The Liberal communications minister, Paul Fletcher, is likely to face a well-funded independent in his blue-ribbon seat of Bradfield on Sydney’s north shore after community group Voices of Bradfield launched a recruitment drive for an independent candidate.
The former independent for Indi, Cathy McGowan, launched the campaign on Monday to find the suitable person, who will be selected by a recruitment panel.
The latest independent challenge in Liberal heartland comes as Kylea Tink, the newly minted independent candidate for the neighbouring seat of North Sydney, launched her campaign on Wednesday night to take on Trent Zimmerman, who has held the seat for the Liberals since 2015. It was previously held by the former treasurer Joe Hockey.
Tink’s launch on Zoom was hosted by ABC personality Julia Zemiro and was attended by over 440 people.
The move in Bradfield means that the Liberal party could be fighting challenges from independents from Palm Beach to the Harbour Bridge.
Following independent MP Zali Stegall’s 2019 victory in Warringah against the former Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott, independent candidates have emerged from the structures established by “Voices of” groups.
These groups have formed mainly driven by concern about the lack of action on climate change and have sought to galvanise community discontent about the major parties’ lack of action.
The loosely aligned independent candidate groups are expected to run well-funded campaigns in Mackellar, Bradfield and North Sydney, while Zali Steggall is re-contesting Warringah.
Spokesperson for the Bradfield group, neurologist Dr Kate Ahmad, said: “the electorate wants honest, transparent and accountable government, and the people of Bradfield don’t feel that their concerns are being taken seriously by the existing political parties in this regard”.
“We are looking for a determined and community-minded person to represent our concerns around the ‘Four Cs’ – action on the climate crisis, evident failings in the Covid response, the need for an ongoing corruption inquiry in the form of a federal integrity commission and real compassion across a range of social justice issues,” she said.
Paul Fletcher has held Bradfield for the Liberals since 2009. He holds the seat with a 16.6% margin, though he suffered a 4.5% swing against him in the 2019 election. He currently serves as minister for communications, urban infrastructure, cities and the arts.
Fletcher told the Guardian he was unsurprised by the emergence of an independent challenger in his seat.
“At my first election in Bradfield, the byelection in 2009, there were 21 candidates, almost all of whom were, by definition, independent or minor party candidates,” he said.
“And in just about every election since then there’s been a healthy number of independent and minor party candidates running in Bradfield. It is not surprising that the next election will be no different.”
Chris Stone, director of the NSW Liberal party, warned that voting for an independent could deliver government to Labor.
“Voting for an independent candidate in Liberal-held seats risks delivering a weak Albanese-led Labor government that would increase taxes and put Australia’s economic recovery at risk,” he said.
“The fact that groups pushing independents have not appeared in Labor-held seats does make one question how “independent” these groups really are and whether they are not just a front for the Labor party and the Greens,” he said.
The Bradfield independent group began seven months ago and has now incorporated a formal structure for fundraising. It says 400 people have signed up to its newsletter and 50 active volunteers have begun letterboxing the electorate – even before a candidate has been chosen.
The candidate will be chosen by a selection panel, which has established a formal application process via the Voices of Bradfield website.