Fraught preselections aplenty as the major parties get their houses in order ahead of a looming federal election.
Kicking off a federal election year with an overdue accumulation of preselection news, going back to late November:
• Liberal Party conservative Craig Kelly was last month saved from factional moderate Kent Johns’ preselection challenge in his southern Sydney seat of Hughes, which was widely reported as having decisive support in local party branches. This followed the state executive’s acquiescence to Scott Morrison’s demand that it rubber-stamp preselections for all sitting members of the House of Representatives, also confirming the positions of Jason Falinski in Mackellar, John Alexander in Bennelong and Lucy Wicks in Robertson. Kelly had threatened a week earlier to move to the cross bench if dumped, presumably with a view to contesting the seat as an independent. Malcolm Turnbull stirred the pot by calling on the executive to defy Morrison, noting there had been “such a long debate in the New South Wales Liberal Party about the importance of grass roots membership involvement”. This referred to preselection reforms that had given Johns the edge over Kelly, which had been championed by conservatives and resisted by moderates. Turnbull’s critics noted he raised no concerns when the executive of the Victorian branch guaranteed sitting members’ preselections shortly before he was dumped as Prime Minister.
• The intervention that saved Craig Kelly applied only to lower house members, and was thus of no use to another beleaguered conservative, Senator Jim Molan, who had been relegated a week earlier to the unwinnable fourth position on the Coalition’s ticket. Hollie Hughes and Andrew Bragg were chosen for the top two positions, with the third reserved to the Nationals (who have chosen Perin Davey, owner of a communications consultancy, to succeed retiring incumbent John “Wacka” Williams). Despite anger at the outcome from conservatives in the party and the media, Scott Morrison declined to intervene. Morrison told 2GB that conservatives themselves were to blame for Molan’s defeat in the preselection ballot, as there was “a whole bunch of people in the very conservative part of our party who didn’t show up”.
• Labor’s national executive has chosen Diane Beamer, a former state government minister who held the seats of Badgerys Creek and Mulgoa from 1995 to 2011, to replace Emma Husar in Lindsay. The move scotched Husar’s effort to recant her earlier decision to vacate the seat, after she became embroiled in accusations of bullying and sexual harassment in August. Husar is now suing Buzzfeed over its reporting of the allegations, and is reportedly considering running as an independent. The Liberals have preselected Melissa McIntosh, communications manager for the not-for-profit Wentworth Community Housing.
• The misadventures of Nationals MP Andrew Broad have created an opening in his seat of Mallee, which has been in National/Country Party hands since its creation in 1949, although the Liberals have been competitive when past vacancies have given them the opportunity to contest it. The present status on suggestions the seat will be contested for the Liberals by Peta Credlin, who was raised locally in Wycheproof, is that she is “being encouraged”. There appears to be a view in the Nationals that the position should go to a woman, with Rachel Baxendale of The Australian identifying three potential nominees – Anne Mansell, chief executive of Dried Fruits Australia; Caroline Welsh, chair of the Birchip Cropping Group; and Tanya Chapman, former chair of Citrus Australia – in addition to confirmed starter Anne Warner, a social worker.
• Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie yesterday scotched suggestions that she might run in Mallee. The view is that she is positioning herself to succeeding Cathy McGowan in Indi if she decides not to recontest, having recently relocated her electorate office from Bendigo to one of Indi’s main population centres, Wodonga. The Liberals last month preselected Steven Martin, a Wodonga-based engineer.
• Grant Schultz, Milton real estate agent and son of former Hume MP Alby Schultz, has been preselected as Liberal candidate for Gilmore on New South Wales’ south coast, which the party holds on a delicate margin of 0.7%. The seat is to be vacated by Ann Sudmalis, whose preselection Schultz was preparing to challenge when she announced her retirement in September. It was reported in the South Coast Register that Joanna Gash, who held the seat from 1996 to 2013 and is now the mayor of Shoalhaven (UPDATE: Turns out Gash ceased to be so as of the 2016 election, and is now merely a councillor), declared herself “pissed off” at the local party’s endorsement of Schultz, which passed by forty votes to nine.
• Hawkesbury councillor Sarah Richards has been preselected as the Liberal candidate in Macquarie, where Labor’s Susan Templeman unseated Liberal member Louise Markus in 2016.