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Battle to oust Craig Kelly sees two independents split the Hughes community

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP</span>
Photograph: Dean Lewins/AAP

There is an old saying that disunity is death in politics and it appears that no one is immune to factional splits.

In the federal seat of Hughes, in Sydney’s south, which is now held by Craig Kelly, there are now two independent candidates running, each backed by a different community organisation.

Their platforms are similar: action on climate, better local representation and greater integrity in politics. But that’s where the camaraderie ends.

Related: Backed by Climate 200’s $3.6m war chest, independent challengers circle Coalition seats

The group We Are Hughes is running with its former president Linda Seymour, who announced her campaign last weekend.

Seymour is an architectural design and communication specialist who lives with her husband, Ross, and two daughters, Ayla and Jessi, in Bonnet Bay.

The group Hughes Deserves Better has decided to endorse Georgia Steele, who announced in mid-October she was running as a community independent.

Steele is a corporate lawyer, who moved back to the Sutherland shire when she had children. She had initially been talking to We Are Hughes, but pulled out abruptly to go it alone.

The two community groups in Hughes were born out of concerns that the former local Liberal member, Kelly, was failing to represent their values.

Kelly left the Liberal party in February after a string of controversies related to his comments on Covid vaccines and treatments and is now running for the United Australia party.

Hughes Deserves Better describes itself as “a disrupter organisation”, which sprung into existence before the 2019 election to critique the behaviour and statements of Kelly.

Kelly has since resigned and is running for Clive Palmer’s United Australia party.

We Are Hughes is more in the style of the “Voices of” organisations, but was also alarmed by Kelly’s increasingly conservative stance.

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Many of the members overlapped but, as time has gone by, the groups have grown apart.

The president of Hughes Deserves Better, Ali Grimison, said the decision to endorse Steele had been taken by a panel of four who had first drawn up criteria of what they wanted to see in a candidate and a member of parliament.

There have been a number of concerns expressed about the selection process for Seymour, given she was president of We Are Hughes and initially on the selection panel.

Seymour said she had been hopeful they would find the ideal candidate, but when people approached her asking her to run, she recused herself and then was put through a gruelling interview by the We Are Hughes panel, who selected her.

The result is two independent candidates.

Related: Craig Kelly awarded Australian Skeptics’ Bent Spoon gong for spreading Covid misinformation

Given that independents usually need to come second in the primary vote ahead of one of the major parties to be in the running, splitting the independent vote is unlikely to prove a winning strategy unless the two groups can ensure a tight flow of preferences.

The Liberals are still to preselect a candidate, with the state MP for Holsworthy, Melanie Gibbons, indicating she will resign to contest the federal seat of Hughes which overlaps with her state seat.

The Liberals’ polling in the byelection seats in the wake of Gladys Berejiklian’s departure has alarmed state strategists.

Gibbons is understood to have the prime minister’s backing but the New South Wales Liberal factions are less enamoured of the move because it leaves premier Dominic Perrottet exposed to another byelection on top of Willoughby ( Berejiklian’s seat) Monaro (John Barilaro’s seat) and Bega (Andrew Constance’s seat).

Kelly is also saying he will run, though many expect that he will pivot to running for the Senate, judging by his much broader focused campaign using full-page ads in major publications and nationwide spam texts. Insiders say he is polling single digits in Hughes.

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