The big lesson from last week’s Liberal Party preselection for the seat of Wentworth is that the rankand-file membership will not be used as pawns in factional plays or for a de facto quota for women candidates. The other lesson for us all is that to be a preselector in the Liberal Party, you need enormous amounts of patience and perseverance. At the meeting on Thursday night, if you were keen enough to stay until the result of the final ballot, you would have sat through a full six hours of speeches and a series of ballots.
Twenty minutes is allowed for each candidate to speak and answer questions. When you have eight candidates, allowing for introductions and thank-yous, three hours have passed that you can never get back. Then candidates are eliminated mostly one by one over a number of ballots.
Each voter’s name is called out, a ballot paper is issued, and then it’s off to the voting booths at the back of the room.
This is a process designed to test the loyalty of the faithful or exhaust them into submission.
There are always a few candidates who shouldn’t have bothered. Maybe they are trying to show their party that they wish greatness to be bestowed upon them in the future. With a panel of roughly 200, Maxine Szramka scored four votes, Brigham Carrington six and Michael Feneley 11.
After those exits, the next elimination came as a big surprise to Scott Morrison, factional supremo Michael Photios and the bookies who read the wrong papers.
The favourite was a woman named Katherine O’Regan. She had heavyweight support form above and beyond Wentworth but not from within it. The good people of some of the ritziest suburbs in the country refused to be told who to vote for. The chief of the Prime Minister’s electorate conference, Scott Briggs, was on the phone supporting O’Regan.
Cabinet minister Paul Fletcher did the same. The word was out that Morrison wanted O’Regan.
When the crunch came, she received a miserable 19 votes. She could not even manage 10 per cent of the total. The rank and file told their titular leaders exactly where they could shove it.
Perhaps those leaders were not aware that anything that resembles the flipside of affirmative action (such as supporting a woman who is a weak candidate over better credentialed men) will be rejected by the business people and professionals who live in suburbs like Bellevue Hill, Point Piper, Darling Point and Double Bay.
Peter King, the member vanquished by Malcolm Turnbull, put up a good show with 38 votes in the first vote and hung on until the second-last ballot. When he finally exited, it was left to the surprise packet Richard Shield and the former Australian ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma.
Shields was generally regarded as best at the speeches and Q&A but he carried baggage. He had moved from the Right to the Left so neither side trusted him.
On the other hand, Sharma had a stellar CV and had not been a party member for a long period, so he had no enemies.
His real battle is to come. Kerryn Phelps, with Labor preferences, and presumably those of the Greens, will be very hard to defeat.