks like he'll probably poll very well.

JENNY BEACHAM: Well, the only choice his voters have got to make at the end of the day is whether they want the Liberal Party or the Labor Party elected. They may support him in the first instance, but there are a whole range of Independent candidates to choose from in the field. And, in the end, the voters of Wills I think will take the choice between Liberal and Labor rather than being diverted by the range of Independents that are quite mischievously in the field, in some cases.

ALI MOORE: But the preference swap - it must be a worry.

JENNY BEACHAM: I would have preferred Phil Cleary to have given us his preference, of course. He has to weigh up what the Democrats can offer the voters of Wills. I fail to see what they have to offer, but he is prepared to put them second. I certainly hope his supporters, though, would put us ahead of the Liberal Party.

ALI MOORE: What's your polling telling you about a likely Wills outcome?

JENNY BEACHAM: We know, without any polling, that it's very tight. It's very hard for a government in a by-election, in any by-election. Recent by-elections in the last ten years have always shown a big swing against the Government, but in this particular case it's even harder because the recession has particularly impacted on Wills. I just hope the people of Wills will weigh that up against the consumption tax and the harsh confrontation that the Hewson alternative offers.

ALI MOORE: What's your polling telling you about the Democrats and about the Independent candidates and about Phil Cleary?

JENNY BEACHAM: Well, we know that there are a whole range of people still undecided in their vote. The campaign is crucial in that, so that's what we're getting on with.

ALI MOORE: You say that the vote will be tight. Certainly, both Labor and the Opposition started off this whole campaign by saying that it was going to be a difficult by-election, and yet, in the past few weeks, we've seen the Prime Minister, his wife, the Education Minister, the Social Security Minister, all in Wills. The stakes have become extraordinarily high, haven't they?

JENNY BEACHAM: They were high from the beginning. There's nothing new about that. There's actually nothing new about the strategy of having visits from prominent political figures on all sides in a by-election.

ALI MOORE: But this is almost unprecedented, the number of Federal Ministers that have been in that electorate over the past week.

JENNY BEACHAM: No, it's not, Ali. I've done by-elections for the last 10 years and there are always significant visits from outside figures. But I'd have to say, on the ground, there's a whole range of local activities going on alongside those high-profile media events.

RICHARD PALFREYMAN: Victorian ALP Secretary, Jenny Beacham.