Michael Kroger Victorian Liberals

Victorian Liberal President Michael Kroger

At 6.15pm tonight, Thursday August 2, the 19 members of the Victorian Liberal Party’s Administrative Committee will gather at party headquarters with a key item on the agenda: what to do with upcoming federal preselections.

Crikey understands a controversial resolution is being proposed to automatically re-endorse all sitting House of Representative members, something which hasn’t happened ahead of a general election before.

The Victorian Liberals have been dragging their heels as every other Liberal division is well advanced in the preselection process for next year’s federal election and none of them have gone down the undemocratic approach of cancelling local ballots. Indeed, leaving aside sitting MPs, the Victorians are yet to even commence the process for preselecting candidates in marginal Labor-held seats, which seems extraordinarily negligent with an election due no later than May 2019.

So while Labor has settled on Daniel Andrews staffer Josh Burns to replace the retiring Michael Danby in Melbourne Ports (now renamed McNamara), the Liberals haven’t even called for nominations.

With an election no more than 10 months away, what sort of political outfit doesn’t have challenging candidates on the ground in marginal seats? For instance, Labor has preselected market researcher Dean Harris to take on Tony Abbott in Warringah and you can watch the impressive campaign launch speech that he delivered last week.

So why the delay in Victoria? It is partly driven by some factional re-alignments with a conservative group taking control but unsure about how to deploy their newfound power and without a spokesman to articulate their positions in the media.

There has been a lot of media about a religious right takeover of the Victorian Liberals, and it hasn’t been pretty with even Andrew Bolt taking them on.

The 19 members of the committee gathering at 104 Exhibition Street, Melbourne tonight will broadly split into three camps. The conservative majority have 10 clear members of their camp and line up as follows: Marcus Bastiaan, metro male vice president; Ivan Stratov, metro male rep; Karina Okotel, metro female vice president; Alexander Lisov, Young Liberals President; David Lau, country male representative; David Mond, Treasurer; Joanna O’Kane, country female representative; Renee Heath, metro female representative; Paul Mitchell, vice president country representative, and; Bev McArthur, vice president country representative.

The two most influential members of the group are former Family First candidate and doctor Ivan Stratov and youthful factional powerbroker Marcus Bastiaan, who has been a key figure in recruiting new members into the fold.

The two existing federal MPs regarded to have the most influence over the group are Assistant Treasurer Michael Sukkar and former defence minister Kevin Andrews.

Opposing this group from a more mainstream or moderate perspective on the Admin Committee are the following: Ian Quick, metro male representative; Tony Snell, immediate past president; Holly Byrne, metro female representative; Robyne Head, country female representative; Greg Mirabella, country male representative and husband of Sophie, and; Mitch Fifield, nominee of federal parliamentary party, but it could be someone else on the night.

And then sitting across the top is what might be called President Michael Kroger’s grouping, which includes the Kroger himself, along with his former wife, former senator Helen Kroger, who is on the committee as chair of the Liberal Women’s Council, and state Liberal leader Matthew Guy.

At one level, both Michael Kroger and Matthew Guy have lost control over the central admin committee and are in the hands of an inexperienced conservative outfit which could cause considerable damage in the lead-up to both the federal election and November’s Victorian election.

The conservatives quite brazenly ignored an earlier request from the Prime Minister to get on with preselections and are now looking to lock in all the incumbents — something which will save Kevin Andrews from an inevitable internal challenge.

This will likely infuriate the 12,000 rank-and-file members in Victoria and has sparked threats of a special state council meeting to address the matter. However, the tactic has been given recent credibility by the Victorian Labor Party which has pursued a similar course in denying rank-and-file members a vote on preselections.

All of which goes to show that grassroots democracy isn’t exactly alive and well in our two major political parties, which probably partly explains why they are so on the nose with the public.

What do you think the Victorian Liberals need to do to win the state election? write to [email protected] and let us know.

Peter Fray

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