Independent Senator Nick Xenophon has introduced Australia to the woman he thinks will dump former Prime Minister Tony Abbott from his ultra-safe Liberal seat of Warringah.
Marie Rowland, a professional counsellor who has lived in the Sydney division for 15 years, will represent the Nick Xenophon Team (NXT) at the 2016 federal election.
And while both Ms Rowland and Mr Xenophon accept the “small political miracle” needed for Mr Abbott to be dethroned, they are optimistic about their chances.
“I’ve always been very politically interested but not motivated,” Ms Rowland told The New Daily. “I felt so disenchanted with the two-party system and I didn’t feel any call to action until Nick announced he was forming a party.
“Yes the Liberals feel like dominating force, but I do think if we look at Australia as a whole, the current member for Warringah (Mr Abbott) lost the faith of the people.
“That can definitely be reflected as far as Warringah is concerned … I wouldn’t be in it if I wasn’t trying to win it.”
Mr Abbott was replaced as Prime Minister by Malcolm Turnbull in a vote for the Liberal leadership in September 2015.
Mr Abbott’s almost two years as PM was marred by a series of gaffes and policy bungles which led to a steep drop in his and the Liberal Party’s polling.
Ms Rowland was born in the United Kindom (like Mr Abbott) and is of Sri Lankan and English heritage.
She has worked in fashion, publishing, PR and is currently a psychologist and counsellor.
Prior to that she achieved a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne and then studied fashion.
“In all of careers the fundamental thing that I was doing was all about communication,” Ms Rowland said. “It’s one of the core strengths I have.”
She explained that her political philosophy was perfectly aligned to that of her party leader, lauded for his pragmatic approach.
“Nick is not afraid to tell the truth as he sees it … as an individual Senator he has had so much traction because of his centrist common sense approach.
The women motivating Ms Rowland’s candidacy
While Ms Rowland acknowledges the “formidable but exciting task” that’s ahead of her, she said there were two political giant-killers of the past she was taking inspiration from – Maxine McKew and Cathy McGowan.
Labor’s Ms McKew sensationally defeated sitting Prime Minister John Howard in his party’s 2007 federal election loss while the independent Ms McGowan shocked the Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella at the 2013 federal election by ousting her.
“Of course I remember that, I love Maxine McKew, that’s a dream scenario,” Ms Rowland told The New Daily when asked about Ms McKew’s stunning triumph.
“But also the Cathy McGowan scenario … I think that example is even more comparable.
“I take real inspiration from those two candidates. These two women fought really clean campaigns and they were very straight up with the electorate and very decent people.
“That’s the strategy and that’s the approach I’d like to take with my own campaign.”
Like her party’s founder, Ms Rowland is supportive of gay marriage and an Australia that embraces more renewable energy.
“Like Nick I am very passionate about the environment,” she said.
On penalty rates her stance is a little more complex – like that of Mr Xenophon – who has pushed for them to be cut.
“He [Mr Xenophon] wants the young people to actually have work on Sundays, he wants to increase the chance for more work for people on that day,” she said.
At the launch of Ms Rowland’s campaign, Mr Xenophon said voters were looking for an alternative to the major parties.
“We know that with the volatility of what occurred in the Queensland election that there is a real spirit and a mood for change,” Mr Xenophon said.
Election data doesn’t paint a pretty picture for NXT
There has never been anyone other than a Liberal [or a forerunner to the Liberal Party] member win the seat of Warringah.
Mr Abbott has held the seat since he won it in a 1994 by-election.
Since then he has held the seat through seven federal elections with his percentage of the primary vote fluctuating between 51.45 per cent (2001) to a high of 60.88 per cent (2013).
In that period, the best primary vote performance by a non-Labor or Liberal member was 16.34 per cent by Matthew Drake-Brokman (Greens) in 2010.
A woman has never held the seat of Warringah, which was established in 1922.
The Nick Xenophon Team has so far announced 20 candidates to stand for the Senate and House of Representatives at the 2016 federal election.
At the announcement, Mr Xenophon downplayed the suggestion that Mr Turnbull would call an election for before late 2016.
“I would have thought that the Prime Minister might be jumping the gun to call an election this early. If he says there are important issues on the agenda, then he should deal with those in the parliament for us to deal with them fairly,” he said.