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Preselection for the federal seat of Holt; problems with new electoral boundaries.

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JOHN HIGHFIELD: The race is now on in the federal Labor Party to find a new candidate for the Melbourne seat, the federal seat of Holt, currently held, of course, by Gareth Evans. Mr Evans, it seems, is concentrating all of his efforts on lobbying hard to become Director-General of UNESCO, the Paris based organisation for the United Nations. Labor sources expect that even if he is unsuccessful, Gareth Evans will actually quit federal politics prior to the next election. Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Anticipating Gareth Evans’ departure from federal politics, the ALP is pressing ahead with preselection for Holt with nominations closing tomorrow morning. Mr Evans has indicated to the ALP he intends to retire soon, whether or not he gets the UNESCO job in October two years out from the next federal election.


The decision to open preselections early has been criticised by some in the party who think it would have been better to wait until a high-flying candidate could be found for the very safe Labor seat centred around Dandenong. Safe seats are often used as a testing ground for policy heavy-hitters and future leaders. The frontrunners are state ALP President and lawyer, Jill Hennessy, from the left faction, and a lower-profile but local Anthony Byrne from the Right, who works for Senator Jacinta Collins.


JACINTA COLLINS: I think it’s important that the party members in Holt be given an opportunity to determine the future candidate for the Labor Party in the area.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And how damaging would federal intervention be?


JACINTA COLLINS: There are a myriad of issues that need to be considered there along with Gareth’s departure, and I would simply say that I think it’s important that party members be involved in the decisions.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And how sure are you that Anthony Byrne will be the successful candidate? He’s a staffer of yours.


JACINTA COLLINS: ... be sure in these circumstances but Anthony’s worked locally for several years. He’s worked with the people who will determine the future candidate and I think he has their support.


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Supporters of the selection process now under way claim the alternative, federal intervention, would risk blowing the party apart when all eyes are set on resolving problems in Labor’s state caucus and not creating them, heading into what’s expected to be an October state election. As one Labor figure put it, an outstanding candidate like Gareth Evans only comes along once in a blue moon and there appears to be no one of that calibre within cooee to warrant a nasty preselection brawl.


Holt has one of the largest memberships of any federal seat and has been at the centre of branch-stacking allegations. Getting the preselection out of the way quickly could avert a public battle. But another Labor figure says there’s a real disquiet about why the Holt preselection’s been brought on so soon. He says excuses about avoiding a brawl ring hollow because none of the factions can produce a high-profile candidate. He says it’s just a matter of convenience with both factions thinking their candidate could get up. Senior Labor members are pushing for a 6 November by-election to coincide with the referendum on the republic.


Labor isn’t the only party contemplating its future. Finance Minister, John Fahey, is planning to appeal against the Electoral Commission’s proposed redrawing of electoral boundaries which would make his southern highlands seat difficult for the Liberals to hang on to. Mr Fahey’s home town of Camden would become part of neighbouring MP Alby Schultz’s electorate. Mr Schultz’s home town of Cootamundra would become part of the next-door electorate of Riverina, held by the National Party’s Kay Hull. If the Electoral Commission sticks to its redistribution, one scenario would be a domino effect. Kay Hull could contest soon to be backbencher Tim Fischer’s seat of Farrer. Alby Schulz would shift to Kay Hull’s seat, leaving Hume to John Fahey.


ALBY SCHULTZ: I stand very firmly on the principle of elected members living in the electorate that they represent. Obviously, within a 12-month period, I’ve been pushed out of two electorates which creates a dilemma for me. I have no plans at all to compromise those principles. I stick rigidly to matters of principle and integrity. Therefore, to accommodate me, that matter of rolling over a number of electorates to accommodate people who have been disenfranchised would have to be one of the options I would consider.


JOHN HIGHFIELD: Alby Schultz who is the federal Liberal MP; Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.