As the likelihood of a July 2 election firms, the preselection treadmill gathers pace. All the action this week is on the conservative side of the fence:
• New discord has emerged in the fractious New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party over its preselection for the Senate, after a party vote on Saturday delivered top position to Hollie Hughes, Moree-based autism support advocate and the state party’s country vice-president. This reduced the remaining incumbent, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, to number two, in defiance of the wishes of the Prime Minister, who had recently signalled his support by promoting her to the ministry. With number three reserved for Nationals Senator Fiona Nash, the result also meant neither of the Liberals’ winnable positions was available to Jim Molan, a former senior army officer who was heavily involved in the government’s efforts against unauthorised boat arrivals. Hughes has since forestalled a looming state executive intervention by agreeing to be relegated to number two. At issue was the presence on the preselection panel of two lobbyists and moderate factional operatives, Michael Photios and Nick Campbell, two years after Photios had been forced off the state executive by a Tony Abbott-sponsored rule forbidding the involvement of lobbyists. Opponents of the moderates cited in a report by David Crowe of The Australian claim that without the involvement of Photios and Campbell, Fierravanti-Wells and Molan might have taken the top two spots, with number three going to Andrew Bragg, policy director at the Financial Services Council. Tony Abbott described the outcome of the vote as “another exercise of stitching up”, which had been “tainted” by the involvement of Photios. If a double dissolution elections is called, the entire process will need to be revisited in a way that also accounts for Marise Payne, John Williams and Arthur Sinodinos, who were elected in 2013.
• Outgoing Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson has been preselected to succeed Andrew Robb as Liberal candidate for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein. The Australian reports Wilson prevailed in the local party ballot over Denis Dragovic, a “lecturer, former hostage negotiator and columnist”, by the paper-thin margin of 142 votes to 140. Eliminated in the first round were Georgina Downer, with 66 votes, and Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive John Osborn, on 18 votes. The vote came shortly after a pamphlet was distributed to preselectors describing Wilson as “a danger to our families, schools and the local community”, owing to his “unrelenting campaign for gay rights issues”.
• The Daily Telegraph reports Bronwyn Bishop faces defeat in the Mackellar preselection at the hands of Jason Falinski, owner of aged care business Carewell Health. Falinski was Malcolm Turnbull’s Wentworth campaign manager in 2004, and has worked for John Hewson and Barry O’Farrell. While Falinski is strongly associated with the moderates faction, the Telegraph reports he “will get the support of much of the Right because of an anyone-but-Bronwyn attitude caused by her switching sides on Tony Abbott”.
• A further three challenges have emerged against federal Liberals in Western Australia, in addition to the widely reported contest between Tangney MP Dennis Jensen and the state party’s former director, Ben Morton. Liberal sources invoked by Andrew Burrell of The Australian suggest Nola Marino is under pressure from Ben Small, although all I can discern of Small is that he lives in Bunbury. Elsewhere, Swan MP Steve Irons faces Carl Pallier, state manager of Suncorp Insurance, and Durack MP Melissa Price is opposed by David Archibald, a geologist.
• Seven Liberal Party members have nominated for preselection in the new southern Perth seat of Burt. Andrew Burrell of The Australian suggests the front-runner is Matthew O’Sullivan, “who runs Andrew Forrest’s GenerationOne philanthropic movement aimed at ending indigenous disparity”. However, Gosnells councillor Liz Storer is reported to be “backed by conservative forces”. Also in the field are Marisa Hislop, a small business owner; Daniel Nikolic, a company director; Lance Scott, the party’s divisional president; and a low-profile figure named Lesley Boyd.
• Sarah Martin of The Australian reports the Liberal Party has approached indigenous journalist Stan Grant about running for preselection against Labor’s Julie Owens in her highly marginal seat of Parramatta. The Liberals will be choosing their candidate for the seat through a trial plebiscite of local party members of more than two years’ standing, amid an ongoing brawl within the party over the power of head office in the party’s preselections.
• Melissa Grant of AAP reports on a second contestant for the Liberal National Party preselection to succeed Ian MacFarlane in the Queensland seat of Groom, joining the widely touted state member for Toowoomba South, John McVeigh. The candidate is Toowoomba general practitioner David van Gend, who describes himself on his Twitter bio as a “combatant on matters of life and death: euthanasia, cloning, abortion, gay ‘marriage’, faith and freedom” – his perspective on such matters being conservative.