Preselection news dump

A lengthy account of preselection goings-on over the past month in three states.

This site has had its eye off the ball with respect to preselection news in the past month, in which time all too much has happened. The New South Wales Liberal Party has been consumed by three federal preselection contests that formed part of an offensive being waged against conservatives by the ascendant moderate faction, though it appears increasingly unlikely any of this will bear fruit:

Joe Kelly of The Australian reports that Angus Taylor is now secure in his seat of Hume, after Macarthur MP Russell Matheson abandoned plans to challenge him by way of securing a safer seat. The chief instigator of the proposed challenge, moderate powerbroker and state Wollondilly MP Jai Rowell, was at first said to have remained intent on throwing his weight behind a new alternative candidate, but he has since backed down and announced his support for Taylor. Ben Chenoweth of the Wollondilly Advertiser reports Rowell and his supporters are aggrieved by Taylor’s closeness to Camden councillor Penny Fischer, who marshalled preselection forces locally against Rowell in Wollondilly and Chris Patterson in the neighbouring seat of Camden.

• Craig Kelly has been given a boost in his bid to see off a preselection challenge in Hughes, courtesy of a public letter of support from Malcolm Turnbull. Kelly had been under pressure from Kent Johns, a Sutherland Shire councillor and influential moderate. The Sydney Morning Herald reports talk radio broadcaster Alan Jones has threatened to wage an on-air campaign against Johns, whose sins include a past as the Labor-aligned mayor of Rockdale. Kelly has intimated he might run as an independent if defeated.

Karen Middleton of the Saturday Paper reports the threat to Connie Fierravanti-Wells’ position as lead Senate candidate “appears to be subsiding”, which she possibly owes to the signal Malcolm Turnbull sent by promoting her to the ministry. It was widely reported that the hard Right-aligned Fierravanti-Wells stood to become a victim of a purge by the ascendant moderates, who favoured replacing her with Richard Shields, a former ministerial adviser and manager with the Insurance Council of Australia. However, Bill Heffernan is reportedly expected to make way in the number two position for the soft Right-aligned Hollie Hughes, who is the party’s country vice-president.

Also of note in the New South Wales Liberal Party:

Karen Middleton of the Saturday Paper reports at length on the curious resilience of Mackellar MP Bronwyn Bishop, who remains determined to defy an array of preselection predators and seek another term. In spite of everything, Mike Seccombe in the Saturday Paper says even the “harshest moderate critics” of Bishop “concede she is probably safe”. As well as her own local loyalists, Bishop retains crucial support from the “soft Right” faction, which is “upholding the view that she should be allowed to go at a time of her choosing”. However, she has lost the support of the “hard Right” after voting for Malcolm Turnbull in the September leadership contest. According to Peter van Onselen of The Australian, a “backroom deal” has been struck with a view to having Bishop succeeded at the election after next by Damien Jones, her chief-of-staff and long-standing favoured successor. Jones lost crucial factional support due to his own role in the “Choppergate” scandal, but it is felt the heat will have gone out of the issue by 2019. As part of this arrangement, Jones’s wife, state upper house MP Natasha Maclaren-Jones, has abandoned plans to contest the preselection herself. Karen Middleton’s report identifies the biggest immediate threat to Bishop as Jason Falinksi, a Liberal staffer and member of the ascendant moderate faction. However, he now faces a strong competitor in Walter Villatora, a local party activist who has spearheaded a campaign for preselection reforms that are principally favoured by the hard Right, which is frozen out of the alliance that controls the party’s powerful state executive. Tony Abbott and Mike Baird have both written references supporting Villatora’s nomination. Aston reports other candidates may include former state Pittwater MP Jim Longley, ministerial adviser Amanda Rawnsley, former policeman David Walton and stockbroker Campbell Walsh.

