The preselection race has reached a new level of nasty in the Bronwyn Bishop’s electorate of Mackellar. A shit sheet on one of the former speaker’s challengers, Walter Villatora, has been circulated to Liberal Party members.

Villatora, from the right of the party, is Tony Abbott’s campaign manager for the seat of Warringah. He is also president of the Warringah federal electorate council, and it was reported earlier this year that he sold his house to move to Mackellar to challenge Bishop.

The sheet was originally circulated in 2012, when Villatora ran for vice-president of the Liberal Party, but it has resurfaced in recent weeks. It claims that Villatora hasn’t worked since 2002 and accuses him of having a “false resume”.

The sheet includes emails from City of Sydney councillor Edward Mandla, from the moderate wing of the party, to Steve Keys, who was then senior vice-president of Asia Pacific at a company called Software AG. Mandla has previously been touted as a contender to run as a Liberal candidate for Sydney lord mayor, but he counted himself out of the race last year.

In the emails Mandla points to Villatora’s LinkedIn profile claim that he is an “associate” of Software AG (the company was formerly known as IDS Scheer). Keys responds he has “never heard of him” and says: “The guy did some contracting recruitment for us. The LinkedIn profile takes the piss.”

When contacted by Crikey, Software AG said Walter Villatora had never been an employee there. However, Crikey has seen a reference written by former managing director of Software AG Richard Kulkarni, which says that he was an associate at the company. The letter, dated February this year, says:

“Mr Walter Villatora held the position of Associate for Software AG (formerly IDS Scheer) from 2009 through to my departure from the company in 2012.

“During his tenure, Mr Villatora made a significant contribution from a strategic and business perspective.”

Crikey spoke to Kulkarni, who confirmed he wrote the reference.

The shit sheet includes a catalogue of nine “areas of concern” related to “Walter Villatora Resume Fraud”. The concerns ranged from Villatora’s claimed association with Weta Workshop (“The claim to have been involved with Weta in the producing of Lord of the Rings is farcical. The company Mr Villatora claims to be CEO of, ‘IlluminArty,’ does not exist”) to other companies the author claims do not exist (“And so it goes on. Managing Director of European Auto Sales. There is no such company”) to doubts about Villatora’s tenure with the Liberal Party (“I didn’t know Mr Villatora had been a Senior Advisor to Mike Baird.”).

But Crikey has fact-checked the points of concern, and we have found confirmation across the board that Villatora did what he said he did. For example, Bruce Clarke, chair of AllyGroup and of Gibbs Media, which was formerly known as IlluminArty, says that Villatora has served on the advisory board of AllyGroup and as CEO of Gibbs Media.

Mike Baird has also written glowing a reference for Villatora, which has been circulated to preselectors:

“I have known Walter in a personal and professional capacity for more than ten years. During this time, Walter has acted as my Conference President, Parliamentary Advisor and Campaign Director, where he oversaw one of the best results in New South Wales.”

Crikey called Mandla for comment on the claims of resume fraud. He said: “In respect of Mr Walter Villatora’s employment history, I think it speaks for itself.  People can make their own inquiries and form their own view on the matter.”

Villatora, as a candidate for preselection, is forbidden by party rules from speaking with the media.

The 15-page shit sheet shows the high level of influence the factional system still has in the NSW branch of the Liberal Party.

Bishop faces a tough preselection fight in Mackellar, after she fell out of favour in the party during the Choppergate scandal last year. Her refusal to stand down as speaker, and Tony Abbott’s unwillingness to sack her, were contributing factors in the lack of confidence in Abbott’s leadership before the spill. She also voted for Malcolm Turnbull in last year’s leadership spill, an act of revenge that has not left her in many preselectors’ good graces.

The other major candidate in the race is Jason Falinski, a moderate, past president of the Young Liberals and former senior adviser to state Transport Minister Andrew Constance. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that Villatora is seen as the third candidate behind Falinski and Bishop, with Falinski estimated to have about 40 votes, Bishop around 35 and Villatora 10-15. One Liberal Party source believes that if Bishop’s old stalwarts do desert her, their votes are more likely to go to the conservative Villatora than to Falinski. Villatora has also clashed with the Liberal Party’s powerful factions, with his campaigning for further democratisation of the party and less power for factions and lobbyists.

Mackellar preselectors will make their decision on April 16.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

What a year. Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey