SENIOR Liberals are reportedly seeking to overturn a decision by their own federal seats committee that would require sitting MPs to face preselection.
If the committee’s decision remains on the party’s books, Flinders MP Greg Hunt, a Cabinet minister, could face a challenge early next year from within his own party’s ranks.
The committee recommended nominations for all Liberal-held seats open on 15 January next year, with party members voting in February or March and candidates selected by October.
However, neither the chairman of that committee, Russell Joseph – who last November failed to win the former Liberal state seat of Nepean for the Liberals – or Mr Hunt would comment on the preselection decision.
Mr Joseph told The News he was “the last person to start back grounding the media, much as I’d like to give you a great story”.
He said that if he made a comment “all of a sudden it would be game on”, when the report recommending opening up preselections was “just a normal party role” of the committee “and not for the pages of a newspaper”.
A report in The Age on Saturday 2 October said the report’s recommendations had “blindsided” the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and several federal Victorian ministers.
The report stated that the party’s federal director Andrew Hirst would try to get the proposal overturned.
Mr Hunt, who has held Flinders since 2001, was asked several times by The News to comment specifically on the committee’s decision.
However, his “media contact” Mathew Langdon, said a spokesperson for Mr Hunt could be quoted as saying: “The minister was honoured to have been nominated by the Liberal Party and elected by local residents as the Member for Flinders, as well as continuing in his role as Minister for Health in the Morrison government.
“Matters relating to the timing of preselections are for the administration of the Liberal Party of Victoria to determine.
“The minister’s focus is on delivering projects announced in election such as upgrades to Jetty Road, a National Centre for Coasts, Environment and Climate at Point Nepean and improved mental health services on the Mornington Peninsula.”
The committee’s decision follows the forced resignations of six Victorian Liberal candidates in the lad-up to the May federal election for their right wing views and for failing to meet eligibility requirements under Section 44 of the Australian Constitution.
On a two-party preferred basis, Mr Hunt retained Flinders with nearly 56 per cent of the vote despite a 1.37 per cent swing against him.
The result led to the Australian Electoral Commission classifying Flinders as being a marginal seat (“Strong win for Hunt in ‘marginal’ Flinders” The News 18/6/19).
Mr Hunt’s primary vote was down by 3.78 per cent, but much of this is likely to have been the result of former Liberal MP, Julia banks, standing as an independent.
Primary votes were also down for Labor ‘s Joshua Sinclair (-2.8%) and the Greens (-4.18%) while Ms banks attracted 13.79 per cent of primary votes.