Unhappy Liberals direct Aston anger at state president

A group of federal and state MPs from Victoria are working on a plan to challenge Greg Mirabella for the role of Liberal Party state president, using the loss in Aston to campaign for his removal.

Six state and federal Liberal MPs who spoke to The Age on the condition of anonymity said the party’s candidate for the Aston byelection, Brunswick barrister Roshena Campbell, was ill-suited for the electorate where she had never lived and are pinning the blame on officials who handpicked her for the seat.

Federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton with Roshena Campbell ahead of her concession speech in the Aston byelection.Credit:Penny Stephens

There is almost unanimous agreement from federal Liberal MPs that Campbell was a talented and hard-working candidate.

While some members of the administrative committee voted against the proposal to handpick a candidate, the move was backed by Mirabella, federal director Andrew Hirst and Victorian frontbencher Dan Tehan.

Following Saturday’s loss, the first time in a century that a federal opposition has lost a seat to the government at a byelection, factional rivals of Mirabella will attempt to use his involvement in the preselection as part of a broader push to oust him from the role when the party meets in August.

“We need to clean the division up,” one federal Liberal MP told The Age.

Liberal Party state president Greg Mirabella. Credit:Justin McManus

In response, Mirabella told The Age on Sunday: “People who want to brief journalists along those lines on a day like today are part of the problem not part of the solution.”

The Age initiated contact with the MPs who confirmed the move against Mirabella.

One senior Liberal official, who served in administrative roles in the past, said the broader organisational wing in Victoria had repeatedly let down the federal Coalition.

Following Saturday night’s loss, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton said support for the Liberal Party had declined in Victoria since John Howard won government in 1996 and that there were broader issues within the division holding the vote back.

Victorian Liberal MP Jason Wood backed Dutton’s assessment that infighting within the Victoria division was to blame for recent election losses.

“We don’t always go for the best candidate for the arena, instead these decisions are based on religion, factions and personalities,” Wood said.

Wood said he wasn’t blaming the party’s administrative committee for the result but said there was an organisational problem within the Victorian division that stopped the best candidates being selected.

“When will it dawn on them, they need to vote for the best candidate for the electorate, not just blindly following someone who has the same moderate or conservative views as them?

“Then every time someone backs someone, there is payback.”

Wood said the Liberal Party at a state level was “resigned to the fact they are best suited to opposition”.

As an example, he cited conservative forces working against former state MP Cathrine Burnett-Wake – who sought preselection for Aston – for condemning “extremists in politics” during her valedictory speech.

Ahead of the byelection, Dutton hit out at the infighting within the Victorian parliamentary team, telling the Coalition party room that the party must stop talking about itself.

On Sunday, Victorian Opposition Leader John Pesutto said he didn’t believe the failed attempt to expel Moira Deeming, who attended an anti-transgender rights protest that was crashed by neo-Nazis, had any impact on the result.

But he acknowledged that the Victorian Liberal Party needed to restore its standing with Victorians and create a “viable, effective and compelling” opposition.

“I understand the scale of this challenge,” he said.

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