Far-right conservative Stephanie Ross has announced that she will challenge a sitting Victorian MP for preselection in the seat of Narracan next year. Ross, whose boyfriend, Marcus Bastiaan, has been accused of branch stacking (which he denies), posted on Facebook on Friday that she would put her hand up for the regional seat, which popular local member Gary Blackwood holds for the Liberal Party with 61% of the two-party preferred vote.

Ross writes:

“This morning I submitted my nomination to the Victorian Liberal Party as a preselection candidate for the seat of Narracan.

“I am from a sixth generation farming family, run a small business and have lived, worked and been educated in Narracan. I have a proven track record of standing up and advocating for issues that matter, and if successful I will do the same for our community.

“Preselection rules prohibit me from publicly commenting further. Thank you to all of those who have provided me advice, confidence and support.”

Ross was elected chair for the Narracan state electoral conference at the end of November, in what the Herald Sun‘s James Campbell called an “AGM bloodbath”. She has now set her sights Blackwood’s job. He won the seat from Labor in 2006. At 65, he is 40 years older than his challenger, who is just 25 years old.

The move to try to oust the sitting MP is not entirely unexpected. Ross and Bastiaan have been growing their factional muscle for some time. They are part of a concerted push among some members of the Young Libs boost their factional influence by courting more conservative voters to become Liberal members. In recent months, the Liberal Party’s membership committee, led by Bastiaan, has targeted former Family First members, Mormons and other religious groups.

Ross lives in Pakenham on Melbourne’s eastern fringe. The electorate of Narracan is in Gippsland in Victoria’s east and covers the large regional towns Warragul and Moe. Ross has lived in Pakenham and Garfield in the past — both in the electorate.

Ross, a deeply conservative Catholic, is well known for her anti-abortion views, which have been met with incredulity by more moderate Young Liberals. She was previously president of Youth 4 Life and told Vice Australia last year that she did not believe in abortion, even in cases of rape. “I still think that because it is a human being, for me, personally there is no situation in which a child should be killed,” she said.

Ross’ views on abortion seem to have softened somewhat. In an opinion piece in The Age last month she wrote:

“The focus of modern pro-life advocates should not be about criminalising abortion and certainly not about demonising or shaming women. It is about lowering the rate of abortion by addressing causational issues and promoting alternatives. Improving women’s access to quality healthcare, progressing adoption pathways, de-stigmatising single motherhood and improving access to crisis pregnancy support are all positive ways to lower the rate of abortion and promote the value of life irrespective of age, race or gender.”

She is also the president of the new socially conservative Menzies-Warrandyte Young Liberal branch, which held a fundraiser dinner for Kevin Andrews and Michael Sukkar earlier this year where anti same-sex marriage pamphlets were distributed. At the time she said she had no idea who brought the pamphlets to the event and would be looking into the incident.

According to LinkedIn, Ross attended St Thomas Aquinas College in Tynong in the area, and she is currently a director at Kookaburra Care, an aged care service in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey