PEACE talks are being held between the campaign teams of the two independent candidates standing for Flinders in next month’s federal election.
The two candidates – Despi O’Connor and Sarah Russell – have been at odds ever since O’Connor decided to seek election on her own terms after failing to get the backing of the Voices for Mornington Peninsula (VMP) group.
O’Connor was one of three shortlisted candidates for endorsement by the VMP but announced she would stand as an independent just days before the VMP publicly revealed its candidate.
The move split the vote for independents in Flinders which is being contested by 10 candidates.
O’Connor last week said she had “recently” been “working alongside Voices of Mornington Peninsula to resolve our differences and to ensure the best outcome for the people of Flinders”.
However, this is disputed by Russell who said “there had been no contact between Cr O’Connor and VMP since she decided to leave VMP and go solo” in mid-December 2021. Contact had only been re-established before a meeting on 20 April, which followed an 11 April article in The News about Russell’s campaign (“Running on Hope for Flinders”).
Russell refused to attend the meeting at a “public/neutral space” between O’Connor and VMP.
“There was a 10-day period between the publication of the article and O’Connor’s response. Was she waiting for a date to be confirmed for a meeting with VMP so she could imply she was working alongside VMP?,” Russell said last week.
“O’Connor has ignored every approach, public entreaty and Tweet from me regarding supporting each other by doing a deal with our preferences.
“Despi split the vote, not me. I have received some unpleasant emails from Despi’s supporters asking me to withdraw my nomination – saying I have split the vote!
“One supporter went as far as to question my “mental health. As I replied to him: I expected abusive messages from Liberal supporters, but not Despi supporters.”
Russell said that it was only after The News article was published that O’Connor’s campaign manager contacted VMP suggesting an “urgent meeting”.
“O’Connor’s language is also misleading. ‘Working alongside’ implies co-operation and collaboration. Letters in The News demonstrate the anger many VMP members feel towards Cr O’Connor for splitting the vote.”
O’Connor has told The News she was “disappointed” not to have been approached for comment before publication of the Running on Hope for Flinders article.
“I am not interested in playing politics or starting fires between candidates – I am running to ensure that the community of Flinders are heard in Canberra, and that our community is no longer taken for granted,” she said.
In a 13 April email to the VMP O’Connor’s campaign manager Conal Feehely suggested a “face-to-face meeting with the VMP board and your endorsed candidate”. “At this stage of the election, it’s important for both independent candidates and their representatives to come together to discuss our common goal of seeing an independent elected in Flinders – and representing our community to the fullest.
“Understandably, there has been some hostility between the two teams given the nature of the selection process and the fact of two independent candidates running in the same race.
“I believe that it’s important to have given this meeting enough time to allow for water to pass under the bridge – and that now is the best time to discuss the upcoming election and beyond.”