The Policy Assembly of the
Victorian Liberal Party meets on Sunday to select the top three places
on its Senate ticket for next year’s federal election. Only one sitting
senator is recontesting – Mitch Fifield, who filled Richard Alston’s
casual vacancy two and a half years ago – so two winnable spots (one
safe, one less so) are up for grabs. But there are only three
nominations for them, and most observers think the result is a foregone
conclusion.

If this were the ALP, or just about any other
factionalised political party in the world, there would be some sort of
sharing of such positions between different groups. But the Liberal
Party doesn’t work that way: it’s winner-take-all, with no proportional
representation and no institutionalised protection for minorities.
Neither of the contesting groups really accepts that the other has a
legitimate role to play in the party.

So the Kroger-Costello
group, which has the numbers on Policy Assembly, plans to give all
three spots to its loyal supporters – just as its opponents would if
they had control. In order, they will be Fifield, former state
president Helen Kroger, and current vice-president Scott Ryan. The only
other candidate is Beverley McArthur, a member of the Administrative
Committee and spouse of Corangamite MP Stewart McArthur; sources say
she will be lucky to get ten votes, although the chance of a more
substantial protest vote cannot be dismissed.

That doesn’t mean
the process has been without controversy. While one of the vacancies,
to replace Kay Patterson, has been known about since January, the other
retiring senator, Rod Kemp, only made his announcement last month,
after nominations had already been opened. It would have looked better
for procedural fairness if the time for nominations had been extended;
The Agereported
that Giuseppe De Simone, a prominent former supporter of Kroger and
Costello, said the failure to do so showed “a serious problem in terms
of transparency and democracy within the party”. But there’s no actual
evidence that it would have made any difference to the outcome.

Ironically,
Scott Ryan, the only one of the three whose endorsement (and subsequent
election) is in any doubt, has been one of the strongest supporters of
proportional representation within the party: at the last state council
he narrowly failed to get the required two-thirds majority to have it
adopted for internal party elections. But power-sharing in
preselections looks to be a fair way off.

Peter Fray

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