Pru Goward may yet have the opportunity to make a contribution, in the new seat of Goulburn, thanks to the retirement of Southern Highlands MP Peta Seaton. May…

NSW Liberals are already asking how long Debnam has known of Seaton’s plans. “We will be opening nominations for Goulburn tomorrow and closing them this week,” the Australian quotes him as saying today. “Pru will be a candidate and I will be making the point to the party that I want her in parliament.”

There are mutterings about the Liberal leader – and mutterings about Goward’s candidacy.

Country preselections in the NSW Libs are governed by their own set of regulations. The locals rule. The preselection colleges have no state council components. It’s “locals only” – plus three from state executive.

Goulburn hasn’t been shamelessly stacked – but parish pump politics could still get in Goward’s way. If local lawyer and sometime Seaton campaign manager Martin Laverty stands, the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner may still get portrayed as a blow in. Internal factional strife could complicate matters, too.

Goward was assisted by the Liberal left in Epping. They had no credible candidate. Moderate Ben Franklin emerged as a key minder.

Laverty is a moderate, too. He served one term on the NSW Liberal state executive, is remembered for little – but has still reportedly been working the numbers in the region for the past year, with an eye on either Goulburn or the federal seat of Gilmore, when Jo Gash retires.

Party sources say Seaton indicated to senior moderates sometime ago that she would not stand in 2007. Rather than making an announcement, however, she declared that she would be nominating and was endorsed without challenge earlier this year. This enabled her to keep her options open – to make a last minute announcement if the numbers were secure and Laverty ready to be dropped into the seat.

Crikey understands that there are two moderate and two right branches in the electorate, but that the right’s outpost of Bowral is the biggest. If Seaton retired, they would have pushed a right contender over the line if a preselection had been held earlier this year. There are suspicions that the moderates have been recruiting in the area since that time.

Crikey is told many moderates thought Goward would win Epping – so Seaton scheduled her announcement for same day. Laverty could have announced his candidacy as part of the propaganda coup.

Things haven’t gone so easily. Goward lost Epping. Seaton made her announcement. And Peter Debnam has publicly announced that he wants Goward in Goulburn – something he wouldn’t do in Epping. Matters are now complicated.

Goward may have been the moderates’ choice for Epping, but she is not of the moderates. Indeed, many of the Liberal left are ambivalent about her links with the Prime Minister, as they are ambivalent about the PM himself. However, they see Laverty as one of them.

If Laverty runs, he will be defying “the will of the leader” – that mysterious factor which has so dominated Menzies’ party. Still, he will be entitled to throw his hat into the ring. And if there is a contest, party conservatives will back Goward.

In a matter of days Goward may go from being a victim of “the NSW religious right” to being their anointed candidate.

Peter Fray

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