The diversion of the South Australian election caused this site to take its eye off the ball during a highly eventful period for federal preselections, which it now endeavours to make good. We start in Victoria, where Labor’s process for the Senate is finally coming to a head. In common with the rest of Labor’s Victorian preselections, the matter has been in the hands of the party’s national executive, which asserted control in response to the branch-stacking scandal surrounding Victorian MLC Adem Somyurek. An already fraught situation was gravely complicated by the sudden death of Kimberley Kitching a fortnight ago, whose hold on the Right-mandated position at the top end of the ticket has since been a matter of fierce dispute.
• Kitching’s vacancy will be filled by Jana Stewart, a Muthi Muthi and Wamba Wamba woman and until recently the deputy secretary at the Victorian Department of Justice, who had previously been lined up to run in the safe seat of Pascoe Vale at the Victorian state election in November. Stewart will serve out the remaining months of Kitching’s term and take the one of the two seemingly unloseable positions on the Senate ticket, in an order to be determined. Tom Minear of the Herald Sun reported Stewart had backing from the Transport Workers Union and Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, the chief Right faction parties to a pact with the Socialist Left that has frozen out the Right forces associated with Bill Shorten. The Shorten forces reportedly favoured Natalie Hutchins, the state Corrections Minister and member for Sydenham. Minear further reported that Fiona McLeod, a barrister who performed creditably as the candidate for Higgins in 2019, was “another name in the mix”.
• Following Kim Carr’s retirement announcement on Sunday, the Left-mandated position at the top of the ticket will be filled by Linda White, retired former assistant national secretary of the Australian Services Union. Carr cited health concerns in bringing down the curtain on a Senate career going back to 1993, but it was widely expected he would lose preselection in any case, most likely to White. There were widespread earlier reports that the position was also being pursued by Ryan Batchelor, executive director of the McKell Institute, but both Stewart and White have in fact emerged unopposed.
• A contest has also been avoided in the south-eastern Melbourne seat of Holt, to be vacated with the retirement of Anthony Byrne, with Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association organiser Cassandra Fernando emerging as the sole nominee. The seat will thus remain with the Right, despite what Tom Minear of the Herald Sun described as “a small push from the Left to claim the seat”. The faction’s favoured nominee appeared to be Jo Briskey, political co-ordinator of the United Workers Union.
In New South Wales, the Liberal Party’s long-delayed preselections for Warringah, Hughes, Parramatta and Eden-Monaro and Greenway are to be determined by a three-person committee consisting of Scott Morrison, Dominic Perrottet and state party president Christine McDiven, following an intervention by the party’s federal executive. Here too legal action is afoot, with earlier federal executive intervention being contested in the New South Wales Supreme Court by conservative activist Matt Camenzuli. The party’s conservative forces stand to benefit from party reforms to increase the power and the rank and file, which Scott Morrison and his centre-right factional ally Alex Hawke have been seeking to circumvent.
• The intervention entails the cancellation of a rank-and-file ballot to choose a candidate for Hughes, held by the once Liberal and now United Australia Party member Craig Kelly. Where previously it was thought an intervention would rubber-stamp the preselection of Alex Dore, a management consultant who lives in Manly, Murray Trembath of the St George & Sutherland Shire Leader reports there is “now speculation war widow Gwen Cherne, who was the inaugural Veteran Family Advocate Commissioner on the Repatriation Commission, is being considered”. The acknowledged front-runners for the now-cancelled rank-and-file ballot were state Holsworthy MP Melanie Gibbons and local lawyer Jenny Ware.
• Anne Davies of The Guardian reports that David Elliott, state Transport Minister and centre-right factional ally of Scott Morrison, is considering putting his name forward in Parramatta or Greenway. Elliott’s federal ambitions may be complicated by his recent efforts as minister, which placed him at the centre of a shutdown of Sydney’s public transport network last month.
• One rank-and-file ballot that was allowed to proceed was that to replace John Alexander in Bennelong, which was won by Simon Kennedy, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey. Anne Davies of The Guardian reports that Kennedy, a factional conservative, emerged an unexpected winner in a rank-and-file ballot over moderate-aligned Gisele Kapterian, former chief-of-staff to Michaelia Cash, by 148 votes to 95.
• A weekend meeting of the party’s state council determined that incumbents Marise Payne and Jim Molan will respectively fill the first and third positions on the Coalition Senate ticket, the second being mandated to the Nationals. This amounts to defeat for the third incumbent, Connie Fierravanti-Wells, who has compared her situation to that of Kimberley Kitching. Another unsuccessful nominee was Mary-Lou Jarvis, a lawyer and Woollahra councillor.
• Andrew Charlton, economist and former adviser to Kevin Rudd, is expected to be imposed by Labor’s national executive as its candidate for Parramatta, where the Liberals are hopeful of overhauling a 3.5% margin with the retirement of Julie Owens, the Labor member since 2004. Michael McGowan of The Guardian reports Labor “spent weeks shopping for a celebrity candidate in a bid to railroad a local rank-and-file ballot”, with targets including former state Granville MP David Borger and Sydney barrister Cameron Murphy. A rank-and-file ballot would likely have yielded Durga Owen, a former staffer to Owens, who seemingly was not favoured by Anthony Albanese. Other prospective candidates for a rank-and-file ballot were Alan Mascarenhas, a former Sydney Morning Herald journalist, and Abha Devasia, a Left-aligned lawyer. All three are of of Indian background, and thus representative of a demographic with a strong presence in the electorate. The move to install Charlton, who lives in Bellevue Hill in the eastern suburbs, has predictably “infuriated local branch members”, and drawn criticism from Owens.
• Nick Xenophon announced last week he will seek to return to his earlier vocation at the election as Senator for South Australia, a position he held from 2008 until his ill-fated bid to gatecrash the 2018 state election. He has since maintained a profile as a partner of law firm Xenophon Davis. Rex Patrick, who filled Xenophon’s Senate vacancy in 2017 and later abandoned his Centre Alliance party, appears to have recognised that Xenophon’s return has ended whatever chance he had of being re-elected to the Senate, and is reportedly contemplating a run for the lower house seat of Grey.
• Joe Spagnolo of the Sunday Times reports the Nationals will field candidates in lower house seats in Western Australia against the wishes of Mia Davies, the party’s state leader and, thanks to the extraordinary result of the March 2021 election, the state’s Opposition Leader (a nicety that eluded Scott Morrison during his trip to the state a fortnight ago). The party’s strongest seats in the state are Durack and O’Connor, respectively held for the Liberals by Melissa Price and Rick Wilson.