Victorian Liberals at war over early preselection plans


Those wanting the timeline delayed also warn of another looming redistribution of federal electoral boundaries and potentially an additional seat, which would not likely be finalised until the end of next year.

Senior factional figures are also discussing withdrawing support for Mr Clark in the role unless he “wises up” to the request.

However several members of the party’s administrative committee are pushing back against Mr Frydenberg, telling The Age the decision was about “reclaiming the party from years of dysfunction”.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is leading the charge on behalf of Canberra to overturn a plan to submit sitting MPs to early preselections. Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Veteran MP Kevin Andrews, a minister in both the Howard and Abbott governments, is the only sitting member who would potentially face a challenge in his Melbourne suburban seat of Menzies.

The recommendation to complete all preselections by the end of 2020 was driven by grassroots party members who are furious many sitting MPs have not faced preselections for almost five years.

Under former president Michael Kroger, the Liberals also cancelled plebiscites for the state upper house preselection prior to the last election, leading to claims candidates were being “handpicked” by factions.

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The new timetable, which blindsided many federal MPs, the Prime Minister’s Office and the federal branch, will open nominations for Liberal-held seats on January 15 and with “ample prior notice” given to “not create any difficulties” for sitting MPs or party members.

A vote of party members would then take place in late February or early March next year.

Two rounds of marginal seat preselections would then take place in April and August, with all remaining large-margin, Labor-held seat preselections finalised by October.

Mr Clark did not respond to inquires on Wednesday, however sources close to the former Victorian state government minister said he “remains adamant” the decision of the party’s elected grassroots representatives should be respected.

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But some key factional figures say he risks losing their support unless he concedes the decision was out-of-step with the wishes of Mr Frydenberg, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and federal party director Andrew Hirst.

They also argue preselecting candidates in “dead Red” Labor-held seats so far out from an election would leave them without resources and support, which could create a “political nightmare” for the party to manage.

Under Liberal Party rules members faced disciplinary action if they make public comments about the process and none of the parties involved would respond to questions on Wednesday.

One member of the committee told The Age: “We have had years of the people in charge making up the rules as they go and ensuring their mates do not face any scrutiny”.

Mr Frydenberg and the party’s federal officials want the timetable delayed until at least late in 2020 and will put forward a proposal at a meeting of the administrative committee next week.

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