Libs take aim at Greens in tight Sturt race

Federal Liberal MP James Stevens says his party has not focused enough on campaigning against the Greens at past elections, as he faces another fight to hold on to his ultra-marginal eastern suburbs seat.

May 22, 2024, updated May 22, 2024
Liberal MP for Sturt James Stevens and Greens candidate for Sturt Katie McCusker. Left photo: Michael Errey/InDaily, right photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Liberal MP for Sturt James Stevens and Greens candidate for Sturt Katie McCusker. Left photo: Michael Errey/InDaily, right photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The Greens are targeting Sturt as their best chance to win a Lower House seat in South Australia, with the party today announcing that federal staffer and state co-convenor Katie McCusker will run against Stevens for a second time at the next federal election.

It comes just two months after McCusker contested the Dunstan state by-election where the Greens recorded a 5.5 per cent swing to net 19.2 per cent of first preference votes. Their primary vote was as high as 27 per cent in Kensington and Kent Town.

“If this is representative of the way people are feeling, then they’re definitely looking for change,” McCusker said of the Dunstan result.

“If we can replicate what happened in Dunstan across the much larger electorate of Sturt, then yeah, we can win this.”

Sturt covers the whole seat of Dunstan and spreads further northeast into Rostrevor, Newton and Highbury and south into Glenside, Burnside and Myrtle Bank.

It was once the stronghold of former Liberal MP and minister Christopher Pyne but is now the party’s second-most marginal seat on a razor thin 0.5 per cent.

Stevens, who was first elected in 2019, suffered a more than seven per cent swing against him to hold Sturt by just over 1000 votes over Labor in 2022. The Greens’ primary vote increased more than five per cent to reach 16.4 per cent.

The moderate Liberal MP’s position looks even more vulnerable after the Dunstan by-election where Labor knocked off the Liberals amid a surge in minor party voting.

“I think regardless of the Dunstan by-election it’s going to be a very close and tight contest in Sturt,” Stevens told InDaily.

“They’ll be very different issues that people are considering in my election than the by-election.

“I think it’ll come right down to the wire.”

Stevens said he was aware of the rising Greens vote in Dunstan and Sturt and the Liberal Party’s campaign strategy needed to change as a result.

“I think there’s a lot of policy positions that The Greens have that haven’t had a proper level of prosecution from the Liberal Party, and I think that needs to change at the next election,” he said.

He said he would be highlighting the Greens’ position on private health insurance rebates, private schools and AUKUS shipbuilding in particular.

“There are a lot of people in the seat of Sturt whose kids are at private schools that if the Greens had their way their school fees would go up,” he said.

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“There’s a lot of people in Sturt who have private health insurance who if the Greens had their way their premiums would go up dramatically.

“But I concede that we in the Liberal Party and others haven’t had the focus that we should have on properly communicating those dangerous policies to people and that will change in the next campaign.”

McCusker said the Greens would focus on cost of living and housing in their Sturt campaign.

Asked what they would issues they would target Stevens on, McCusker said: “It’s about the whole Liberal Party, it’s not just one person.”

“I don’t think that Peter Dutton’s Liberal Party is representative of the values of the Sturt electorate, certainly not the people that I’ve been speaking to at all,” she said.

“And a lot of the time, people have actually have said to me that they don’t really know who their members of parliament are because these people are feeling really disconnected from politics.

Barbara Pocock Katie McCusker Sarah Hanson-Young

Greens senator Barbara Pocock, Greens candidate for Sturt Katie McCusker and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young in Norwood today. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

“They’re telling me that they’re not interested, they don’t like it, they don’t feel a connection to the politicians… they don’t think that politicians are really going to make their lives better.”

Labor meanwhile is yet to open nominations for Sturt preselection, with a source saying nominations would open “in the coming weeks”.

Family therapist Sonja Baram was Labor’s Sturt candidate in 2022.

Sturt also looms as a possible seat for a teal independent to target, with the Simon Holmes à Court backed Climate 200 group understood to be open to backing an independent campaign in Sturt or Grey, which is being vacated by longstanding Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey.

Climate 200 held its first event in Adelaide last month. The group supported independent Mayo MP Rebekha Sharkie in 2022 along with independent campaigns run by Jo Dyer in Boothby and Liz Habermann in Grey.

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