Here’s a summary of Janet Albrechtsen’s pertinent advice for Liberal preselectors in the safe seat of Bradfield. The Libs have too many elderly seat-warmers. In safe seats like Bradfield, they need people with fresh ideas, not necessarily people with track records of service within the Party machine.

And who were among the fresh faces Albrechtsen was pushing? One’s an ultra-conservative Young Liberal President. Another’s a former president of the NSW Division of the Liberal Party. Fresh ideas? New blood? As Imre Saluzinszky so aptly put it this morning: “T[he] list of names being bandied around to replace Brendan Nelson in the blue ribbon Liberal seat of Bradfield reads like a John Howard cheer-squad”.

I don’t recall seeing Janet at the May 1995 Bradfield preselection in which Nelson defeated sitting member and Shadow Minister for Retirement Incomes David Connolly by less than a handful of votes. Back then, we Howard loyalists were given strict orders not to back that upstart doctor who in 1993 declared before a crowd over a loud hailer: “I have never voted Liberal in my life”.

Janet’s right about one thing: Brendan Nelson wasn’t part of the Liberal Party establishment, of the blue rinse set. To confirm this, you need only look up the index to ANU historian Ian Hancock’s book The Liberals: A History Of The NSW Division of the Liberal Party Party 1945-2000. Hancock devotes a mere one paragraph to Nelson, whilst some 40-plus pages are devoted to John Howard. Even Fred and Elaine Nile score more mentions. And what does Hancock have to say about Nelson?

Nelson’s victory over Connolly provoked a number of branch members to send protest letters to [Liberal Party HQ]. They complained about the dumping of a loyal foot soldier for a Labor “turncoat” whose ear ring inspired one outraged Liberal to call Nelson a “bejewelled interloper” of “questionable integrity”.

John Valder, the former State and Federal President, objected to the selection of someone he considered to be a confirmed Labor voter and a long-time Labor Party member who had admitted lying about his voting pattern.

Nelson’s great contributions to conservative mainstream Australian values included (as Education Minister) providing lots of dough to schools run by mainstream Australian institutions like the Exclusive Brethren. On a positive note, as Defence Minister Nelson deeply upset Gerard Henderson by telling us what we already knew — that the 2003 Iraq invasion was largely about oil.

In any event, the next Bradfield pre-selection should resemble a Melbourne Cup field. With all these political war horses jockeying for positions, perhaps I should throw my own turban into the ring. Three reasons stop me:

  1. I am no longer a member of the Party;
  2. I cannot honestly say that I’ve never voted Liberal in my life; and
  3. I don’t wear a turban.

Peter Fray

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