‘Anti-Liberal groupies’: John Howard blasts ‘teal’ independents

‘Anti-Liberal groupies’: John Howard blasts ‘teal’ independents

Former prime minister John Howard has savaged the high-profile “teal” independents running in once-safe Coalition seats as “anti-Liberal groupies”, urging traditional Liberal voters to stick with the party even if they feel disgruntled.

Howard was speaking at a campaign event in his former seat of Bennelong, which Labor is targeting as a prime pick-up opportunity after the retirement of long-time Liberal member John Alexander.

Former prime minister John Howard, campaigning for the Liberal Party in his former seat of Bennelong.Credit:Renee Nowytarger

During the campaign rally Howard also blasted Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese for forgetting the unemployment rate in the first week of the campaign, a dramatic departure from his original reaction of “so what?” when asked about the gaffe.

“These men and women are all posing as independents,” Howard said of independent candidates such as Allegra Spender in Wentworth, Kylea Tink in North Sydney and Zoe Daniel in Goldstein. All are backed by businessman Simon Holmes a Court’s Climate 200 fundraising group.

“They’re not independents, they’re anti-Liberal groupies,” Howard told a crowd of Liberal supporters at the Ryde-Eastwood Leagues Club. “I say that because they’re not running in any Labor seats.

“If they were genuinely independent why would they not be running a candidate against Anthony Albanese in Grayndler or Tanya Plibersek in Sydney?”

Liberal candidate for Bennelong Simon Kennedy (centre) campaigning with retiring MP John Alexander (left) and former prime minister John Howard.Credit:Renee Nowytarger

“Their aim is to hurt the Liberal Party, not to represent the middle ground of their electorates.”

Howard urged any voters who might be a “bit grumpy” with the Morrison government over various issues not to lodge a protest vote with the independents.

“They don’t represent disgruntled Liberals,” he said. “They represent a group in the community that wants to destroy the Liberal government, it’s as simple as that.”

Warringah MP Zali Steggall, who is backed by Climate 200, hit out at Howard for his “appalling sexist language” in his “groupie” remarks, saying it explained a lot about the Liberal Party’s problem with women.

Labor candidate for Bennelong Jerome Laxale takes a selfie with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese in Eastwood.Credit:Steven Siewert

“Women in politics shouldn’t be denigrated with this type of language,” she said on Twitter.

Declaring Prime Minister Scott Morrison had demonstrated a “mastery of the detail of government”, Howard said: “Being in charge of a government is not easy. You can’t wing it, you can’t make it up on the spot … You’ve got to know at least roughly what the unemployment rate is.”

Howard said Albanese’s failure to name the correct unemployment rate attracted so much attention because it “symbolised an inadequacy for the job” and a lack of expertise on economic issues.

If the mistake had been made by former treasurers Peter Costello or Paul Keating then no one would have made a big deal of it, he said.

On the day Albanese made the gaffe, Howard provided some cover for the opposition leader: “Anthony Albanese didn’t know the employment rate, so what?” he told reporters at the time.

Even though the Liberal Party holds Bennelong with a seemingly safe margin of 6.9 per cent, both parties believe the result in the multicultural seat will be extremely close on election night.

Albanese was campaigning in the electorate alongside Labor candidate Jerome Laxale, a former Ryde mayor, before being diagnosed with COVID-19.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg campaigned in Bennelong last week alongside Liberal candidate Simon Kennedy, a former partner at the McKinsey consultancy firm.

Kennedy grew up in the Bennelong area and attended Epping Boys High School, but is working to raise his profile in the electorate after spending several years working in the US. He was living in Maroubra, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, before being preselected for the seat.

Kennedy said he was expecting a “fierce and tight” election result, warning Liberal members: “We must fight to keep Bennelong blue. We must mobilise and mobilise now.”

Cut through the noise of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis from Jacqueline Maley. Sign up to our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter here.

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