Simon and Nila Kennedy
Simon Kennedy (with wife Nila) hopes his strong family values will resonate with voters. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

Liberal focuses on families as PM lashes lack of women

Maeve Bannister March 23, 2024

The man likely to replace Scott Morrison in parliament hopes his strong family values and commitment to his recently adopted community will resonate with voters when they head to the polls. 

But the Liberal Party is likely to face continued scrutiny over its failure to pre-select female candidates, particularly in the lead-up to the next federal election. 

Former consultant Simon Kennedy was selected as the party’s candidate in an upcoming by-election in the southern Sydney seat of Cook, beating local mayor Carmelo Pesce 158 to 90 votes.

Gwen Cherne, who was backed by former prime minister John Howard, came in third with 35 votes. 

While Labor decided not to run a candidate in the blue-ribbon Liberal seat, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese lashed the opposition for failing to select a woman to replace his predecessor in The Lodge.

“(The Liberals have) selected a bloke in Cook (and) they seem incapable of recognising that 50 per cent of the population are female and that the parliament should represent the people,” Mr Albanese told reporters on Friday. 

“I just think the Liberal Party have a real problem in not recognising what’s required in 2024 and what people expect.”

Anthony Albanese (file)
 Anthony Albanese claims the Liberal Party has a problem recognising the capability of women. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

Following the 2022 federal election, women make up just 11 of the coalition’s 58 members in the House of Representatives.

But Mr Kennedy said he was keen to prove himself as someone who would listen to the community and represent their views in Canberra.

He has been joined on the campaign trail by Liberal MP Jenny Ware, elected to represent the nearby seat of Hughes in 2022 and has also praised North Sydney candidate Gisele Kapterian, who has been pre-selected to contest the seat at the next election.

“If we’ve got more candidates like (Jenny and Gisele), then that is fantastic for the party,” Mr Kennedy told AAP.

“The one thing I’m keen to prove is that I will work exceptionally hard for the community and so far I’ve got a pretty warm reception.”

Asked if he believed the Liberal Party was hearing voters’ concerns about the lack of female representation in their party room, Mr Kennedy said he was unable to speak for others.

“What I can say is, I’m listening,” he said. 

“I have to focus on Cook and what is in front of me, particularly in the next three weeks and I don’t want to get too carried away or take anything for granted.” 

Jenny Ware and Simon Kennedy at Cronulla
 Mr Kennedy has been joined on the campaign trail by Liberal MP Jenny Ware. Image by Dan Himbrechts/AAP PHOTOS 

Drawing second-last place on the ballot paper is unlikely to affect the hopeful for Cook, which the Liberals hold on a 12 per cent margin.

Mr Kennedy, who has been criticised for not living in the electorate, said he was focused on hitting local train stations, community events and business premises to chat to constituents.

He confirmed his family had set up in the Sutherland Shire suburb of Woolooware after previously moving away from Maroubra, in Sydney’s southeast, to contest the North Shore seat of Bennelong.

But Mr Kennedy said conversations with voters hadn’t been focused on his recent move to the area but rather cost-of-living pressures, energy prices and housing affordability.  

Having grown up in a multi-generational household, he added that his strong family values would resonate with the family-oriented Cook electorate when they head to the polls on April 13.

“My family comes from service: my mum was a public-school teacher, my aunt worked for the police and my grandad fought in World War I,” he said. 

“I don’t think too many people grow up with one of their main caregivers being someone who was born in 1911 and saw what made modern Australia the country it is.”