One of the biggest criticisms about Peter Costello’s dominance of the Victorian Liberals in recent years was that he failed to rejuvenate the Federal Parliamentary ranks with heavy hitters. The first Howard Cabinet featured Costello serving alongside fellow Victorian Ministers such as Peter Reith, Michael Wooldridge, Richard Alston, Jim Short and David Kemp.
However, as the years went by and the Ministers departed, too often they were replaced with Costello loyalists and former staffers such as Mitch Fifield, Tony Smith and Scott Ryan. The Victorian ranks are now relatively thin on the Coalition front bench with only Andrew Robb and possibly Greg Hunt making what could reasonably be considered Malcolm Turnbull’s First XI.
Which brings us to the forthcoming Federal preselections in Victoria where three so-called “jewels in the crown” could potentially be up for grabs.
Petro Georgiou was the member for Kooyong since 1994 but has pulled the pin, sparking the first major preselection contest as Melissa Fyfe explored in The Sunday Age yesterday.
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Peter Costello has held the neighbouring seat of Higgins (margin 7.04%) since 1990 and Kevin Andrews has held Kooyong’s northern neighbour, Menzies, since 1991 with a margin of 6.02%.
If both Costello and Andrews retired on their juicy pensions, it would be a unique opportunity for the Liberal Party to install three heavy hitters into Parliament.
This would create a line of heavy hitters across the four safest and abutting leafy Liberal seats in metropolitan Melbourne which swing from Andrew Robb’s south eastern bayside seat of Goldstein (margin 6.05%), through to Menzies in the north east.
The Victorian ALP showed the Liberals how to rebuild after being vanquished in 1992. Former deputy premier John Thwaites entered Parliament in that election, but he was joined in by-elections by John Brumby (1993) and Steve Bracks (1994), whilst Rob Hulls entered Parliament at the 1996 state election.
These four blokes became the core of the Opposition team that defeated the Kennett Government in 1999 and will celebrate 10 years in office this October. They were all in their early 40s on coming to office and developed firm friendships from the hard but united years in opposition.
For the Liberals to achieve this, they first need Costello and Andrews to retire and then need to settle on an appropriate ‘Dream Team’ across Higgins, Kooyong and Menzies.
John Roskam is the most obvious candidate after almost 20 years of effective work in an around the party, most latterly as the high-profile executive director of the Institute of Public Affairs. Having lived in Kooyong for 15 years, he’ll have quite a battle with former Howard staffer Josh Fydenberg who challenged Georgiou in 2004.
The other obvious ‘Dream Team’ member is Tom Elliott. As everyone from Kevin Rudd to Barnaby Joyce have demonstrated, media prominence is arguably the most important criteria of all for a successful politician. Being able to handle Neil Mitchell’s three and half hour morning shift on 3AW shows Tom Elliott is far broader than just a successful hedge fund manager.
It’s time Tom Elliott did what his controversial father never managed and stepped up to face a preselection contest.