The factional wheeling and dealing continues in the Victorian Liberal Party, with tonight’s annual general meeting of the Menzies branch set to be the scene of a new conservative versus moderate stoush. The branch, which is home to former defence minister and Tony Abbott ally Kevin Andrews, has had a surge of new members in recent months from local evangelical churches. Allegations of branch stacking have been plaguing the Liberal Party in Victoria, and Fairfax reported last week that Andrews had been “attending micro party meetings and holding church-based community forums in a broad bid to attract more members from the religious right”. Andrews has refused to address the claims.
Andrew Asten, chief of staff to Human Services Minister Alan Tudge and ally to Andrews, is set to challenge Keith Wolahan for vice chair of the branch, as part of a series of moves that are emblematic of the push and pull for power between conservatives and moderates in the party. Asten is backed by branch president Sandra Mercer Moore, and aligned with young up and comer Marcus Bastiaan and party president Michael Kroger, but he isn’t the only one challenging for position’s on the branch’s executive. Wolahan’s wife, Sarah Weinberg, is secretary of the Menzies state electoral council, but she’s being challenged by 20-year-old Asten ally Cameron Manassa. Wolahan, barrister and former soldier is well-liked locally. As part of the rout, Paul Sukkar (brother to MP for nearby Deakin Michael Sukkar) is challenging Mike Poutney for the position of membership officer.
And who will be returning officer to oversee this bloodletting? Party president Michael Kroger will be counting the votes. Don’t let anyone ever tell you the Liberals don’t have factions.