One of the most prominent critics of the Morrison government’s handling of Covid-19 outbreaks in aged care has entered the race to replace health minister Greg Hunt in the seat of Flinders.
Dr Sarah Russell, a public health researcher and the director of Aged Care Matters, was selected by the Voices of Mornington Peninsula group on Sunday evening to contest the Liberal-held seat at the May election.
Russell is one of a number of high-profile women challenging Liberal members in ordinarily safe seats, seeking to capitalise on concern about Coalition climate change policy and lack of action on a national integrity commission.
Russell told the preselection meeting she had been an aged care advocate for six years and climate activist for 30, seeking endorsement to help defeat “the worst government we have had in my lifetime”.
“It is unforgivable that all political parties – including the Greens – who know the evidence and understand the science to have chosen to politicise climate action,” she said.
Russell previously contested the inner north Melbourne seat of Cooper for Fiona Patten’s Reason Australia party, garnering just 2% of the vote, but will be on home turf in Flinders, as she lives in Mount Martha on a property that was owned by her grandparents since 1935.
Russell has been a critic of the pace of the vaccine booster rollout in aged care, and workforce shortages that have caused poor standards of care during the Omicron outbreak.
Russell joins a crowded field in which local councillor Despi O’Connor is also contesting Flinders as an independent, a decision Russell has slammed as “having a bet each ways” after O’Connor had expressed interest in running as the Voices candidate.
Russell replaces Claire Boardman, who resigned in December as the deputy public health commander for infection prevention and control in the Victorian health department’s Covid-19 team to contest the seat as the Voices candidate but pulled out due to the difficulty of winning with a split independent vote.
Hunt won Flinders in 2019 with a 46.7% primary vote and 55.6% two-party-preferred, defeating Labor despite a challenge from former Liberal MP Julia Banks, who won 13.8% of the vote as an independent.
Hunt is retiring at the 2022 election, potentially putting the seat in play. Zoe McKenzie, a former National Broadband Network director and trade adviser, is contesting the seat for the Liberals.
Scott Morrison is yet to say who would replace Hunt as health minister if he wins a fourth term for the Coalition.
In comments to Guardian Australia, Russell acknowledged the race to replace Hunt had become a “clusterfuck” and promised to be a strident voice for the climate-conscious community if elected to federal parliament. “I’ll be the Jacqui Lambie of the left,” she said.
Russell also cited the independent candidate for Goldstein, Zoe Daniel, as inspiration for the run. Russell told the meeting she hopes that “all independents agree to give preferences to each other and put Liberals last” in the contest.