Members of the Goulburn branch of the Liberal Party have broken ranks to criticise the lack of a pre-selection for the seat which takes in parts of the Southern Highlands.
Richard Orchard also says he’s sick and tired of the party hierarchy dictating terms when it is the members who work tirelessly to elect MPs.
Mr Orchard has been a Liberal Party member on and off since 1991, having rejoined the Goulburn branch only last month. He also worked as an electoral officer for Hume MP Alby Schultz up until his retirement in 2013.
He’s been watching the party’s machinations over a replacement for incumbent Pru Goward with interest.
He said the Liberals were sure to lose the seat if they selected an unknown quantity, such as former Boorowa mayor Wendy Tuckerman, who had been touted, or Ms Goward’s daughter, Penny Fischer. The latter failed to secure party pre-selection for the seat of Wollondilly last year.
His comments came as former Goulburn Mulwaree Mayor Geoff Kettle threatened to run as an independent if the Liberals didn’t select him or a known identity. Mr Orchard said Mr Kettle would win if he did so and would pull in disaffected Liberal voters.
Ms Goward announced her retirement at the next election on December 19, citing husband David Barnett’s deteriorating health and the need to spend time with family. She declined to comment for this article, saying questions should be directed to Liberal Party state director Chris Stone.
Ms Goward was due to introduce the new candidate at a Liberal branch meeting in Goulburn on Saturday. However, the Southern Highland News understands this has been deferred until later in the month, given discontent over the process. It comes amid new provisions regarding candidate selection, giving members a greater say.
But ‘the Warringah motion’, advanced by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, also includes an ‘emergency’ clause in cases where there is no time to hold a pre-selection.
Ms Goward has confirmed that no pre-selection would be held for Goulburn and Premier Gladys Berejiklian would move quickly to finalise a candidate.
Mr Orchard said several people within the branch were angry about this, but others would simply accept it.
“I’m disaffected by the process,” he said.
“There’s a well thought-out process that we’ve agreed upon in the plebiscite. But, no: here we have the Premier and Pru deciding they’ll be kingmakers and elect their own candidate.”
He accused the party of poor judgement if it thought Ms Tuckerman or Ms Fischer could be elected, saying they were largely unknown in Goulburn city, the largest population centre in the seat.
Mr Orchard argued there was time to hold a pre-selection. It would only require a meeting of members to scrutinise nominees who could put forward their credentials.
He said he would have thrown his hat in the ring, but wouldn’t have expected success.
“It’s all about how well you play the game,” Mr Orchard said.
He had planned on going to Saturday’s meeting to have his say about the process, at the risk of ejection. Mr Orchard hasn’t ruled this out at the deferred meeting, depending on whether the candidate was to be directly appointed.
If the hierarchy pressed ahead, he predicted some members would resign.
“If Geoff Kettle runs as an independent he will cream it and a lot of people from the local branch will support him because it’s a corrupted (Liberal Party) process,” he said.
“...The only person who can win is a Goulburnian, who lives here, holds the people in high esteem and will represent their views.”
He argued that some in the party would be doing everything possible to “spear” Mr Kettle and stop him running as a Liberal candidate.
Mr Orchard said the seat would be won and lost in Goulburn city, many booths in which Ms Goward lost at the 2015 poll.
“If there’s even a five percent swing against the Liberals, it’s touch and go whether they can win the seat,” he said.
Ms Goward holds the seat by a six to seven per cent margin over Labor.
Mr Orchard said if Ms Tuckerman had “sniffed the wind” correctly, she should be “quietly retreating” from running. Ms Tuckerman has not returned calls about her possible candidature.
A former Goulburn Liberal Party branch president, Michele Costello, said she fully understood Ms Goward’s reasons for resigning, given that Mr Barnett had been unwell for some time.
“But I’m extremely disappointed that the timing hasn’t allowed for a pre-selection. In my opinion, that’s a denial of the democratic process,” she said.
“I’m a strong supporter of the members having a say.”
Ms Costello was campaign manager for two of Ms Goward’s election runs and for Hume MP Angus Taylor. She has also only recently rejoined the party after being a member for some 15 years.
She also has firm views on the Liberal candidate’s credentials.
“They need to be high profile, preferably local, a very good listener and a very strong communicator,” she said.
The Goulburn State Electoral Council chairman for the Liberals, Nick Tyrrell, did not return requests for comment.
However, Goulburn Liberal Party branch president Grant Pearce confirmed Saturday’s meeting had been “canned”, but put this down to people being away on holidays and the number of apologies.
“I’m a little out of it, but my assumption is that the new candidate will be announced by the Premier, Nick (Tyrrell) and Pru jointly,” he said.
“I thought that might have happened by now, hence the meeting (for January 12).”
Mr Pearce said Ms Tuckerman had good credentials and would not be regarded as a “parachuted” candidate.
On Ms Fischer, he said he knew little about her.
“People would say that’s jobs for the boys, but I don’t mind that, provided the talent is there,” he said.
Asked about Mr Kettle’s threats to run as an Independent, Mr Pearce said people would make up their own minds on this.
“I just want the way cleared so we can get out and campaign,” he said.
Meantime, Mr Kettle told The Post he was continuing to field phone calls and messages of support for him to run.
“It’s in the Liberal Party’s hands,” he said.
A spokesman for Liberal Party State director Chris Stone declined to comment on a host of questions. He said candidate selection was ongoing and an announcement would be made “in due course.”