One of the contenders for the Victorian seat is Karina Okotel, who led the No campaign against same-sex marriage and was recently accused by her own colleague of “malicious” behaviour.
Ms Okotel, a legal aid lawyer and federal vice-president of the Liberal Party, is seeking support for the plum spot to be vacated by Senator Fifield.
She faces stiff competition from Sarah Henderson, who lost her House of Representatives seat of Corangamite at the May 18 election.
But Ms Okotel is hoping to benefit from an ongoing factional war in the Liberal Party’s Victorian branch, which could see the powerful conservative rank have the final say.
In addition to her opposition to marriage equality, Ms Okotel has also argued against outlawing gay conversion therapy, which she claims is “an attack on freedom”.
Victorian Premier Dan Andrews last year announced the barbaric practice, which has been roundly condemned by the medical and psychiatric professions, would be formally banned.
Ms Okotel is a prominent figure in the Liberal Party, but has faced attacks from her own colleagues, one of whom leaked an email accusing her of improper conduct in February.
Victorian Young Liberals vice-president Blake Young sent a complaint to party officials and senior politicians, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, accusing her of trying to smear the reputations of candidates for the youth wing’s leadership.
“Some of the more concerning comments she is purported to have made were: 1. that we were puppets of parliamentarians; 2. that some of us were progressive, left wing, moderate, or other such terminology; and 3. that a transgendered (sic) member of the Liberal Party was running on our ticket — the implication being that we shouldn’t be elected because some of us were supportive of gender-diverse membership and the Safe Schools program,” Mr Young wrote.
“The things above are malicious, divisive and damaging to the Young Liberal Movement … It drives away membership. The Young Liberals should be for young people, not middle-aged activists.”
Ms Okotel denied the claims and referred herself for internal investigation.
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Yesterday, Ms Henderson announced she was putting her hand up for Senator Fifield’s position.
“I believe I have much to offer the people of Victoria as a Victorian Liberal senator,” Ms Henderson said.
She promised to base herself in Geelong should she be successful and focus on issues important to regional Victorians.
“Regional Victoria, with its diverse industries, agricultural produce and unique environment, is so important to the prosperity of our state,” Ms Henderson said.
While the Coalition is still celebrating its unexpected election victory, which returned Scott Morrison’s government with a majority, it’s now bracing for a fight over the two Senate spots.
Senator Sinodinos was on Sunday tapped by the Prime Minister to be Australia’s next Ambassador to the United States, while Senator Fifield will head to the United Nations.
In New South Wales, a number of hopefuls have emerged to fill Senator Sinodinos’s seat when he heads to Washington later this year, including renegade Jim Molan.
Senator Molan was relegated to the unwinnable fourth position on the Liberal Party’s ticket at the election and went against approved messaging to run his own re-election campaign.
He distributed materials urging voters to support him below the line, at the expense of other Coalition figures.
He will battle against former Lower House MP Fiona Scott and failed candidate and Labor deserter Warren Mundine.