The journalist and activist Anne Coombs may take on the energy minister, Angus Taylor, at the next election, joining a growing movement of largely women independents seeking to dislodge rural and regional Coalition MPs.
Coombs, a former chair of GetUp and founding member of Rural Australians for Refugees, confirmed she was considering a challenge to Taylor in the southern New South Wales seat of Hume.
“The fact that Angus Taylor is supporting coal and encouraging new coal mines while not biting the bullet on climate change is crazy,” Coombs said.
“He is also a conservative, who voted no in the marriage equality plebiscite, unlike the majority of the electorate, though he voted yes when it finally came to parliament after the plebiscite.
“I feel he is not really representative of his electorate.”
Last month, Taylor told Guardian Australia that the government could indemnify new coal power generation projects against the future risk of a carbon price.
Coombs said she was considering standing only in the absence of a more high-profile contender, and would help any other candidate to organise if they came forward.
“I feel like it has got to the stage where someone has to do something.”
Hume stretches from the south-west fringe of Sydney, west to Boorowa and encompasses the Goulburn area towards Canberra. It is a mix of agriculture in the southern end with a more diverse mix of industries, including university campuses, at the Sydney end. The seat returned a 59% yes vote in the marriage equality plebiscite.
Taylor holds the seat with a margin of 10.2%. Coombs lives near the southern highlands town of Bundanoon, on the eastern side of the electorate.
She said the view that rural electorates were uniformly conservative was wrong, citing the election of the former independent Peter Andren in the federal NSW electorate of Calare – held predominantly by the National party since the late 1940s. Andren held the seat from 1996 until he retired in 2007 after he was diagnosed with cancer.
“Peter Andren was very strong on a pro-refugee platform and increased his majority at each election,” Coombs said.
“In the past, the township of Young benefited from refugees who settled there in early 2000s. Rural towns are very aware of benefits of bringing refugees to their towns for work and to be part of their communities.”
Coombs joins a growing list of potential rural candidates considering or being urged to run against incumbent Liberal and National MPs with a focus on climate change and energy policy.
The National Farmers’ Federation president, Fiona Simson, who was the first NFF president to place climate change on the public agenda for farmers, has been urged to run as an independent against Barnaby Joyce in New England. Simson is understood to be considering her options.
Also in northern NSW, the Coonamble-born IT businessman, Charles Tym, has donated to a startup political movement called “Anyone But Nats” with a former state independent candidate, Rohan Boehm, to challenge the National party, with a focus on action around climate change.
The dairy farmer and agricultural leadership mentor, Lynne Strong, said she had been approached separately by three people to run as a locally based independent in Gilmore on the NSW south coast, currently held by the Liberal MP, Ann Sudmalis, on a margin of 0.7%.
After the leadership spill which topped Malcolm Turnbull, Sudmalis confirmed she would leave politics at the 2019 election, citing “bullying, backstabbing and betrayal” by a state Liberal party MP.
Sudmalis said politics was a place “where if you do not have great resilience, the actions of others can impact on your mental health”.
Strong has had a high profile in agriculture. She won the inaugural Bob Hawke Landcare Award and the National Landcare Primary Producer Award and is a member of Farmers For Climate Action.
She has worked to nurture young agricultural leaders and acknowledged that politics was currently driven by “big egos and self-interest”, which had damaged faith in the system.
But she said the idea of running for politics was frightening because of the culture.
“I have been approached by three different people to stand as an independent and it’s made clear to me that there are dollars out there to support women passionate about climate change and renewables,” Strong said.
“But I have no intention of running because I don’t have resilience and the culture frightens me.”
Following the examples of the independent Cathy McGowan in Indi and the Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie in Mayo, the victory of independent Kerryn Phelps in the Wentworth byelection has turbocharged a growing discussion in rural and regional Australia about minor parties and independents as alternatives to the major parties.
In Thursday’s solo appearance on Q&A, Malcolm Turnbull warned the Liberal party that candidates such as McGowan, Phelps and Sharkie were making headway only because the party was not speaking for small-L liberal values.
Turnbull said their formerly Liberal seats were now occupied by women who had been previously involved in the Liberal party as members or having worked for members.
“What that’s telling you is that the voters are – through voting for these independents – saying, ‘We are concerned that the Liberal party is not speaking for small-L liberal values, for genuinely liberal values, and therefore we take the matter in our own hands and we put in a liberal independent.’”
McGowan said while independents were not a new phenomenon, she was increasingly receiving calls from would-be candidates considering their options.
“A lot of people are talking about [independents] because of the dissatisfaction with the major parties, so there is lots of discussion about how to get elected,” she said.
“But taking that discussion from and convincing a majority to vote for you is a big step. The art is to get elected – I tell people to be clear on their motivation because they have to serve people and they need money, people and time.”