ACCUSATIONS of a takeover by “the Mornington faction of the religious far right” have split sections of the Liberal Party on the Mornington Peninsula.
The scheduled annual general meeting of the party’s Dunkley Federal Electoral Conference ended within 10 minutes of Its start on Wednesday 27 July, and was rescheduled and held last week by the party’s state secretariat.
The former chair of the conference, Mornington Peninsula Shire councillor and Liberal Party member for 10 years, Steve Holland, refused to attend because “the behaviour was so poor the first time around that I didn’t want to witness that again…”
Holland said he ended the first AGM because “a small group of unruly members began interjecting and heckling from their seats”.
He has now warned that “good people will continue to be driven away from the Liberal Party”.
“What is happening within the Liberal Party at the moment can be described as a turf war on a sinking continent,” Holland told The News.
“Successive state and federal election results in Victoria have highlighted the dire situation the party is in when it comes to appealing to the electorate.”
Stephen Batty, elected chair of the Dunkley conference at last week’s rescheduled AGM, has written to party members saying he has attempted to contact “a small number of disgruntled members” in a bid to discuss their concerns “and move forward as one entity”.
A Liberal Party member who has asked not to be identified, said the election results at the second AGM “clearly show it has been taken over by the Mornington faction of the religious far right”.
The Liberal insider believes the moves within the local party branches have been made “so the religious right could control the finances of the Dunkley FEC to bolster the Mornington finances to elect Chris Crewther at the coming state election”.
The party member “understood” up to $50,000 remained “in the kitty” following the unsuccessful federal campaign of the Liberals’ Dunkley candidate, Sharn Coombes.
In his letter to Liberal Party members after being elected to chair the Dunkley conference, Batty invited them to visit Crewther’s campaign office in Main Street, Mornington.
“During the next few months, we will be organising some small boardroom luncheons and events involving special guests,” Batty said.
Not mentioned in the letter was the cancellation of an event titled A change in direction, a new horizon, originally advertised as being held in Crewther’s Main Street campaign office on Tuesday 23 August.
Invitations to the event were sent out by, among others, party activist Ivan Stratov, a Mormon and former Family First candidate.
Speakers at the event were to include Liberal Upper House candidates Renee Heath, a member of the City Builders Church and former Family First member, Ann-Marie Hermans.
The Liberal insider who made the accusations of a takeover by the religious right said party headquarters stepped in to move the meeting from Crewther’s office when it became known that speakers included those “supporting anti-abortion and a transphobic agenda”.
Crewther told The News that the A change in direction, a new horizon event had been moved to Steeples at Mornington Racecourse because his office was too small for the number of people expected to attend.
He said the free event had not been organised by Stratov.
Crewther was elected MP for Dunkley in 2016 but lost it to Labor’s Peta Murphy in 2019.
Before Crewther’s term, Dunkley had previously been held for 20 years by Liberal Bruce Billson.
His selection as the candidate for the state seat of Mornington surprised and alienated some supporters of David Morris, who had held the seat for the Liberals since 2006 and was hoping to win his fifth successive election.
Labor is yet to announce it’s candidate for Mornington.