Celia Hammond
Liberal member for Curtin Celia Hammond

Professor Celia Hammond has easily won the preselection battle to take over the blue ribbon Liberal seat of Curtin from former foreign minister and deputy Liberal Party leader Julie Bishop. Hammond took 51 votes, while her two closest rivals Anna Dartnell and Erin Watson-Lynn took 28 and one respectively.

The preselection process and growing public enmity between Bishop and conservative powerbroker Senator Mathias Cormann, came to be a simulacra for wider tension between the right and moderate factions of the party in general. Hammond had the backing of Cormann’s conservative Western Australian faction. Although Bishop avoided explicitly backing any particular candidate, she suggested her replacement be a moderate (“to match the views of the electorate”) and it’s understood her faction wanted Watson-Lynn.

Watson-Lynn is a foreign affairs expert whose chances were stymied somewhat by the revelation she had described herself as a “non-Liberal voter”. Her eventual crushing defeat is perhaps another sign — along with the apparent failure of a single WA MP to vote for Bishop in last year’s post spill leadership ballot — of the difference in popularity Bishop enjoys inside the party as opposed to outside of it. 

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So who is Celia Hammond, the woman walking into one of the safest Coalition seats in the country?

Conservative cred

Hammond has spent 21 years at Fremantle’s Catholic University of Notre Dame, and has served as vice chancellor since 2008. During this time, Hammond has had plenty of occasion to comment on various social issues which are now the source of controversy around her candidacy.

In 2017, after some Notre Dame student associations had rainbow flag stickers torn off their windows, Hammond sent an email which could be best described as equivocal:

While I believe the symbol is divisive, and the university does not support all that has come to be associated with the rainbow flag, the university does not condone the sticker being deliberately taken down in the way that it was.

Hammond stated she “fully supported” the message of “inclusion, support and of welcome for all”, but also understood the “legitimate concerns some people have … given the way this particular symbol has been used to represent a political statement or to advocate a particular social agenda, some of which is inconsistent with Catholic teachings”.

Perviously, in an email to staff in 2013, she responded to concerns over the status of campus groups that supported same-sex marriage, by saying some clubs could “compromise the university’s Catholic identity and mission”.

Curtin voted 74% in favour of marriage equality.

Opposes the ‘militant feminist movement’

Hammond does have one thing in common with her predecessor — she also doesn’t identify as a feminist. A speech from 2013 emerged during the preselection process in which she said she did not identify with the term, because, according to her, the movement had become “pro-abortion, anti-men, anti-tradition and anti-family”. 

“One of the results of the militant feminist movement is to say you want to be a mother, to say you want to stay home, that you want to look after the house and raise the children, is not an acceptable life goal.”

She also took a dim view of “premarital casual sex”:

I have never known a single woman who has been able to have a premarital casual sexual encounter, or that sort of relationship, who hasn’t actually, whether they knew or acknowledged it at the time, been searching for something more… What they’re being sold is a pup.

This quote came during a speech delivered to the Dawson Society for Philosophy and Culture — a Catholic think tank in Perth dedicated to the the “renewal of Christendom”.

What are Hammond’s chances in Curtin? Send your thoughts to boss@crikey.com.au.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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