Liberal Party preselection heats up in Mayo

A high-ranking conservative Liberal is weighing up a run for the federal seat of Mayo, a move which would set up a preselection showdown with outspoken city councillor Henry Davis.

May 10, 2024, updated May 10, 2024
Liberal Party president Rowan Mumford (left) and Adelaide City councillor Henry Davis (right) could face off for Liberal preselection in Mayo. Left photo: Facebook. Right photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Liberal Party president Rowan Mumford (left) and Adelaide City councillor Henry Davis (right) could face off for Liberal preselection in Mayo. Left photo: Facebook. Right photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

InDaily understands Right-aligned party president Rowan Mumford, who unsuccessfully ran for the state seat of Kavel at the 2022 state election, is considering a move into federal politics and nominating for Mayo preselection.

The Liberal Party is expected to open nominations for the seat “imminently”, party sources said, after confirming a slew of federal preselections last week for Adelaide, Makin and Boothby, where former MP Nicolle Flint will mount a comeback for her old seat.

Mayo, once the Liberal blue-ribbon stronghold of former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, has been held by Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie since 2016. The independent gained a 7.1 per cent swing at the last federal election and holds a more than 12 per cent margin over the Liberals.

Sharkie told InDaily today she has “every intention of running at the next election”.

Mumford has a connection to the seat as a Mount Barker resident and business owner and former president of the Liberal Party’s Mayo Federal Electorate Convention (FEC).

During his time heading the Mayo branch, he baulked at an attempt in 2021 to recruit Sharkie into the Liberal Party, reportedly writing a letter to federal Liberal president John Olsen to declare that she “does not share our values”.

Mumford was then elected state Liberal president in September 2022, defeating moderate candidate Rose Miller 162 votes to 45.

He was re-elected unopposed at the party’s 2023 annual general meeting, which saw control of the party’s state executive shift firmly into the hands of the conservatives.

Rowan Mumford and Nicolle Flint

Rowan Mumford pounding the pavement with former MP Nicolle Flint in Mayo in February. Photo: Twitter

Mumford is understood to have broad support in the Mayo branch and is receiving encouragement from other party members to run. He declined to comment to InDaily.

His nomination in Mayo would likely set up a preselection contest with outspoken Adelaide City councillor Henry Davis, who revealed to InDaily last October he was considering a tilt for the seat.

One party source said both the moderate and conservative factions were looking for a “more competitive” candidate than Davis to run in Mayo, with Mumford the likely frontrunner.

Davis, a tax lawyer and Aldgate resident, rejoined the Liberal Party last year after quitting the day after the Marshall Government lost power.

During his time in Town Hall, he has been the face of a public row with Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith over keeping a prayer at the start of council meetings – a fight that has seen him issue legal threats and be temporarily expelled from the council chamber in front a group of Australian Christian Lobby protestors.

He was also recently kicked out of the chamber during a heated debate about whether the Lord Mayor was within her rights to lower Town Hall’s Indigenous flag to half-mast after the federal Voice referendum defeat.

Davis told InDaily on Thursday that he would be running as a factionally-unaligned candidate, adding: “I don’t think factionalism has served the party well at all.”

“Mayo has a very diverse demographic and diverse priorities,” he said.

“Looking at the vote for the Voice (referendum), I think it would be difficult for a highly conservative candidate to win against a moderate independent candidate.

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“Even if Sharkie didn’t run again, the Liberal Party cannot take the seat for granted.”

Councillor Henry Davis

South Ward councillor Henry Davis. Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Mayo, which stretches across the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula and Kangaroo Island, recorded South Australia’s fourth-highest Yes vote (40.2 per cent, 49,995 votes) at last year’s Voice referendum.

Asked about Mumford’s candidacy, Davis said: “I don’t know if he is running or not.”

“I really like Rowan and I think he is a great guy.

“But I am hoping they will open the nominations soon because it’s a five-hour drive and ferry from West Bay Beach to Birdwood.

“It’s a big electorate and whoever wins preselection will have a big task ahead of them.”

Mumford won preselection for the state seat of Kavel – which sits within Mayo – in November 2021, a month after the then-sitting Liberal MP Dan Cregan quit the party to run as an independent.

Cregan won more than 75 per cent of the two-party preferred vote against Mumford at the subsequent state election.

Mumford was also the subject of criticism during his time as Mayo FEC president, with a widely distributed anonymous email accusing him of “introducing hard-right Pentecostal Christians into the party”.

“[You] have signed up about 90 already… this is causing a lot of friction with existing members,” said the email from ‘NotHappyJan2021’, which was later tabled in parliament.

“You need to do better than this [if] you want to have any chance of becoming a candidate for Mayo.”

Meanwhile, the Liberal Party’s Mayo candidate in 2022, Allison Bluck, has told InDaily she will not be putting her hand up for preselection again.

“I’m no longer involved and not aware of who else will be nominating but I wish them all the best!” she said.

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