Liberal turned independent Julia Banks has enraged former colleagues after confirmation she will exchange preferences with Labor in her fight to win Health Minister Greg Hunt’s seat of Flinders.
The New Daily revealed on Sunday that Ms Banks will put Labor ahead of the Liberals on her how-to-vote cards.
They will be released for pre-polling voting, which starts on Monday.
The Liberal Party’s preferences deal with billionaire Clive Palmer will also be revealed in how-to-vote cards across Australia.
Furious Liberals rounded on Ms Banks on Sunday, after the Malcolm Turnbull loyalist went to ground after news of the preference deal emerged.
“You really have to wonder about the various positions of Julia Banks, who was until not that long ago urging people to vote Liberal and is now suggesting she will preference Labor,” Liberal campaign spokesman Simon Birmingham said.
“That is up to her to explain and to justify, but I think it shows a gross inconsistency on her behalf.
“I think it says far more about Julia Banks and the fact that she walked away from her principle, walked away from what she believed in and walked away from the electorate she was running for at the last election.”
Senior Labor sources confirmed the move to The New Daily, revealing the arrangement will become apparent on how-to-vote cards.
Contacted on Sunday about the preference swap with Labor’s candidate, a diplomatic Mr Hunt said he had “no comment” on other candidates in the race. He holds the seat by a 7 per cent margin.
In theory, the preference swap is designed to bolster Ms Banks’ chances of winning the Victorian seat in a three-way contest, but the Liberal Party insists there’s little chance of that because she is running third in the seat and the preference flow resulting from the deal is only likely to assist the Labor candidate.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s son, Alex Turnbull, is bankrolling Ms Banks’ campaign, adding to the intrigue in the seat.
Recently, Ms Banks close friend, former Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, also caused a stir by catching up with her for coffee in the seat.
Both women blame Mr Hunt for backing Peter Dutton’s leadership challenge.
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Coalition sources have told The New Daily that Labor candidate Joshua Sinclair is polling in the mid 20s for his primary vote, with Ms Banks running third. If she can split the conservative vote it could boost Labor’s chances of picking up the seat, but that seems unlikely if Mr Hunt retains a first preference vote of more than 40 per cent.
The Labor Party suggests that polling independents is notoriously difficult and Ms Banks may well be performing more strongly than first appears.
Ms Banks’ Liberal Party critics insist revenge must be a major factor in her decision to challenge leadership plotter Mr Hunt because she has little chance of picking up his seat.
The independent MP quit the Liberal Party to sit on the crossbench in November after the turmoil of the August leadership coup, claiming bullying and intimidation.
She held the Melbourne seat of Chisholm since 2016 but has abandoned that electorate to run in Flinders, around an hour’s drive away. She is believed to live in the blue-ribbon seat of Higgins, where many argue she would have stood a better chance of winning.
One Labor campaigner previously told The New Daily she stood little chance.
“It’s stupid … no voter down there would know who she is,” he said.
“That said, it’s clear she is standing against him as personal payback, and that alone may be interesting.”
Asked in November if Ms Banks was a traitor, Mr Hunt said that was a question for her.
“I will let the individual in question explain her own actions,” he said
“It’s where I grew up,” he said of Flinders, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, in a pointed jab at Ms Banks.
“I would never walk away from the area that I grew up in to try to represent another area.”
Ms Banks confirmed last year that Mr Hunt’s involvement in the coup against Mr Turnbull was a big factor in her decision to target the veteran MP. Policy issues, including climate change policies, also figured.
“Climate change is not only real – it is happening,” she said.
“I’ll continue to be focused advocacy on gender equality, fair and equitable workplace cultures and equal representation of women in leadership positions.”
The New Daily has contacted Ms Banks for comment on the preference swap with Labor.