The Federal Treasurer toured the Nowra end of the Gilmore electorate today as his local comrade in parliament appeared to be under attack from within.
Scott Morrison said if it had not been for Ann Sudmalis, Bill Shorten would be Prime Minister now.
Ms Sudmalis beat Labor’s Fiona Phillips in 2016 with a razor-thin 1.46% margin, helping Malcolm Turnbull build his seven-seat lead over his Labor Party rivals and clinch a one-seat majority.
As the wheels of our democracy start spinning again for another Federal showdown later this year or next, political parties are in preselection mode, looking to lock in local candidates for the campaign ahead.
A process that has brought pressure to bear on Ms Sudmalis.
The ABC reported this morning that Ms Sudmalis was at risk of losing the endorsement of her party, with Milton businessman Grant Schultz seeking to contest the seat for the Liberals.
Mr Schultz is the son of the former Member for Hume, the late Alby Schultz.
Speaking to the media today on the banks of the Shoalhaven River, with his arm around the sitting member’s shoulders, Mr Morrison said Ms Sudmalis has his support.
“At the end of the day we need to respect our grassroots processes, but Ann has demonstrated she is the right candidate here,” he said.
When asked to offer advice to local preselectors Mr Morrison said, “Support the person – Ann, who has delivered on the ground for her community and for the party.”
With the South Coast Labour Council heckling from the sidelines of today’s media conference, Ms Sudmalis came out swinging, flagging the fight she was engaged in to secure a third term.
“I’ve been talking to people and my message is – I’ve been doing a damn good job,” she said.
“And there shouldn’t be any reason to change the jockey on the horse.
“The horse – the government, is doing a phenomenal job, so why flick the jockey off? That’s my words to my preselectors.”
Ms Sudmalis and Mr Morrsion would not address suggestions that branch infighting and personality clashes were behind the preselection challenge, with the suggestion made that the relationship between Ms Sudmalis and the state Member for Kiama, Gareth Ward is toxic.
“I don’t talk about friendships or otherwise within the party,” Ms Sudmalis says.
Ms Sudmalis and Mr Ward have a long history that goes back to their days on local government. Ms Sudmalis even stood for preselection in the seat of Kiama and lost to Mr Ward.
In speaking to the South Coast Register, Mr Ward said, “I have never been asked for my support for Mrs Sudmalis or Mr Schultz.”
“The assertion is inaccurate. The ABC journalist who put together the report never put the question to me.
“It is quite unprofessional and a matter I will be taking up with the ABC,” Mr Ward said.
The pressure and attention on Ms Sudmalis comes days after Queensland Liberal MP Jane Prentice was dumped by the party as the candidate for Ryan, despite her holding a senior position in the government and despite the party having a gender imbalance on the floor of parliament.
Labor’s candidate for Gilmore, Fiona Phillips says the Liberal Party has been too focused on themselves for too long.
“I think the policies of the Liberal Party, no matter who the candidate is, are completely out of step with the electorate,” Ms Phillips says.
“Inequality is rising, people are finding it harder and harder to survive – that’s what they tell me.
“They [Liberal Party] should be concentrating of policies that will actually help our electorate, that’s what Labor is doing – scrapping upfront Tafe fees, putting more money in hospitals, and needs-based funding for our schools,” Ms Phillips says.
The Seat of Gilmore runs from Tuross Heads in the south to Kiama in the north and nominations for Liberal preselection close before the end of the month. In neighbouring Eden-Monaro which takes in Narooma, Bega, Cooma, Tumut and Queanbeyan, Liberal preselection is also underway.