Mirabella: “I won’t be intimidated”

Sophie Mirabella on the campaign trail. Source: Facebook.
Sophie Mirabella held the Liberal seat of Indi from 2001 to 2013 and now she's fighting to win again. Freya Fajgman and Riley Hefron report.

Sophie Mirabella’s supporters say she’s a “real fighter”.

“She’d get up there and she’d fight for things and she’d do them,” said former Walwa Hospital president David Hanna.

Mirabella played an integral role in securing funding and maintaining the medical practice, he said. “I doubt very much that we would have the medical centre in Walwa if it wasn’t for her.”

But Hanna conceded that she lacked the people skills of Independent MP Cathy McGowan and this might have led to her loss in 2013.

The only Liberal MP to lose a seat at the last election, Mirabella told UniPollWatch the support of Indi locals led her to re-contest the seat.

“A catalyst for my decision to stand again was people stopping me regularly, who asked me to run again or approached me about an issue for help,” she said.

Mirabella said that she would not be intimidated by a vitriolic personal campaign. “It’s about not wanting our society to develop into an atmosphere that people are bullied into silence through repeated, venomous political and personal attack because of the views they hold,” she said.

She recently told Fairfax Media’s Good Weekend that Voices for Indi, the grassroots campaign behind McGowan, “deliberately recruited – they harvested – the haters and the far-left political types from Melbourne” in the lead up to the 2013 election.

However, Voices for Indi president Alana Johnson told UniPollWatch that “volunteers had been instructed not to indulge in personality politics”. There was “no place … for saying anything about Sophie that was negative,” Johnson said.

Though Mirabella told UniPollWatch she had learnt from the mistakes of her shock defeat at the last federal election, she has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in recent weeks including controversial claims that her loss cost Wangaratta Hospital $10 million and allegations that she pushed her successor, Independent MP Cathy McGowan, to obstruct a photograph.

“I learnt from the 2013 election,” the former barrister said. “I have reconnected with my community and worked with locals on a range of issues”.

Mirabella held the once safe northeast Victorian Liberal seat of Indi since 2001. She was elected with 52.7 per cent of the primary vote in 2010 and just 44.7 per cent in 2013. Observers say controversies in recent weeks may have cost any chance at regaining her seat.

The Guardian Australia reported early in the campaign that the Coalition had “cut loose” Mirabella and was instead supporting Nationals candidate Marty Corboy.

Mirabella was in the news recently after suggesting the Victorian Liberal Party Campaign headquarters was behind a series of damaging leaks to undermine her.

She has denied allegations that she pushed McGowan to obstruct a photo with Liberal MP, Ken Wyatt. She tweeted to “emphatically reject reports” of the alleged incident.

McGowan, however, would neither confirm nor deny the allegations, saying in an interview on Paul Murray’s show on Sky News she would “rather leave it” for another time.

Mirabella then claimed that Wangaratta Hospital would have received $10 million funding had she held Indi at the 2013 election. She intended to announce the funds the week after she won the seat.

“I had a commitment for a $10 million allocation to the Wangaratta Hospital that if elected I was going to announce,” she said. “That is $10 million Wangaratta hasn’t had because Cathy was elected.”

Swinburne University politics professor, Brian Costar, said Mirabella’s comments regarding the hospital funding allocation were both “extraordinary” and “very silly”.

Mirabella told UniPollWatch, however, she stood by her track record and was a strong advocate for the region. “Over $1.3 billion came to Indi while I was the sitting member,” she said.

Mirabella, formerly Panopoulos, married Greg Mirabella, a former lieutenant-colonel turned farmer in 2006. She remained on the backbench until 2007, before rising through the political ranks. She took a strong position on asylum seekers, criticising fellow Liberals who opposed mandatory detention and called for Muslim women to remove their head dress when posing for official photos.

She was promoted to opposition spokeswoman on early childhood education, childcare, women and youth after supporting Malcolm Turnbull in a September 2008 leadership challenge against Brendan Nelson. She was appointed spokeswoman for innovation, industry, science and research after Tony Abbott defeated Turnbull the following year.

The daughter of Greek immigrants, Mirabella grew up in Melbourne. She attended St Catherine’s School, Toorak, and then The University of Melbourne, where she graduated with degrees in commerce and law.

Mirabella worked as an articled clerk, solicitor and then barrister before successfully contesting Indi in 2001.