One of the founders of “anti-GetUp”, the conservative campaign group Advance Australia, has been appointed as the Queensland director of a guild previously criticised for donating thousands of dollars to Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.
Gerard Benedet, previously the chief of staff to the former Queensland Liberal-National leader Tim Nicholls, has been appointed the new Queensland director of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia.
“The Pharmacy Guild doesn’t speak for pharmacists – we are proud of our diversity … we condemn One Nation and its policies,” the vice-president of Professional Pharmacists Australia, Carmel McCallum, said at the time.
The guild defended the donation at the time, saying it paid to attend political functions “across the political spectrum” but did not necessarily endorse their views.
But in Benedet, the guild has appointed one of Australia’s best-known conservative political warriors.
Benedet has also worked for the former federal Liberal party leader Brendan Nelson and the Howard-era minister Helen Coonan. But he’s best known for his work with Advance Australia, formed in November 2018 as a counterweight to the progressive campaign group GetUp.
Benedet helped spearhead the group’s unsuccessful campaign to defend the former prime minister Tony Abbott from a challenge in his seat of Warringah at the 2019 election.
Advance Australia was criticised during the campaign for producing a sexualised video featuring Abbott’s competitor, Zali Steggall.
In a statement, the president of the guild, Trent Twomey, described Benedet as an “experienced and dedicated executive” with “extensive knowledge of both the public and private sectors”.
“We are delighted to have recruited such an experienced and driven person to fill this important role in our branch,” Twomey said.
“We are confident Gerard will be a committed advocate and branch administrator on behalf of Queensland community pharmacies, helping us to deliver the best possible health services to patients in all parts of the state.”
Contacted by Guardian Australia on Friday, Benedet said he felt his work at Advance Australia was done: “I did the job I aimed to do. I set it up, I made sure it was successful,” he said.
Since his departure from Advance Australia in September, the group has appointed the former Western Australian councillor and Liberal party staffer Liz Storer to replace him.
In an interview with the Australian last week, Storer said her first priority would be campaigning against the climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion, which she described as “seriously unhinged”.
In an email to members this week, Storer said she wanted to stop the “climate commies” and urged members to sign a petition calling for “tougher penalties for protestors”.
“Wealth distribution in the name of polar bears is not on,” she wrote.
“Bringing our cities to a standstill in a bid to strong-arm our government is not on. Decrying our nation’s sources of prosperity – oil, gas, coal, mining – is not on.
“Together, we can push back on those championing an economic crisis to rival the Great Depression.”