Craig Laundy Reid
Outgoing Liberal member for Reid Craig Laundy (Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

With just over a month to go ’til the federal election, the Liberal Party finally have a candidate for the seat of Reid in Sydney’s inner west, ending months of uncertainty and hand-wringing. Fiona Martin, a child psychologist, is likely to today get the blessing of the party’s state executive. Come May this gives her the chance to succeed Craig Laundy, a former Turnbull government minister, who announced he would be retiring at the election.

Held on a thin 4.7% margin, winning Reid is crucial to the Coalition’s chances of retaining government. Can Martin, Scott Morrison’s long-awaited star candidate give them the edge?

Who is Fiona Martin?

Martin is clinical director at the Sydney Psychology Centre, which she founded, and was trained in Sydney and the United States. A mother of four, she was born and raised in the area but operates a practice in the exclusive lower north shore suburb of Mosman.

Martin’s profile has been cultivated through regular media appearances on matters related to child psychology and parenting and her website prominently lists articles she’s commented on. Martin has warned of the dangers of excess screen time, discussed helping families deal with divorce, and opined on why it’s important for kids to fail in order to build resilience.

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Why was a candidate appointed so late?

It was one of Canberra’s worst kept secrets that Craig Laundy, a moderate who was one of Malcolm Turnbull’s closest and last-remaining loyalists, was uninterested in re-contesting his seat. After the leadership spill, Laundy moved quietly to the backbench, criticising the party’s hard-right lurch and the corrosive influence of Sky News.

The Coalition were desperate for Laundy to run again, and both Morrison and former prime minister John Howard tried to sway him, but the ex-minister reportedly angered party powerbrokers by refusing to return their calls, and make a definitive statement about his future. But it then emerged that Laundy had in fact resigned in January, and Scott Morrison had kept this secret while he tried to find a replacement, hoping to announce both simultaneously.

Morrison was desperate to parachute in a high-profile candidate to replace Laundy rather than leave the decision in the hands of local branch members. The Prime Minister appears to be a fan of this approach. Earlier this year, he announced former ALP president and Indigenous leader Warren Mundine as his candidate for the marginal NSW seat of Gilmore and last year he lobbied Liberal state executive to retain Craig Kelly in Hughes.

But the Prime Minister has struggled to get any of his star candidates enthused. Prominent Indigenous broadcaster Stan Grant rejected him, as did former deputy police commissioner Nick Kaldas. Last week, the preselection battle seemed to be between Scott Yung, the 26-year old who achieved a sizeable swing running against a Labor frontbencher in the NSW election, and Tanveer Ahmed, a controversial psychiatrist. Ahmed, who has been sacked by both The Australian and The Sydney Morning Herald for alleged plagiarism, lashed out at a selection process he called unfair and undemocratic.

But after months of fumbling, almost out of the blue, the Liberals found Martin.

Can the Liberals win?

Reid was a Labor stronghold, until 2013, when a name change, redistribution and a landslide Liberal victory allowed Laundy, the scion of a Sydney pub dynasty, to scrape into parliament. Laundy proved to be a popular local member, and bucked the national trend in 2016 by securing a swing in his favour.

But without him, the Coalition’s chances in Reid appear slim. In March, there was reportedly just $18,000 sitting in Laundy’s electorate bank account. While Laundy held his tongue, and Morrison searched fruitlessly for a star candidate, the Liberals did not campaign in the seat.

Meanwhile, it’s been over a year since Labor unveiled Sam Crosby, director of progressive think tank The McKell Institute as their candidate. During that time, Crosby has been campaigning “relentlessly”.

Morrison may have finally found his star candidate, but that star may have been born too late.

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