Monday, June 27, 2022

Women, non-binary candidates eyeing Groom hope to make inroads this election

The nation’s second-safest Coalition seat of Groom has only ever been held by a man.

In a Herculean bid this federal election, four women and a non-binary candidate have decided to contest the southern Queensland electorate which is held by the Liberal National Party with a 20.5 per cent margin.

In conservative heartland, Groom takes in the Darling Downs city of Toowoomba and the surrounding rich agricultural region.

It has been in the hands of the Liberals, Nationals and LNP ever since the seat was gazetted in 1984.

The incumbent, mining engineer Garth Hamilton, won a by-election in late 2020 in somewhat controversial circumstances after the local LNP branch ignored the Prime Minister’s wishes for a “strong woman” to represent Groom.

Garth Hamilton says he is still the best person for the job.,ABC Southern Qld: Gerogie Hewson,

This year, Mr Hamilton said he was not taking his seat for granted.

“I don’t think there are safe seats,” he said.

Clawing back the margin

Two high-profile independents, Suzie Holt and Kirstie Smolenski, are among eight contenders trying to claw back some of the LNP’s margin.

Ms Holt said it was exciting to see wide representation in the campaign race.

Suzie Holt smiles at the camera while standing in front of a mural.
Suzie Holt is thrilled more women are contesting the seat.,ABC Southern Qld: Georgie Hewson,

“This is democracy in action,” she said.

“Another opportunity for women to say, you know what, we actually want to do this and we’re in a really good place to actually throw our hands up. I’m really thrilled about that.”

Ms Smolenski said the lack of female representation in Groom should be relegated to history.

“That’s the past. We’re changing that and it’s certainly part of the reason that I’m running,” she said.

“It would be an extraordinary history-making event for our region and I’m really excited that I can get that done.”

Kirstie Smolenski smiles at the camera with trees in the background.
Kirstie Smolenski wants to be a part of history being made on election day.,ABC Southern Qld: Georgie Hewson,

Both independents said it was disappointing a woman had never been preselected for the LNP.

“I’m not sure why the LNP has never preselected a woman, but gee, that needs to end,” Ms Smolenski said.

‘About time’

With health, housing and worker shortages key issues this election, Suzie Holt said the community was ready for a female voice.

“I’m actually delighted that we have some diversity across the different candidates for the first time, which is really exciting in our region,” Ms Holt said.

“I think Toowoomba has grown up a lot.”

Labor candidate Genevieve Allpass said it came down to timing.

Gen Allpass smiles at the camera with a white background.
Gen Allpass is running for the Australian Labor Party.,Supplied: Gen Allpass,

“Unfortunately this seat has been held by men,” she said.

“We actually make up 51 per cent of this community and when I say, ‘we’, I mean women and those who identify as women.

“I think it’s about time.”

Ms Allpass referred to findings from the National Democratic Institute to tout the benefits of having greater female representation.

“Women have been found more than men to work across party lines, they’ve been highly responsive to components’ concerns and we prioritize health and education,” she said.

First non-binary candidate

Greens candidate Mickey Berry, the first non-binary candidate to run for Groom, said while many pundits had written off the seat as an easy win for the LNP, other parties should not be underestimated.

“We’ve always been pretty good at running diverse candidates, but it’s really good to see other people branching out and having more diverse candidates running as a whole,” they said.

Mickey Berry smiles at the camera with a park in the background.
Mickey Berry says the LGBTIQA+ community is growing in the region.,ABC Southern Qld: Georgie Hewson,

“They are a little bit comfortable in this region, but that’s a given, it is the second safest LNP seat in the country.

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