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Analyst and party branch president discuss Liberal Party preselection for federal seat of Wentworth.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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PM

 

Friday 27 February 2004

Analyst and party branch president discuss Liberal Party preselection for federal seat of Wentworth

 

MARK COLVIN: It's not often that a Liberal Part y preselection attracts the kind of media blitz that's been given to the stoush over the Sydney seat of Wentworth. But it's not often that the challenger is Malcolm Turnbull, associate of Kerry Packer and Neville Wran, Republican campaigner and millionaire banker. 

 

Add to the mix accusations of rorting by both sides, and the fact that the sitting member, Peter King himself came to the job by toppling his predecessor in a preselection battle, and you have even more of the elements of a good drama. 

 

The battle will end in a decision tomorrow night by Liberal Party members from silvertail suburbs like Point Piper, Bellevue Hill and Rose Bay. 

 

Hamish Fitzsimmons reports. 

 

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Tomorrow evening at Bondi beach's Swiss Grand Hotel, 160 Liberal Party insiders will end one of the most publicly and bitterly fought preselection campaigns in recent history. Sitting MP Peter King has been challenged for the seat by a high profile banker, former Liberal Party Treasurer and Republican, Malcolm Turnbull. 

 

Liberal Party State Director Scott Morrison told ABC radio a lot will come down to the candidate's pitch on the night. 

 

SCOTT MORRISON: People will put forward their wares and the selectors will make their decision. But then the real contest begins and that is for the seat of Wentworth. And this whole process is designed to make sure we can put our best possible step forward. 

 

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Both sides are claiming to be confident of victory, but in the last two days Malcolm Turnbull appears to have gained the upper hand. Two preselectors in Peter King's camp were disqualified and two people likely to be sympathetic to Mr Turnbull will replace them.  

 

Scott Morrison says it's all part of a robust democracy. 

 

SCOTT MORRISON: Well, I think the key thing about this is, this is a genuinely democratic process and I think the fact that people are saying that things are very close I think just reinforces that. 

 

I mean, this has been a very robust, internal part process and at the end of the day, we've got two very, very fine candidates that we'll be able to - whoever's successful - put forward in the seat of Wentworth at the next federal election. 

 

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: The preselection process has even divided the Federal Cabinet. Tony Abbot and Peter Costello support Peter King, and Tourism Minister Joe Hockey has gone into bat for Malcolm Turnbull. The Prime Minister John Howard has given Mr King a letter of reference. 

 

Political Commentator and Director of the Sydney Institute, Gerard Henderson doesn't believe the party will suffer from a public spat over preselection. 

 

GERARD HENDERSON: Well, obviously you've had a bit of branch stacking going on, but it's the branch stacking where the individual people who stack up can pay their way. 

 

So in other words, no one's paying for them, it's been lively, it's drawn attention to the party, I don't think there's any particular problem with a lively preselection provided after the event everyone settles down, and I assume that will happen whether Malcolm Turnbull wins or Peter King wins. 

 

Bear in mind preselections in the Liberal Party are not as lively as they used to be but they used to be lively ones. 

 

A lot of Australians don't remember that John Howard himself was defeated in a Liberal Party preselection in Berowra on the north shore of Sydney in 1971. He lost to a person named Harry Edwards who didn't make much of an impact on Australian politics and came in third, and he ended up winning one in 1974.  

 

Both the one he won in 1974 and the one he lost in 1971 were lively affairs, but nothing's quite got the profile of Malcolm Turnbull vs. Peter King because Malcolm Turnbull's one of the best-known Australians, so you would expect a degree of media attention to anything he does. 

 

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: What about the supporters in Cabinet, there's some people in the Federal Cabinet who support Mr King and others who support Mr Turnbull. Would this be a serious point of disagreement? 

 

SCOTT MORRISON: I think it's a serious point of disagreement to some extent at the moment. But once the issue is determined, it would fade fairly quickly. In the Liberal Party for the most part, people coming in have to find their place. Some people get a position immediately in the ministry, most don't. So I don't think Malcolm Turnbull's arrival's going to take Canberra by storm if he gets there. 

 

HAMISH FITZSIMMONS: Whoever wins tomorrow will have their hold on the seat tested again at the federal election expected later this year. But that's not likely to be as tough as getting party endorsement for the seat. 

 

MARK COLVIN: Hamish Fitzsimmons reporting.