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It was the summer Australia will never forget. Last January I was on holidays in Tasmania, enjoying some much-deserved family time. But as the fires raged, my attention was drawn back home to where my local MP, Craig Kelly, made international headlines by calling the UK meteorologist and BBC presenter Laura Tobin “an ignorant Pommy weather girl”.
Mortified that this man supposedly represented me, I searched for his Facebook page to lambast him. What I saw there shocked and rattled me – one man’s crusade against sense and reason. From Kelly’s page I found the group “Craig Kelly Must Go”. It was a relief to know I was not alone.
It was on Facebook we gathered – laughing at the conspiracy theories, cringing at the obvious Dunning-Kruger effect and raging at his lack of appreciation for local issues. But we didn’t stay angry for long before we started to ponder how to mobilise and have the man democratically demoted. As many in the group started asking of each other: “So what are we going to do about it?”
Kelly was the catalyst for our community group We Are Hughes. The motivations of members are as diverse as the electorate is huge. Some are appalled at his lack of knowledge on climate science and peddling of climate denialism. Others are startled by his staunch support of the fossil fuel industry; he famously stated that fossil fuels are keeping us safe from a dangerous climate. Each of us felt that Kelly’s representation of us was a slap in the face. We were sick of being taken for granted.
Dangerously, Kelly moved to supporting alternative treatments for Covid-19. This is despite the chief medical officer stressing that many of these treatments have not been properly evidenced. Kelly promotes them, fiercely, regardless. This might be OK were he a private citizen, but his ever-increasing following garners thousands of shares and hundreds of comments, mostly from outside the electorate.
There is a strong anti-science theme that runs through Kelly’s supporters. Anti-vaxxers seem to appreciate his attempts to cast doubt on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. Mask wearers are called “sheeple” and cries of “my body, my choice” are frequent. Kelly himself posted a study a few weeks ago that claimed mask-wearing for children is akin to child abuse.
Despite this, there has been strong compliance with mask mandates in the community, including among children, showing that many in our electorate do not share his extreme views. Sensible constituents for an irresponsible MP.
Our electorate is big and beautiful. We are situated in the south-western part of Sydney, hugging the Royal national park, Heathcote national park, Woronora, Port Hacking and Georges River, as well as boasting the longest coastline of any Sydney electorate. Our people love bushwalking, river sports, barbecues with mates, fishing and swimming in the local area. We are educated, work hard and have families to support. We love our electorate. That is why it is frustrating to be so misrepresented at a federal level.
We Are Hughes is countering the narrative that our beautiful electorate is filled with people like Kelly. It is embarrassing when others believe that we must all agree with him. He was, after all, re-elected at the last election with an increased majority. There are many reasons why this might be the case, some of which can border on the conspiratorial. The most logical and widely held view within We Are Hughes is that most people know Kelly as a Liberal and are unaware of his online persona. With all the focus on his Facebook presence in the last month, Kelly can no longer hide behind this kind of anonymity in his electorate.
We Are Hughes is raising the political bar for any politician who wishes to represent us. We are not aligned with any political party or ideology. The basis for our grassroots movement is integrity and accountability in politics.
Kelly wishes to paint us as “fake independents” and “remnants of the Greens”. The truth is we are constituents from diverse backgrounds, with no political affiliations. We are fed up with being taken for granted, as though our votes are guaranteed irrespective of absent representation. Our electorate is not a pawn on the prime minister’s chess board, moving about to save the Liberal party. We are as entitled to representation as any other electorate.
In the coming months, We Are Hughes will be using the Indi model of Kitchen Table Conversations. Hundreds of conversations will take place all around the electorate as a way to listen and learn about what is important to Hughes. These conversations will feed into the decision on who to endorse as an independent candidate at the upcoming election. We Are Hughes will provide this candidate with the platform to run a successful and effective campaign.
Independents are making their mark in Australian politics. We Are Hughes looks at successes in Warringah and Indi as inspiration, but we forge our own path, with our own Hughes flavour.
Our independent will be an independent for Hughes, and we cannot wait.
• Anneliese Alexander is a member of the community group We Are Hughes
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Our local MP Craig Kelly is an embarrassment. He doesn’t represent our beautiful community | Craig Kelly