Glenn Milne’s article in Monday’s Australian, in which he gives his bizarre interpretation of Petro Georgiou’s entirely predictable reindorsement by a substantial margin, is in keeping with the intellectual analyses which have become the hallmark of his opinion pieces. In writing about Liberal Party matters, Milne tortures simple truths and convulses plain logic.
The Kooyong outcome was not, as Milne claims, “stunning”, nor does it represent “both a repudiation and a reprieve for John Howard”. It most certainly had nothing to do with a “repudiation of Howard and Downer; a win for the so called doctor’s wives within the Liberal Party”.
Georgiou’s win was for diverse reasons, almost exclusively the result of a coincidence of common interests between two antagonistic groups: Kennett’s traditional supporters and those loosely described as Costello people. The person who undoubtedly has the most influence within the Liberal Party branches of Kooyong is State Upper House member David Davis, whose seat is situated within Kooyong.
Whether Davis has federal ambitions following the departure of Georgiou is a moot point. However of one thing there can be no doubt: he has no plans for someone else from outside the electorate and without his blessing to be the next federal member for Kooyong, not the least a young man who, if elected, would be there for the long term.
Unlike Georgiou, Davis has been sufficiently diligent as a local member to look after his own interests by cultivating and massaging branch members within his electorate. Davis is in the broad Kennett anti-Costello group. Kennett and Georgiou, of course, welded their bond during Kennett’s election victory of 1992 when Georgiou was State Director.
Costello has never been a practical practitioner of branch management or massage, and relies for his support in Victoria upon others, more recently not the least his acolytes. The result is that nobody associated with Costello had done anything to establish a head of influence within the electorate of Kooyong. This left Costello’s close supporters with one clear choice: have the State Council delegates back Kennett’s man Georgiou and keep him there in the hope that when he does go, they will be in a position to replace him with someone of their choice. On present performance this may prove to be a forlorn hope.
Their objection to Frydenberg in common with that of Davis is that Frydenberg is not aligned to them, he is young and he is not their choice. That being said, to imagine that this one person was going to be some profound strike into the heart of the Costello numbers in the march by Downer to the leadership would, with respect, be verging on unsightly paranoia.
With the Kennett/Davis group and the Costello/State Council numbers along with whatever scraps Georgiou was able to attract, it was inevitable that Georgiou would be returned overwhelmingly. That Frydenberg who had no base support from which to develop his campaign attracted a quarter of the delegates is not, in my view, the stunning victory which Milne describes. Most sitting members are not contested and those who are usually receive all but a handful of votes.
If, as has been reported, one or more interstate federal members sought to have some sway in the Kooyong preselection, it can have done nothing but harm to Frydenberg. Liberal Party preselection delegates are notoriously precious about outside interference, however I suspect that the Kooyong delegates were set in concrete ever before this involvement occurred and it will have done little more than hurried the drying.
Of one thing all but a knave or a fool can be certain. The outcome in Kooyong was not heavily influenced by or the consequence of Petro Georgiou’s stand on asylum seekers. To put it another way: If Georgiou had not adopted his posture on asylum seekers, the vote towards him would not have varied by more than one jot.