• Philip Ruddock has finally announced he will bow out at the next election, amid doubts he would have been able to retain his preselection if he remained. The succeession here seems to be looming as a relatively orderly affair, with the short-priced favourite being Ruddock’s presumed challenger – Julian Leeser, a former executive director of Liberal-aligned think tank the Menzies Research Centre, and current director of government policy and strategy at Australian Catholic University. Sarah Martin of The Australian reports Leeser will be opposed by John Bathgate, a staffer to Christoper Pyne.

All manner of things are afoot in Western Australia, particularly in the ALP, where all three of the party’s lower house MPs have announced over the past three weeks that they will not contest the next election:

• The overwhelmingly favoured candidate to replace MacTiernan in Perth is Tim Hammond, a barrister specialising in representing asbestos disease victims. Hammond was the Right faction’s nominee for the party’s national presidency last year, ultimately taking one of the two vice-president positions, and it has long been felt he would be at the front of the queue the next time an appropriate federal berth presented itself. The Perth electorate is particularly conveninent in that Hammond lives there and controls one of its ALP branches. On Sunday he made a public appearance with MacTiernan, who said Hammond showed there were “really good people there to take over”. Hammond contested the marginal seat of Swan at the 2010 election, but was unsuccessful.

• Following Melissa Parke’s retirement announcement in Fremantle three weeks ago, two Left faction candidates have emerged to succeed her: Josh Wilson, deputy mayor and chief-of-staff to Parke; and Chris Brown, an organiser with the Maritime Union of Australia. The MUA has built a substantial power base in the state branch of the party in recent years, without as yet having anything to show for it in terms of parliamentary representation. It was earlier reported that Wilson had backing from United Voice, but The West Australian suggests it has switched to Brown in a deal that will deliver “favourable outcomes in other preselection contests”. However, the report also notes that the party’s national executive would “likely take over the candidate selection process”, which may not bode well for Brown. The likelihood of Tim Hammond getting the nod in Perth raised a difficulty with the Wilson-Brown contest, as the loss of both Parke and MacTiernan meant Labor was short a woman in a winnable seat for affirmative action purposes. Either the Senate ticket would have to be reordered to dump Glenn Sterle from number two, or a woman would have to be preselected in Fremantle. But then …

• Gary Gray has now made it a hat trick by announcing his resignation in Brand, suggesting the affirmative action issue can be resolved by choosing a woman to replace him. Considerations of factional balance further require that it be a member for the Left. One such is Louise Pratt, the former Senator who lost her seat from second position at the 2014 Senate election re-run, and has only managed the number three position for the coming election, behind incumbents Sue Lines and Glenn Sterle. Prominent union figures who fit the bill include Carolyn Smith, state secretary of United Voice, and Meredith Hammat, secretary of Unions WA. An ABC report floats the possible nomination of Hannah Beazley, daughter of Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and grand-daughter of veteran Fremantle MP Kim Beazley Sr, but she is in the wrong faction, and party sources say she is unlikely to be interested given the recent birth of her second child.

• On the other side of the fence, Andrew Burrell of The Australian reports that Dennis Jensen, Liberal member or the Perth seat of Tangney, could be facing yet another preselection challenge – this time from Ben Morton, who was the party’s state director through a highly successful period from 2008 to 2015. Jensen had earlier been defeated in local preselection ballots ahead of the 2007 and 2010 elections, but was rescued on both occasions by intervention from higher forces – John Howard the first time, and the party’s state council on the second. Andrew Probyn of The West Australian reports that Jensen “believes himself safe”, thanks to the support of religious conservatives, who have become increasingly assertive in local branches. This factor also features in a local state preselection spat, in which the conservatives support back-bencher Matt Taylor to remain in his seat of Bateman after its boundaries were favourably redrawn in the redistibution, while much of the party hierarchy favours the claim of cabinet minister Dean Nalder, whose existing seat of Alfred Cove has been transformed into the dicey prospect of Bicton. However, Jensen’s public support for the first move to oust Tony Abbott in February last year is said to have alienated conservative backers, who had long been impressed by his climate skepticism. According to Probyn’s report, there have been suggestions that the conservatives will either drop their opposition to Morton as part of a deal that will offer up extra support for Taylor in Bateman, or put forward an entirely new alternative candidate.

