Former Liberal MP turned independent Julia Banks has confirmed she will challenge her former colleague Greg Hunt for the seat of Flinders at the next election.
- The former lawyer will campaign on climate change and energy
- Mr Hunt’s margin in Flinders is 7 per cent, but it is vulnerable to a swing
- Mr Hunt said he would never leave his community and defended his record on climate change
Ms Banks joins a growing list of independent women contesting traditionally safe Liberal seats in the wake of last year’s leadership spill that saw Malcolm Turnbull ousted from the top job.
Citing “unfinished business”, Ms Banks confirmed long-running rumours that she would run as an independent in Flinders, pitting herself against the Health Minister who has held the seat for 18 years.
“I realised that everything I’ve stood and fought for my entire adult life intersects with this moment in time in Australia,” she said in a statement.
“I’ve decided I’m staying in this race.
“It’s important that the people of Flinders are not taken for granted and have a strong independent representative who listens, gives it their all and takes pride in being their voice.”
Ms Banks was a star Liberal recruit in 2016 when she unexpectedly won the marginal seat of Chisolm but she quit the party last year after the change of leadership and spoke out against a culture of “bullying and intimidation”.
The former lawyer, who has a family home on the Mornington Peninsula, will campaign on climate change and energy — issues she has accused her former colleagues of failing to address.
“Climate change is not only real — it is happening,” she said.
“Clean renewable energy is the future.”
Health Minister Greg Hunt said he grew up on the Mornington Peninsula. (ABC News: Nick Haggarty)
Hunt defends record as local MP
Mr Hunt appeared to take a swipe at Ms Banks by saying he would “never leave” his community.
“I’m passionate about my electorate. It’s where I grew up and where I went to school, where our children were born, where my wife worked, my father worked,” he said.
“It’s always been an immense privilege and a daily responsibility to represent the community I grew up in. I’d never leave my community, I’m just completely passionate about it.”
Mr Hunt defended his record on climate change and also pointed to his support of same-sex marriage.
“My position has been a deep belief in climate change,” he said.
“My electorate voted 70 per cent ‘yes’ for same-sex marriage. I didn’t just vote yes, I was one of the advocates, both for the plebiscite and for the yes vote.”
While no-one is willing to write her off just yet, Liberal sources have cast doubt on Ms Banks’s chances of winning.
Mr Hunt won more than 50 per cent of the primary vote at the last election so if she has any chance of winning, Ms Banks would not only need Labor preferences, but run second to the longstanding incumbent.
PM laughs off independent threat
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had “no doubt” Mr Hunt would be re-elected.
“Greg Hunt has worked like a Trojan for his community from the day he was elected in the seat of Flinders,” he said.
“People in their communities back people who’ve worked for their communities, worked in their communities.”
Mr Morrison laughed off suggestions the Government was being threatened by a wave of independents.
Former prime minister Tony Abbott is being challenged by Olympic skier Zali Steggall in Warringah while former Clean Energy Finance Corporation chief Oliver Yates is running in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong.
“One person has decided to stand who was in the Liberal Party and this is apparently ‘a rush’,” Mr Morrison said.
Liberal backbencher and fellow Victorian MP Tim Wilson tried to cast doubt over Ms Banks’s chances in Flinders.
“This is a free country but I guess I question whether this is a wise decision,” he said.
“The polling released by the CFMMEU earlier in the week about the Flinders electorate shows that an independent basically has no chance of being successful.”