Sophie Mirabella, the former Liberal MP who lost her seat when Tony Abbott won power in 2013, has claimed that the government pulled $10 million in funding for the local hospital because local voters failed to re-elect her.
Mirabella was the MP for Indi in Victoria for 12 years, a shadow minister and the only sitting Liberal to lose their seat at the 2013 election, with a swing of −10.2%. She was defeated by independent Cathy McGowan, but is now re-contesting the seat as the Liberal candidate.
Outspoken and at times controversial Mirabella took part in a town hall-style debate for Sky News last night with McGowan in Wangaratta. The pair are already locking horns over a report in a local newspaper that says Mirabella blocked McGowan from having her photograph taken with the assistant health minister at the opening of a nursing home in Benalla.
The Benalla Ensign reported that Mirabella “took exception” to the photo and “very publicly pushed Ms McGowan out of the way to obstruct the photo being taken”.
Mirabella denies the incident occurred and said she was “gutted” by the claim and defamed by the paper.
“The article represents a new low and a sad return to nasty tactics from my opponents,” she said in a statement, but the editor, Libby Price, claims several people witnessed the incident and four sources confirmed it to her.
On Sky News she asked McGowan to repudiate the report too, but she declined, but her office had stated earlier that Mirabella “intervened” to stop the photograph.
Mirabella went on to make the extraordinary claim that she had secured a $10 million for Wangaratta hospital prior to the last election, but the funding failed to materialise after voters in Indi chose McGowan, who won by less than 500 votes, instead.
“I had a commitment for a $10 million dollar allocation to the Wangaratta hospital that if elected I was going to announce the week after the election,” she said during the debate.
“That is $10 million that Wangaratta hasn’t had because Cathy got elected.”
The former lawyer went on to argue that the funding was lost because McGowan was not a good advocate.
Today, her revelation has many scratching their heads and wondering if Mirabella scored an own goal. Her announcement created the perception that the Coalition is venal and will punish voters, even when it comes to healthcare. And commentators are wondering why, if she had such good news for the electorate, she wouldn’t have announced it before the election given that polling was tight.
Her claim gave Labor a free kick, with opposition leader Bill Shorten saying it “smacks of almost political corruption”, with the Liberal party prepared to “punish the people who choose to disagree with you”.
McGowan also weighed in issuing a statement saying she was seeking confirmation about the $10 million from the health minister.
“If this claim is true, Government must answer key questions,” she said. “I call on Prime Minister Turnbull to pay serious attention to what has occurred in this instance and provide answers to the people of Wangaratta.”
With 10 more weeks before the yet-to-be official election, voters can expect plenty more verbal pushing and shoving to come.
Sky News has the story on Mirabella’s claim here.