Factional flurries as federal election looms

The Liberal and Labor parties are fighting internal battles with factions and sometimes their own members over preselections as the May ballot draws closer, writes Michelle Grattan.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Labor leader Anthony Albanese with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Scott Morrison finally got his way at the weekend when the Liberal federal executive agreed to candidates for several key NSW seats being picked by a three-person committee rather than the rank and file having their say.

The executive decision culminates a long and extraordinary saga, in which Morrison’s factional ally, minister Alex Hawke, had obstructed preselection contests being called.

Imminent preselection ballots in Parramatta, Hughes and Eden-Monaro have now been cancelled. A preselection in Warringah was expected to be run, but won’t be held.

The executive decided the PM, NSW premier Dominic Perrottet, and a former Liberal federal president Chris McDiven would choose the candidates for these and a number of other NSW seats.

This course flies in the face of a push in recent years for internal democracy within the NSW division, and is expected to bring a backlash from discontented party members.

The shambles which has left a swathe of seats without Liberal candidates until so close to the election reflects the dysfunction of the division due to extreme factional infighting, including the determination of the minority Morrison-Hawke faction to use whatever muscle it could muster to make up for its lack of numbers.

The federal executive resisted intervening for months but eventually had to give in to Morrison’s pressure.

These particular seats are important. Hughes and Warringah are held by crossbenchers; Eden-Monaro is narrowly Labor; Parramatta will be vacant, with the Labor member retiring.

Ironically, Anthony Albanese is trying to shoehorn high profile economist Andrew Charlton, who lives in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, into Parramatta, in the city’s west. This has angered some local Labor party members. Nominations for the Labor candidate, who will be preselected by the ALP national executive, close Monday.

Albanese told reporters at the weekend: “Andrew Charlton is someone who would make a great member of the House of Representatives. […] He would bring an extraordinary capacity.” Charlton was an advisor to then prime minister Kevin Rudd.

Also at the weekend veteran ALP senator Kim Carr abandoned his fight for political survival, announcing he would retire. There has been a prolonged fight over the Victorian ticket, that also put into limbo the late senator Kimberley Kitching’s preselection, which her friends have said put her under considerable stress before her sudden death.

Carr, in parliament since 1993, who was a minister in the Labor government, admitted in a statement he would have liked to stay on. But, he said, “issues with my health have made that inadvisable. In light of recent tragic developments, and following determined urgings from my children, I concluded that it was time for me to reassess my priorities.”

The Senate’s budget week sitting has been brought forward to Monday for condolence speeches for Kitching.

On the Liberal side, the NSW division, in a statewide mass vote, dumped senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells in favour of senator Jim Molan for third place on the Senate ticket.

The third spot will be very difficult to win but Molan, who polled strongly “below the line” last election when he was relegated to an unwinnable spot on the Coalition ticket, would have more pulling power than Fierravanti-Wells.

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When Molan later filled a senate casual vacancy he said he would not recontest at this election. It seems likely if he did win Molan, 71, who has been ill, would retire some time into the term, providing a casual vacancy for the Liberals to fill.

The last minute preselection flurries come as the government prepares to deliver on Tuesday the budget that will be its launch pad for the May election.

While voters will be focused on what the budget offers on cost of living, the government will also highlight infrastructure, saying its rolling 10-year infrastructure investment pipeline will increase from $110 billion to over $120 billion. It said on Sunday that the budget would commit $17.9 billion towards new and existing infrastructure projects in the pipeline.

Speculation about cost of living measures centres on cash payments for low and middle income earners, and for pensioners, and some relief on fuel excise.

At the weekend, Morrison was back campaigning in Western Australia where the government has several seats at risk.

Asked whether pensioners would get the planned cost of living bonus Morrison said, “we have got a cost of living package, which works right across the Australian community”,

Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers indicated Labor would not make a fight of budget action on fuel excise, which many experts say would be bad policy.

“The expectation I think broadly […] is some kind of temporary cut to the fuel excise. We’re unlikely to stand in the way of that,” Chalmers told the ABC.

He also made clear a Labor government’s first budget would cut money for contractors and consultants in the public service and for “discretionary funds where ministers have been rorting funding for political purposes rather than for an economic dividend”.

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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