Disclosure: Campbell Klose was Cathy McGowan’s media advisor at the 2013 election.
Cast your mind back, if you will, to the 2007 federal election. A rogue Tony Abbott, let off his leash, went through the Coalition’s slim chances of re-election like a wrecking ball; abusing Labor members on live TV, giving erratic interviews and generally living up to Paul Keating’s observation of him as the ‘resident nutter’ of Parliament House.
In a similar fashion, Liberal candidate for the seat of Indi Sophie Mirabella tore through the electorate and then the nation this week, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake and frantic ministers to pick up the pieces. She’s already deeply unpopular within her party as well as among the people of Indi, and her behaviour this week certainly won’t have helped her cause.
It began last Friday at the opening of the new high care wing at Cooinda Village Hospital in the rural Indi town of Benalla. Mirabella, who has consistently attempted to sideline her opponent, independent MP Cathy McGowan, every time a minister comes to Indi, attempted to force McGowan out of a photo opportunity with the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt.
Wyatt was left visibly embarrassed, appearing deeply uncomfortable before disappearing from the scene as quickly as possible. The head of the nursing home was left to apologise for the way McGowan had been treated.
This is is not an isolated occurrence but characteristic of Mirabella’s broader approach. Her re-election campaign strikes a delicate balance between attempting to deprive McGowan of any public perception of achievement as the local MP, while also portraying herself as competent and personable, having supposedly reformed after her loss in the 2013 election.
Her overarching message is that only by electing her as the Member for Indi will voters gain access to the services they need.
Even internally, Sophie has had to work hard to keep up this pretence at being the only candidate to have access to the Government.
On the 5th of April, the Assistant Minister for Disability Services Jane Prentice was to visit Indi to discuss disability services, invited by McGowan. Mirabella got wind of Ms Prentice’s visit the day before she was due to arrive, after being contacted for comment by the local newspaper.
A maelstrom ensued and Ms Prentice suddenly pulled out of her visit, presumably due to pressure from a furious Mirabella seeking to block McGowan from demonstrating her ability to work with the Government.
This bizarre tactic of ‘elect me or perish in the wilderness’ was on display again last week at a televised debate, when Sophie made the shock announcement that Indi had lost $10 million in hospital funding because they elected Cathy in 2013.
This is an absurd admission to make – even more so because it seems as though Sophie thought this would boost her election chances. It indicates how out-of-touch she is, having been immersed in the intrigue and acrimonious spats of student politics and then hyper-partisan Canberra politics all her life.
Rather than make people regret their decision to vote independent in 2013, it instead reminded people why they voted her out in the first place.
It also reinforced how little Sophie had done for her electorate during the latter part of her time as member. Having had 12 years to deliver this funding, it was only after she lost that the funding miraculously was going to be delivered.
It is a stark reminder that for much of her time as the local Member, the seat of Indi was merely a stepping stone for her career. Indeed, former Mirabella staffers report that she completely ignoring local constituent work and that she had a complete disinterest her electorate.
It is also a remarkable insight and window into the operation of the spiteful Abbott Government. It also raises huge questions about the nature of funding allocation under the Liberal Government. This is why Sophie’s shock admission on PM Live is such a headache for the Government and why there is no way the Government can address her remarks and it not backfire.
Did they allocate it and then renege after Sophie lost? That is a terrible admission for a Government to make. Did Sophie just make it up on the spot last night? That severely damages Sophie’s credibility as a candidate. There is no way this can become a positive for the Liberal Party.
This was a huge miscalculation by Sophie and indicates that the longer this campaign goes on, and the more pressure she is under, the worse it is likely to go for her. Indi voters don’t want to deal with this sort of political posturing and partisan reductivism that Mirabella, Morrison and many of their ilk peddle.
Regardless of the result of the election, the need for this funding still existed and the Federal Government should have gone ahead and allocated it. Using the sick and the elderly as political pawns is a shocking misuse of political power.
It also raises one more question that voters will likely have at as they head to the polls on July 2 (almost certain): why should Indi voters choose to vote for a party that deliberately froze them out because they exercised their democratic right and voted for Cathy?
They paid no less tax because of this decision. Why then should Sophie Mirabella and her coterie of hardliners then try and starve them of services – essentially holding voters for ransom unless they elect her back in.
That is not a good look, and I can guarantee it is not going to fly in an election campaign.
Local #IndiTalks media slams @MirabellaSophie’s “playground politics”
Sour grapes of Liberal wrath as #MurdochMafia target #Indivotes
Face off in #IndiVotes where @martycorboynats firms as main challenger to @IndigoCathy