A recommendation calls for what would be one-step short of a federal takeover of the Victorian party before the 2022 poll to help “further empower” ordinary members at grassroots level, including for candidate selections and local campaigning.
Regarded as a “basket case” by many federal figures, the Victorian party has over the past five years been beset by factional wars, branch-stacking allegations and internal leaks, much of its while former president Michael Kroger was at the helm.
A state election review, released last week, delivered a scathing assessment of the party’s 2018 campaign, outlining a laundry list of woes including financial struggles, the federal leadership spill, inadequate screening of candidates, factionalism and a poorly prepared campaign platform which failed to cut through.
The federal report – carried out by former senator Arthur Sinodinos and former New Zealand government minister Steven Joyce and released on Friday – identified Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s federal budget as a “key turning point” in the party’s electoral recovery.
The almost single-handed prosecution of the campaign by the Prime Minister was also singled out.
The Coalition’s grip on Victoria at a federal level has dramatically weakened since John Howard’s 1996 election, when it won 19 seats – eclipsing Labor – and held regional electorates including Ballarat, Bendigo, Indi, Corangamite and McEwen.
It last won the two-party preferred vote in 2004 and has not held more seats than Labor or won the two-party vote at a single election since 1990.
The review recommends the Liberals create a group headed by the party’s federal deputy director to update its campaigning methods in inner-city Melbourne seats and a taskforce of experienced professionals and volunteers to target seats formerly held by the Coalition and currently held by Independent MPs.
Six pre-selected Liberal candidates were disendorsed either during the election or in the lead-up to the campaign in Victoria, with some dumped for making anti-Muslim or homophobic remarks on social media.
The report recommends candidates for marginal seats should be preselected 10 to 12 months before the next election, with the balance selected six months out and the establishment of candidate colleges or academies to identify and train potential candidates for public office in advance of pre-selection.
The Victorian party has already taken its own controversial steps to bring forward preselections and will open up nominations in Liberal-held seats in mid-January, despite fierce opposition from federal MPs.
The federal director will also lead a process with the states and territories to ensure agreed national application forms are required to be completed by all prospective candidates, covering their citizenship status, pecuniary interests, professional relationships and digital histories.
Nationally, the Coalition won the two-party preferred vote by 51.5 per cent to 48.5 per cent in May, picking up three seats in the process to hold a slim majority of 77 seats in the 151-seat House of Representatives.
In Victoria, where Labor won the two-party vote vote 51-49, two seats were lost following boundary changes, while Chisholm was regained after independent MP Julia Banks’ decided to contest Flinders.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra