Independents eye National Party seats in next federal election

Voices for Cowper have held community forums and kitchen table conversations in preparation for the next federal election.

Voices for Cowper have held community forums and kitchen table conversations in preparation for the next federal election. Photo: Voices 4 Cowper

Independents are eyeing electorates held by the National Party ahead of the next federal election, in the latest push to shake up seats long-held by the Coalition.

Caz Heise, a local director of nursing and midwifery and independent candidate in Cowper in 2022, said she intends to contest the next federal election if she is backed by the local community.

“Last weekend, the Voices for Cowper group held two forums, one in Port Macquarie and one in Coffs Harbour,” she said.

“Hundreds of people came out nearly a year out from the election. I was surprised by the enthusiasm and hunger for change in the region.”

Heise and her campaign had over 1000 volunteers in 2022, which powered her to 47.68 per cent of the two-preference vote and made Cowper one of the most marginal seats in the country.

At the next election, she believes 2000 volunteers will be willing to help an independent candidate dislodge incumbent Nationals member Pat Conahan.

Elsewhere, the independent Senator David Pocock was in Robina on Friday night to launch the search for an independent candidate for the seat of McPherson.

McPherson MP Karen Andrews hoped a woman would replace her when she announced her retirement, but the Liberal National Party preselected lawyer Leon Rebello in a contest between four men.

Shifting field

The New Daily can confirm that Rob Priestly, a local businessman who ran in the National Party held seat of Nicholls, will not contest the next federal election.

Priestly lost by just 3.81 per cent in the 2022 federal election, with the Nationals suffering a swing of 16.22 per cent following the retirement of Damian Drum.

Kate Hook ran as a community-backed independent candidate in Colare against Andrew Gee in 2022, but is unsure if she will contest the next election.

She said Gee’s defection from the Nationals to join the crossbench as an independent has factored into the “live conversation” on whether to run again.

“Peter Andren was elected and re-elected because people saw how good it is to have an independent representative,” she said.

“There is a recognition that our system with the two-party duopoly is a problem.”

Andrew Gee defected from the Nationals Party because of the party’s position on the Voice to Parliament referendum. Photo: AAP

Andren held the seat from 1996 until 2007 as an independent.

Hook said regardless of whether she runs or not, it is important for people to participate in democracy.

“It’s very easy to say I hate politics or politics is boring, but if good people don’t get involved, then it never improves,” she said.

“What I am excited about is the potential of independents being an ongoing fixture in Australian democracy and people having a vehicle to have input into the issues that matter to them.”

Hook won over 20 per cent of the first preference vote, losing to Gee 40.32 to 59.68 per cent on two-party preferences.

Second chance

Some independent candidates, including Suzie Holt in Groom and Nicolette Boele in Bradfield, who ran in 2022 have maintained offices and campaign apparatus throughout their electorates.

Byron Fey, Climate 200 director, previously told The New Daily that seats where an independent campaign had run in 2022 and performed well were also likely to receive funding.

“Looking back in the history books, it is normally two attempts for independents to break through,” he said.

“The electorates where independents were successful in the last election, the community groups that ultimately selected them and asked them to run started their work around a year out from the election on average.”

Heise and Hook both received funding through Climate 200 in their last election campaigns.

Priestly and Heise experienced a ‘dirty tricks’ campaign featuring text messages targeting their alleged links to Labor and the Greens as polling showed a tight race.

Heise said it was a “tough part of the campaign”.

“Some people who are seasoned campaigners from party systems resorted to politics that I would never resort to,” she said.

“Michelle Obama said ‘when they go low, we go high’ and that is exactly what the community independent movement is all about.”

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