In Victoria, one of the key proponents of getting women into Parliament has been retiring Liberal politician Louise Asher. That is why eyebrows were raised when her state seat — Brighton — went not to a woman, but to former Napthine government staffer James Newbury. Those in the running included upper house MP Margaret Fitzherbert, as well as former Bayside mayor Felicity Frederico. But Asher, proud proponent of women in the Libs, threw her support behind Newbury instead.

The reason for her doing this has prompted a massive amount of speculation in Victorian Liberal circles. Just what was she thinking? Well, we’ve heard a few theories.

One Crikey tipster reckons it was all part of a deal to get Georgina Downer up in Goldstein. When Downer’s support didn’t look strong, the tipster said, Asher convinced Newbury to drop his support for his long-time ally Denis Dragovic, who was also running in the seat with the support of former contender Marcus Bastiaan (who withdrew his bid for the seat early) as well as Newbury.  Newbury dropped Dragovic and decided to back Downer. There was supposedly a trade-off: Asher would back Newbury at his preselection in exchange for Newbury backing Downer. The factional dealing wasn’t enough to get Downer in; the seat went to Tim Wilson instead.

Another informed tipster, however, said Asher’s support for Downer in Goldstein was always rather strategic. She had always intended to support Newbury for her seat and figured supporting a woman in Goldstein would give her an out when she backed a man a few months later, this source said.

Yet another source — who voted in the Brighton preselection — said Asher really had no choice but to support Newbury, as she couldn’t vote for the two women running for various reasons. Fitzherbert narrowly won preselection to the Victorian upper house in the lead-up to the 2014 election, and at the time, this source said, promised not to run for a lower-house seat in return for support. Putting her name forward for Brighton was seen as as turning her back on this promise. And Frederico, this source said, wasn’t as good a candidate as Newbury. “Both Felicity [Frederico] and Margaret [Fitzherbert] didn’t end up with a lot of votes because everyone knew this,” the source said.

Asher took to local ABC radio earlier this week to downplay the impact of any one preselection on the Liberal Party’s efforts to get women into Parliament. She told Jon Faine:

“The party has had a lot of problems in getting women into safer seats. [But] I don’t think you can say the party is anti-women over one Brighton preselection.

“What we’ve done as a group — I didn’t vote, MPs don’t have votes on these things — is select in Brighton’s case a 38-year-old outstanding man, and I think he will go far.”

Peter Fray

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