The rare challenge to a sitting MP – the first in 14 years – has reignited simmering factional tensions with the Victorian party following the decision to open up Liberal-held seats for early preselection, at least two years before the next election.
Senior members of the Morrison government have made a last-minute blitz on delegates, urging them to stick with Mr Andrews, who has held the seat since 1991.
A letter from seven Victorian federal ministers, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Education Minister Dan Tehan and Assistant Minister Michael Sukkar, was received in the past week.
“Kevin has made, and continues to make, an enormous and vital contribution in Federal Parliament,” it says. “We need him as part of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s team.”
“We need a member in Menzies, like Kevin Andrews, who will take a stand on complex issues, not just what’s popular or easy.”
Supporters of Mr Andrews told The SundayAge they believe he would prevail in the contest, however it would “hard fought”.
One senior Liberal said there was still no clear frontrunner one week before the vote.
“It’s very close,” the figure said. “Too close to call.”
The Liberal said Mr Andrews’ strategy of gaining endorsements from some of the biggest Liberal names in politics showed he was worried about losing the preselection contest.
“Members of Menzies who haven’t heard from him in years are now getting phone calls.”
The source said gaining high-profile endorsements might look good on paper but Liberal members prided themselves on making the final decision about who would serve in Parliament: “It’s a two-edged sword.”
Supporters of Mr Andrews last week wrote to the party’s executive asking for an urgent investigation over the draw, which determined which members of the Liberals’ State Council would attend the preselection vote.
Two draws were held on February 4 and 6 but opposition was raised that some members were left out of the process.
Mr Wolahan – who completed three tours of Afghanistan in the 2nd Commando Regiment of the Australian Army and who has a degree from the University of Cambridge – has long been touted as a potential rival to Mr Andrews.
Rob Harris is the National Affairs Editor for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, based at Parliament House in Canberra
Benjamin is a state political reporter