Former MP Sophie Mirabella is back in the headlines again for all the wrong reasons, her campaign to recover her lost seat of Indi marred early by two controversial bits of news.
Mirabella lost her Victorian seat at the 2013 election to independent Cathy McGowan by about 400 votes. Indi is on an absolute knife-edge, but Mirabella has done herself no favours in a bizarre 24 hours that saw her accused of shoving her opponent, then claiming that the government withheld $10 million for a local hospital because she lost the election.
A report in the Benalla Ensign newspaper on Wednesday said Mirabella, McGowan and federal Liberal MP Ken Wyatt were at the opening of a new wing at a local retirement village. The Ensign reported Mirabella "very publicly pushed Ms McGowan out of the way to obstruct the photo being taken."
Mirabella has since emphatically denied the allegations, but McGowan issued a statement claiming the former MP had "intervened to prevent the photo being taken" in what was an "unfortunate incident occurred."
On Thursday night, Sky News held a forum with the Indi candidates where Mirabella claimed that she had secured $10 million for a local hospital, but that the government had withdrawn the support after McGowan won the seat.
"I had a commitment for a $10 million allocation to the Wangaratta hospital that, if elected, I was going to announce the week after the election. That is $10 million that Wangaratta hasn't had because Cathy got elected," Mirabella said.
The announcement was met with gasps and shocked faces.
Catherine King, the opposition health spokeswoman, told The Australian the revelations were "deeply disturbing."
"Malcolm Turnbull must publicly apologise to the people of Indi, and pledge that his government will never again put political payback ahead of the health needs of all Australians," she said.
It was not the ideal start to the campaign for Mirabella, who is fighting to regain her seat after she was sensationally dumped in 2013.
Mirabella held the Victorian seat of Indi from 2001 to 2013. A polarising figure in Liberal politics, deemed "rude, imperious and arrogant"; she boycotted the Labor apology to the stolen generation, and in her time in parliament, was seen as an abrasive figure. "She is the nastiest," Tony Windsor said in 2013, when asked about the person he would least miss in parliament.
In one memorable incident in 2012 on ABC program Q&A, Mirabella was roundly slammed for simply staring blankly at a fellow panellist after he passed out on the show, and not offering help.