Rather than let two quality Liberal candidates like Tim Wilson and Georgina Downer slug it out for preselection success in Goldstein, it would be easier for all concerned if Kevin Andrews retired in Menzies to facilitate more generational change in Victoria.
The problem for Liberal powerbrokers is that they would like to endorse both Wilson and Downer in Goldstein but instead are being forced to make a choice.
Goldstein and Menzies are at either end of the ring of four safe federal Liberal seats covering Melbourne’s wealthy southern and eastern middle-ring suburbs.
Peter Costello handed over to his staffer Kelly O’Dwyer in Higgins in 2009, while Josh Frydenberg first went hostile against Petro Georgiou in Kooyong before later winning the preselection contest when Georgiou retired at the 2010 election.
With Andrew Robb now bowing out of Goldstein, that just leaves Kevin Andrews as the only long-serving Liberal MP in Melbourne seeking another term at this year’s election.
The 400 Liberal branch members in Menzies are starting to get restless, and some moderate elements in the Liberal Party are openly talking about the need for Andrews to retire.
“Andrews is just being bloody-minded, like Abbott, in seeking another term,” one Liberal MP told Crikey. “What’s he going to do, keep leaking stories to The Australian about how good a defence minister he was?”
Given that Kevin Andrews and Alexander Downer were cabinet and factional allies during the Howard years, if Tim Wilson won Goldstein it would make sense for Andrews to stand aside for Downer’s daughter Georgina in Menzies.
There has been some local resistance to state president Michael Kroger, who has been interpreted as lining up Georgina Downer, 36, to succeed Andrews when he chooses to go. She has been attending Liberal functions in Menzies since being elected to the state administrative committee 12 months ago.
Menzies resident Keith Wolohan — a highly credentialed barrister and former ADF captain who has performed three tours of duty in Afghanistan and one to East Timor — is favoured by many locals, some of whom are peeved that Andrews has never bothered to move house into the Menzies electorate (he has lived in the neighbouring electorate Jagajaga since winning Menzies in 1991).
Andrews was never expected to win the preselection contest in Menzies when Neil Brown retired in 1991. David Jarman, now the chief investment officer at Evans and Partners, was backed by an assortment of powerbrokers at the time — led by Kroger, during his first stint as state president of the Victorian Libs — but wasn’t able to win the local vote.
The Age reported at the time that Andrews gave an impressive speech at the Yarra Valley Country Club, now a pokies venue owned by billionaire Bruce Mathieson, to win the preselection contest in a Melbourne Cup field of 24 candidates.
It wasn’t altogether clear that Andrews was an ultra-conservative Catholic back in 1991.
After Andrews led the charge to neuter the Northern Territory’s euthanasia laws in 1997, moderate Liberal forces took him on, but he narrowly defeated Louise Staley in a bitterly contested preselection contest in 2000.
Andrews plays for keeps when it comes to stymying the progress of local Liberal progressives. His staff worked closely on conservative Tim Smith’s successful campaign to block Mary Wooldridge moving from the state seat of Doncaster to Kew in 2014.
Doncaster falls wholly within the federal seat of Menzies, and Wooldridge’s predecessor, moderate Victor Perton, also had a difficult relationship with Andrews, which has continued to this day.
It wasn’t just Peta Credlin who vetoed staff appointments during the Abbott prime ministership; Kevin Andrews was chair of the five-person committee that vetted all Abbott government staff appointments and was instrumental in blocking Joe Hockey from appointing Perton as a political adviser.
As a Perton supporter later wrote in a letter to Andrews, the Abbott government might have lasted a bit longer with some sensible political advice inside the Treasurer’s office.
When Andrews clocked up 20 years in Parliament, fellow conservative Catholic Tony Abbott hosted a tribute dinner for him at the RACV Club in Melbourne. Another milestone is fast approaching, as this letter to the local Manningham Leader newspaper noted last week:
MP’s time is over
Kevin Andrews, it’s time to go. The present member for Menzies, Kevin Andrews, should retire. He has been a member for the electorate since May 11, 1991. Nearly 25 years. It’s time for a change to a younger and perhaps more worthwhile candidate.
I would be interested to know what benefits to the electorate Mr Andrews has brought during his years of tenure. It seems to me, very little.
Given the attention that ex-speaker Bronwyn Bishop is facing, it is surprising there has been so little mainstream media coverage on the question of whether Andrews should go. Menzies could well be the last safe federal Liberal seat that will become available in Melbourne until deep into the 2020s.
When Andrews does go, the competition will be fierce. Lawyer and former Napthine legal adviser Eddy Gisonda might also be expected to run, and he was mentioned in dispatches as potentially challenging Matthew Guy when he moved to the state seat of Bulleen in 2014.
However, Gisonda and Keith Wolohan are good friends, having worked together at Mallesons, and would not be expected to undermine each other.
Gisonda was the electorate chair in Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s state seat of Bulleen, which also falls within Menzies, until recently handing over to Wolohan, who is the current deputy electorate chair in Menzies, serving under local powerbroker Sandra Mercer-Moore.
The locals have been very loyal to Andrews for a long time. He was preselected unopposed 12 months ago. This could only be undone by an intervention from above or if Kevin himself pulls the pin.
Kevin, it’s time.