Warren Mundine has been thrust in to the Gilmore electorate as the Liberal’s new candidate, overruling Liberal Party processes and ousting pre-selected Liberal candidate Grant Schultz.
Mr Mundine, who has Yuin ancestry, was not a member of the Liberal Party when the Prime Minister made the announcement.
He was the Labor Party national president in 2006-07 and later expressed interest in becoming a Labor senator, but missed out on federal and state seats three times, including to Bob Carr in 2012.
He left the Labor Party in 2012 after 20 years, saying it was no longer the party he had joined.
The South Coast electorate is one of the most marginal seats in the country, won by Ann Sudmalis at the 2016 election by just 1,503 votes.
The Prime Minister said Mr Schultz should have stepped aside when Ms Sudmalis announced she would not contest the next election.
“The division had actually asked Grant Schultz to step aside, allow new nominations to be called and we could have that sort of preselection, he chose not to do that,” Mr Morrison told the ABC.
Mr Schultz has now resigned from the Liberal Party and is running against Mr Mundine as an Independent.
Mr Mundine said a cultural relationship with the land is “massively important” particularly on his mother’s side.
“Kinship is essential. It is the centre of the universe for Aboriginal people,” he said.
“When I visit my relatives and holiday down there, it’s not like I’m coming to a holiday resort. It is coming to my country; it is coming home.”
Both Mr Mundine and Mr Schultz said Indigenous issues were crucial for the region, where the largest town, Nowra, has an Indigenous population of 12 per cent.
Mr Mundine said he hoped to improve small businesses to provide “economic value for Aboriginal people” but said the key issue for Gilmore was the Princes Highway upgrade which affects all locals—black and white.
In response to whether Mr Mundine’s Indigenous background may help connect to Indigenous communities in the south coast, Grant Schultz said, “It will be a matter for them [the Indigenous people].”
“I don’t ever presume to dictate to any person whom or who they should not support or vote for. That is a choice they need to make,” Mr Schultz said.
Mr Schultz said he did not have a negative view of Mr Mundine and wished the Liberal candidate “all the best.” But in an interview with the ABC, Mr Schultz said he felt “betrayed” by the Liberal Party.
“It’s like most things; you plan for the worst and hope for the best,” he said.
Mr Mundine said he was “not surprised” by Mr Schultz’s reaction.
“In fact, I’m probably one of the few people in Australia who can understand his issues because I’ve been knifed and parachuted out of the seat by the Sussex Street leadership of the Labor Party and so I know exactly probably how he feels—the anger and disappointment,” he said.
“I don’t have anything bad to say about Grant. It’s probably disappointing that he decided to leave but that’s his prerogative.”
There are three state electorates in the federal division of Gilmore to win. The polls show the Liberal Party is in front by only 0.7 per cent.
“Let’s not pretend it’s going to be an easy election. It’s going to be brutal,” Mr Mundine said.
By Andrea Cantle