The prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has shut down suggestions the Liberal Mayo byelection candidate Georgina Downer is unfamiliar with the local community after being away from the electorate for 20 years.
Turnbull joined Downer at a bakery in the Adelaide Hills on Saturday, before greeting locals at a nearby market and announcing $10m for a new swimming pool.
Downer has been the target of criticism after she announced her candidacy because of the time she has been away, but Turnbull said she was well known in the area.
“I haven’t met anyone today that doesn’t know her and, in fact, a large number of people like Anne [Senator Ruston] have known her since she was young,” he told reporters in Mount Barker, south-east of Adelaide.
“I don’t think that’s an issue.
“She is a local. She learnt to swim in this pool. Her roots are in this electorate, in this community.
“Georgina is presenting herself as an advocate, as a powerful advocate but one who can work within the government.”
Georgina Downer was also joined on the campaign trail by her father, Alexander Downer, who held the seat from 1984 until 2008 and served as minister for foreign affairs.
He defended his daughter against similar criticism and said it was “fantastic for the Adelaide Hills” for constituents to return after time away.
“It’s just what we need – people to build their experience but come back and contribute to the community. It’s ideal,” he said.
The Mayo byelection, one of five scheduled for 28 July, was triggered when the sitting member Rebekha Sharkie became embroiled in the citizenship mess.
Sharkie is determined to hold the seat.
Georgina Downer has encountered some controversy over her previous comments, as a policy researcher with a right-wing think-tank, about South Australia getting more than its fair share of the GST.
Turnbull will soon release a productivity commission report on the GST carve-up and the government’s response.
South Australia is concerned any extra revenue given to states such as Western Australia – which have complained about the GST formula – will short-change residents.
Turnbull said more than 20,000 taxpayers in Mayo would get $530 back as part of the government’s yet-to-be-legislated personal income tax cuts.
Announcing funding of $10m towards a new aquatic centre, he said: “Why can we deliver the funding for this pool? We can deliver it because we have brought the budget back under control.”