In 1954, at the height of the Petrov Affair, opposition leader Bert
Evatt invited ridicule by writing to then Soviet foreign minister,
Vyacheslav Molotov, about the allegations, and then solemnly reading to
parliament Molotov’s denial of Soviet spy activity in Australia.
Among the rank and file in the Liberal Party, contact with the ALP is
regarded with at least as much suspicion as the old Soviet Union. So it
was a risky move for Victorian Liberal state director, Julian Sheezel,
to solicit from the ALP’s pollster, Auspoll, a denial of allegations
contained in a dirt sheet about Bruce Atkinson that was circulated in
advance of last Sunday’s preselection for the upper house region of
Eastern Metropolitan. As the Herald Sun
reported yesterday, “A statement from the pollster named in the email,
denying all knowledge of it, was read to delegates before the vote.”
But the denial seems to have worked, perhaps because Sheezel and Co.
clearly have more of their marbles than Bert Evatt. Atkinson survived,
getting number two spot on the ticket behind fellow sitting member
Richard Dalla-Riva; the top two are assured of victory. Number three
position, which Liberals seem to have inexplicably convinced themselves
is also winnable, went to Jan Kromberg.
For beleaguered leader Robert Doyle, that’s reasonably good news. None
of the candidates are much to write home about, but Atkinson and
Kromberg are both in his camp, and while Dalla-Riva is a committed
opponent, there was never any likelihood of knocking him off the
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Vasan Srinivasan, who was second choice for the anti-Doyle forces, was
kept out, as was the third sitting member, Andrew Olexander, who,
according to the Herald Sun, “failed to achieve double figures.”
Olexander, whom the media refer to with lines like “Disgraced
drink-drive MP,” had no factional backing and was never in the hunt,
despite Doyle’s ostensible support for sitting MPs. But as the only
openly gay Liberal MP, he represented a diversity that the Liberal
Party could probably do with more of, not less.