Fury at backroom deal to usher former Young Liberal into federal seat of Hughes

·4 min read
<span>Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Sam Mooy/Getty Images

Plan to avoid NSW preselection to parachute candidates such as Alex Dore into seat held by Craig Kelly shows ‘we are no better’ than Labor, some members say

A former Young Liberal, Alex Dore, nephew of the Australian’s editor in chief, Chris Dore, is set to be springboarded into the federal seat of Hughes under a complex factional deal to avoid contentious NSW Liberal preselections.

The backroom deal – if it sticks – will bypass plebiscites in several seats. New rules introduced in 2018 – the Warringah rules, championed by former prime minister Tony Abbott – were designed to give more say to local members.

But as the federal election looms, preselections have been delayed by factional manoeuvring and the failure of the committee that vets potential candidates to meet, even though nominations closed last May.

There is now white-hot anger among some Liberal members about the manoeuvring and the attempts to sidestep the Warringah rules.

“We criticise the Labor party for using their N40 rules to choose candidates, but we are no better. We might even be worse,” said one senior Liberal.

Related: The Right stuff: why shellshocked NSW Liberal moderates are fearing factional fights

The deal, hammered out by factional negotiators on Saturday, involves avoiding rank and file votes in all seats held by federal MPs who were facing challenges. It also springboards candidates into several winnable seats, including Dobell and Hughes.

But the deal still has to be put to state executive council on Friday and requires 90% support by the 27-strong state executive to pass.

Among the right faction, there is particular anger at the negotiations, which included Charles Perrottet, the brother of the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, and Dallas McInerney, the chief executive of Catholic Schools.

Some said the deal had no chance of passing at state executive council this Friday and was instead a further ploy by factional leaders to engineer a crisis within the NSW Liberal party that would prompt federal intervention on the grounds of urgency.

The federal election must be held by May and NSW Liberals are still to choose candidates in several key seats.

Others pointed to the fact that the negotiators had perceived conflicts of interest because their seats were under threat.

Several sitting MPs are facing preselection challenges and, after a surprise result in the state seat of Willoughby where a rightwinger won the moderate-held seat, those concerns have become sharper.

Trent Zimmerman, MP for North Sydney, and a moderate faction leader; environment minister, Sussan Ley, who holds Farrer; and immigration minister, Alex Hawke, the convener of the centre right faction who holds Mitchell; will be confirmed as the Liberal candidates under the deal.

The foreign minister, Marise Payne, will be confirmed as top of the NSW Liberal Senate ticket. The second spot is a Nationals spot. The third spot, however, will go to a vote, which could see senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells challenged by Senator Jim Molan, who filled a Senate vacancy.

The deal would mean seats like Hughes will again not get to choose a candidate.

Under the rules, Dore, who is said to have the backing of broadcaster Alan Jones would be anointed to fill the vacancy created by the current MP for Hughes, Craig Kelly, who became an independent after being reprimanded for spruiking unproven Covid -19 treatments.

Related: Labor preselects human rights law professor to run in federal seat of North Sydney

Kelly himself had been saved twice in the past from a challenge by prime ministerial interventions when he was the Liberal candidate. This means that in Hughes there will not have been an opportunity for locals to have a say for almost a decade.

But within hours of the deal, there were already doubts about the Hughes component because Dore, who hails from the northern beaches, had not nominated for Hughes while three high profile local Liberals had.

In the Central Coast seat of Dobell, the plan is to anoint Jemima Gleeson, a pentecostal preacher, who is backed by the centre right and Morrison over the right’s preferred candidate, Dr Michael Feneley.

Under the deal, votes under the Warringah rules will go ahead in Bennelong, Warringah and Parramatta. However, the outcomes in each of these contests are said to be more certain.

But whether the deal will be accepted is far from certain.

Senior party figures have warned that the attempt to avoid the new rules will cause havoc in the party, particularly among the right, and result in the Liberals being unable to man polling booths with local Liberal members.

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