On the very morning Michaelia Cash became embroiled in the Federal Court’s probe into AFP raids on the offices of the Australian Workers Union, someone in Ann Sudmalis’s office thought it a good idea to post a Facebook video of the embattled Jobs Minister spruiking an entrepreneurship program with the Gilmore MP.
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The appalling timing was hardly surprising, however. Mrs Sudmalis has made a habit of saying or doing the wrong thing at the wrong time since she was elected in 2013. And that is what has led to the preselection challenge she now faces. Local party members have had a gutful.
“We’re sick of the circus that seems to follow her wherever she goes,” a frustrated senior local Liberal told Fairfax Media when news of a likely preselection challenge first emerged.
That source joined a long list of local party members who since 2013 have privately voiced their dissatisfaction with the MP’s performance. They don’t speak publicly because if they do, they face disciplinary action, including expulsion from the party. But they do talk, and often.
“Look, she’s a nice person,” one said last week. “But she’s just not cut out for the job. Nice is very different to effective.”
The grumbling began five years ago and has become a roar.
On the morning after her election in 2013, when asked what her top priority for Gilmore was, Mrs Sudmalis told Fairfax Media she “hadn’t thought about it”. The comment itself might have caused concern at the time but not so much as the election result.
While the nation galloped to the Coalition, Gilmore saw a significant 4.4 swing away, making it one of the most marginal seats in the country for the newly installed Abbott government.
Mrs Sudmalis fared little better in 2016, retaining the seat by the slimmest margin. So tight was the result, the seat wasn’t declared until days after the poll.
The dissatisfaction with Mrs Sudmalis’s performance actually emerged just prior to her election in 2013.
The Coalition was doing its best to kill, bury and cremate Work Choices – a key factor in ending John Howard’s grip on government in 2007 – when Mrs Sudmalis told a candidates’ forum in Bomaderry: “Any workplace relations legislation is on the table after the election, not before, so I’m sorry, I can’t answer your question.”
That question was about protection for penalty rates, an issue that came to haunt her again in 2017, when she said cuts to them were “a gift for young people”, suggesting they would increase employment opportunities.
She was pilloried for days by the Opposition during Question Time and brought to tears, later claiming the attacks were gender-based.
In 2014, she came under fire for suggesting the ill-fated GP co-payment would cost the same as a cup of coffee.
In 2016, she enraged state Liberal colleagues after inadvertently signing a petition against the merger of Kiama and Shoalhaven councils. The wording of the petition indicated she would vote against her own party at the next state election.
In February 2017, she likened government to the experience she had running a fudge business.
“Sometimes I think that running a country is a bit like running a business, and I can say that after 17 years of making fudge, sending it out and collecting money for the stuff I sent out,” the MP told Parliament.
This is the “circus” to which the senior Liberal Party member referred.
Unfortunately, it has overshadowed many of her achievements.
Her victory in getting the shingles vaccine made available to seniors through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was an important achievement that’s been largely forgotten.
The $13 million she extracted from Canberra for the Northern Collector Road to connect North Nowra to Moss Vale Road has also been drowned out.
Even the securing of $155 million federal funding for the new bridge across the Shoalhaven River received a lukewarm reception. The petition launched just weeks prior to the announcement was dismissed by members of her own party as little more than a profile building, data harvesting exercise.
The 11th-hour endorsements of the Prime Minister and Treasurer have failed to prevent a preselection challenge, as have appeals via NSW party power-brokers.
And so it is accident-prone Ann Sudmalis now squares off against Grant Schultz, whose surname is well-known among parliamentary veterans.
Grant’s father, Alby Schultz, was the outspoken Liberal Member for Hume from 1998 to 2013, a fierce advocate for his electorate who never shied from making life hell for his party bosses if he thought his constituents were being shortchanged.
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