Georgia Steele describes watching on “in horror” for years as the federal government has stalled action on climate change and as her local MP, Craig Kelly, has purposefully spouted dangerous misinformation during the pandemic.
The former corporate litigator announced her candidacy to run in the Sydney seat of Hughes over the weekend, releasing a snappy campaign video that gets to the heart of why she’s decided to step forward. For Steele, it’s about the desperate need for federal leadership when it comes to climate change, bringing some integrity and accountability back to the parliament, and giving the people of Hughes a better choice.
“The thing that became the final decision maker for me running, was the desperate urgency to be able to contribute to taking action on climate change,” Steele tells Women’s Agenda.
“I realised that given my skills and background, the biggest impact that I could have in that area would be to run for office.”
Steele is a Sutherland Shire local and has worked as a corporate litigator for fifteen years. She’s also spent time volunteering in the local community, and is raising her children in Como, in the heart of Hughes.
It’s an electorate that has risen to national attention this year, as Hughes’ Liberal turned United Australia Party MP Craig Kelly has made his extreme views on unproven theories about COVID-19 vaccines and treatments clear.
Kelly has represented Hughes in parliament since 2010, but Steele believes without the Liberal party attached to his name, he’ll be less electorally popular than ever. She notes that the community has been involuntarily bombarded with spam text messages from Kelly in recent months, as he continues to push an anti-vaccination message, and people aren’t impressed.
“I think it’s very clear that people were voting for the Liberal party last time,” Steele says. “In Hughes, we’ve had a Liberal party member for 25 years and I certainly think that’s why Craig Kelly was elected.”
“I don’t expect him to achieve anywhere near the kind of votes that he would need to win in Hughes as a UAP candidate.”
Steele recognises that her main competition will be whoever is preselected to run for the Liberal party, and although that hasn’t yet been decided, Melanie Gibbons recently resigned from the state parliament to seek pre-selection.
So, what can Steele bring to the table that a moderate Liberal party candidate can’t? She says that as an independent, she won’t need to toe a party line, so her focus can purely be on delivering outcomes for the people in her community.
“Hughes has been such a safe seat for such a long time. What happens is that the Hughes member ends up being elected and then sits on the backbench of the Liberal party. That really achieves nothing for the people of Hughes,” she says.
“If I do win the election, I’ll be an independent sitting on the crossbench. All I will have to do, day in day out, is fight for the people in my community and they’ll be the only boss that I have. I have no agenda other than to listen to their concerns and take them to parliament.”
Steele looked on as other independent MPs like Helen Haines and Zali Steggall won seats in 2019, and now believes that anything is possible in Hughes.
“It gives you a level of confidence to know that through an extraordinary amount of hard work and with enough support, it can be done,” she says. “Helen and Zali have shown that it can happen in electorates as diverse as Indi and Warringah.”
Steele believes that independents – whether they hold the balance of power or not – can shift and frame national debate.
“We’ve seen that in what Zali’s done on climate and what Helen Haines has done with integrity,” Steele explains. “I don’t think that Scott Morrison would have managed to even get his net zero by 2050 target achieved without Zali Steggall introducing her bills and just demanding that the debate happen.”
Another clincher in Steele’s decision to throw her hat in the ring has been the treatment of women in parliament over the past year.
She notes that attending the women’s March4Justice in Canberra and watching the documentary Strong Female Lead based on Julia Gillard’s experience, as well as Annabel Crabb’s series Ms Represented, has given her more impetus to run. Steele has also been appalled at the treatment of former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.
“I felt more and more compelled to step up and try and add to the number of women in parliament,” she said, noting that she’s seeing many women grow “tired of the party system”.
“Until we have an equal representation of women in our federal parliament, we won’t achieve the outcomes that we need for women in this country.”