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Liberal preselection: Kennett backs Downer and Abbott writes reference for Bishop rival -

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MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: In politics revenge is a dish often served up at pre-selection barbeques.

Bronwyn Bishop's hopes of staying on in her northern Sydney seat of Mackellar have been dealt a blow with former prime minister Tony Abbott writing a glowing reference for a man expected to challenge her for pre-selection.

And in the fight for the Melbourne seat of Goldstein, the former Victorian Liberal premier Jeff Kennett has accused the high profile frontrunner, the outgoing human rights commissioner Tim Wilson, of playing against the spirit of the Liberal Party's pre-selection rules.

Mr Kennett has thrown his support behind Georgina Downer, the daughter of former foreign minister Alexander Downer.

From Canberra, Peta Donald reports.

PETA DONALD: Tim Wilson is leaving at the end of the week as freedom commissioner to run for pre-selection in the safe Liberal seat of Goldstein in Melbourne.

It's against Liberal Party rules for candidates to promote themselves publicly, but Tim Wilson has made the most of the time he has left to speak before he rejoins the party and nominates.

TIM WILSON: Thank you Patricia, but I just need to make it clear that under party rules I'm not allowed to speak about the pre-selection but I'm more than happy to speak about my resignation and what I've done as human rights commissioner.

PETA DONALD: He did a round of media interviews yesterday, including speaking to Patricia Karvelas on Radio National's Drive.

Tim Wilson talked about why he wants to go into Parliament, and he said it's still his belief - contrary to the Government's plans - that it's the Parliament that should decide on same-sex marriage, rather than a plebiscite.

TIM WILSON: Parliament should take responsibility for the things for which they are charged under the Constitution.

Parliament should deal with this issue, I've always argued that.

PETA DONALD: Former premier Jeff Kennett says it's unfair for Tim Wilson to promote himself, when other candidates who are already Liberal Party members can't.

JEFF KENNETT: He is probably technically correct but he's playing on a technicality and I think that is probably unfair to the others and not in the spirit of the rules that governed the way members operate.

Tim rang me up to tell me that he was standing which I appreciate and to ask for my support.

I told him at that stage that I would be, as much as I have any influence in these matters, I would be supporting Georgina Downer, who I know and serves on my board at The Torch, who I think is a very articulate, well-educated, well-rounded individual.

PETA DONALD: Georgina Downer is a former diplomat.

Her father and grandfather were federal ministers and her great-grandfather the premier of South Australia.

Jeff Kennett says she's got what it takes to be a minister one day, and his support is nothing to do with the Downer dynasty.

JEFF KENNETT: No, it's got nothing to do with that whatsoever.

It's because I've got to know her working on my board.

She's very focussed, she's very well-educated, I think she would be a valuable addition to our parliamentary ranks.

PETA DONALD: Whether or not Bronwyn Bishop continues in those parliamentary ranks is looking slightly less secure.

AM has learned one expected challenger to Mrs Bishop in her pre-selection race has references from both former prime minister Tony Abbott and the popular New South Wales Premier Mike Baird.

Walter Villatora - one-time campaign director for Mr Baird and a leading party official in Mr Abbott's seat - is yet to confirm he's running.

Nominations closing at 5pm on Friday.

MICHAEL BRISSENDEN: Peta Donald with that report.