Meanwhile, in Victoria:

• With the announcement of Andrew Robb’s retirement, candidates are jockeying to succeed him for the Liberal preselection in the safe Melbourne seat of Goldstein. Among the front-runners is Georgina Downer, a lawyer, former diplomat and, as daughter of former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, part of an Australian political dynasty going back to the late nineteenth century. Downer’s supporters include Andrew Robb and Jeff Kennett, along with Liberal MPs Josh Frydenberg, Greg Hunt and Alan Tudge. However, she faces high-profile competition in the shape of Tim Wilson, who has resigned from his position as Human Rights Commissioner in order to run. Also in the field is John Osborn, director of economics and industry policy for the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and it appears expected they will be joined by Marcus Bastian, 26-year-old managing director of Lead Software and an influential figure in the local party. Others mentioned as possible contenders are Elizabeth Miller, member for the state seat of Bentleigh from 2010 to 2014; Bayside mayor Felicity Frederico; and Zoe McKenzie, chief-of-staff to Andrew Robb. The preselection vote will be held on March 19.

• Reports suggest Monash mayor Stefanie Perri is primed to win Labor preselection for the eastern Melbourne seat of Chisholm, which will be vacated at the election by the retirement of Anna Burke. Rick Wallace of The Australian reports that Perri has the decisive backing of the National Union of Workers, which was recently readmitted to the dominant Right grouping that controls the Victorian ALP in alliance with the Socialist Left. This ensures that Perri will receive overwhelming support from the party’s heavily factionalised public office selection committee, which provides half of the votes in preselection ballots. Consequently, a strong performance in the local party ballot would little avail Perri’s main rival, Jennifer Yang, a scientist and former mayor of Chinese extraction, who ran in the seat of Mount Waverley at the November 2014 state election. Yang has promised to raise $500,000 of her own money for the party’s campaign if preselected, in a seat that Labor is now reckoned to be in serious danger of losing following the departure of Burke and the transformation of the Liberal Party’s fortunes in Victoria since Malcolm Turnbull assumed the prime ministership. UPDATE: Joe in comments points out I’m slow on the uptake with this one: the preselection has already been held, and was won by Perri.

• Peter Khalil, whose CV includes stints as a national security adviser to then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, an executive to SBS and a role in establishing the new Defence Ministry in post-invasion Iraq, has been preselected as Labor’s candidate for the inner northern Melbourne seat of Wills, to be vacated at the next election by the retirement of Kelvin Thomson. A local rank-and-file party ballot delivered Khalil 224 primary votes out of 700, against 152 for Mehmet Tillem, former Senator and chief-of-staff to Senator Stephen Conroy; 142 for Anna-Maria Arabia, policy director to Bill Shorten; 94 for Josh Funder, a funds manager and former Yarra councillor; 51 votes for Moreland councillor Lambros Tapinos; and 32 for Moreland councillor Meghan Hopper. All but Khalil and Funder subsequently dropped out of the race, leaving Khalil to receive the near-unanimous endorsement of the Victorian ALP’s tightly factionalised public office selection committee, which determines 50% of the overall vote. Khalil received decisive support within the Right from the Australian Workers Union and Batman MP David Feeney, together with locally influential figures in the Lebanese and Kurdish communities. However, Senator Stephen Conroy, who forms part of a Right power base in league with Bill Shorten, was pushing the claim of his staffer, Mehmet Tillem.

Author: William Bowe

William Bowe is a Perth-based election analyst and occasional teacher of political science. His blog, The Poll Bludger, has existed in one form or another since 2004, and is one of the most heavily trafficked websites on Australian politics.

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