*Pic: Sam McQuestin with now-Premier Will Hodgman during a state election campaign. Image from here: My Twitter dialogue with Sam McQuestin
*Pic: ABC, of Eric Abetz of whom Hans says: I strongly agree with my 1973 Taroona High School classmate, the hon Senator Eric Abetz, when he told the ABC on 20 January 2016 “that the party should remain a broad church”. Of course, Sen Abetz comment was made in the context of NSW preselection battles, where the ball is on the other foot and conservative sitting members are under threat from dominant progressives. That said, what’s good for the NSW goose is good for the Tasmanian gander. Tasmanian Liberal Party members deserve a fair and rightful opportunity to preselect the most competitive candidate that will genuinely appeal to that ‘broad church’ within and outside the Party membership.
It was early October last year that I had an epiphany. I had been a fan of Malcolm Turnbull since he led the campaign for a Republic in 1999 and have openly supported him during several election campaigns. He was moderate, socially progressive and fiscally conservative and so was I. He supported marriage equality and so did I. He was IT savvy and I was an IT consultant. Perhaps the major point of difference was Malcolm had truck loads of money, whereas my single truck had shrunk to dinky toy size after the Global Financial Crisis in 2008!
And so it came to me that morning in October last year, after hearing of yet another poll showing Malcolm’s seemingly unstoppable rise in popularity … hey, perhaps Malcolm’s honeymoon isn’t a flash in the pan after all. Maybe, just maybe, the Liberal party might forgive my past sins and allow me to return, like the prodigal son, to contest the only Tasmanian seat still without a Liberal candidate, Denison in Hobart.
Perhaps, the “new” Liberal Party would also recognise that in Denison a successful candidate would need to appeal to both Labor and Green voters, to attract their preferences and to have any chance at all against the sky-high profile sitting member, Andrew Wilkie.
Before going on, perhaps I should recap those events in 2013 that led to my pariah status and subsequent ostracism by the Liberal Party. I chose to contest the Legislative council seat of Nelson as a self-described independent liberal. I could see no harm doing so as the Liberal Party had endorsed no candidate of their own and I supported the Liberal economic platform.
I campaigned in support of social freedom (including marriage equality) as well as economic freedom (Liberal Party policy). The lobby group Getup supported me (and other pro-marriage equality candidates) with a very high profile, media campaign.
I lost and Jim won, but I secured over 8% of the vote after just a two-week campaign. Arguably those votes may have been the same votes that had earlier switched from the Liberal Party to the more socially moderate Andrew Wilkie and were critical to his election in 2010. The following year I campaigned in the State election. As an Independent, I shadowed Andrew’s social policies, which included poker machine reform and marriage equality, but maintained my differences on economic policy.
Rolling forward to the present day, the issue of marriage equality is no longer an issue. Whereas my core beliefs and those of the Liberal Party on marriage equality were poles apart in 2013, I accept the Liberal Party’s compromise position. I will abide by the decision of the people at a plebiscite on the issue, which I expect will be strongly in favour of marriage equality. It struck me, is there really a need to remain Independent?
So it was time to act. I visited the Liberal Party State Director, Mr Sam McQuestin in his office at Salamanca Place and ran my plans past him. Firstly, he said I would need to submit a new application for membership, which “may take a few weeks”. I submitted it the next day but I should have known better!
What was estimated to take a few weeks ended up taking three months. I was asked to “show cause” in writing for the State Executive to review, which I did within days but was then told the they would not meet again until 30 January 2016! Given the imperative to start campaigning over Christmas I requested that it be dealt with “out of session” as soon as possible (haven’t they heard of email?).
Repeated requests were ignored and then in late January the Liberal Party unexpectedly advertised for Candidates in Denison with applications closing a fortnight later on 4 February. I would have had no time then to complete a comprehensive application, given half the time available to the other applicants but just to make sure, the Liberal Party State Executive advised me on 1 February that my membership application had been rejected.
No reasons were given, no time to appeal. I was snookered. I requested reasons for rejection, a request that remains unanswered.
Concluding then, the Liberal party members of Denison may indeed prefer one of the other candidates, but it is neither fair nor democratic that they have been denied the opportunity to select from the broadest possible field.
I strongly agree with my 1973 Taroona High School classmate, the hon Senator Eric Abetz, when he told the ABC on 20 January 2016 “that the party should remain a broad church”.
Of course, Sen Abetz comment was made in the context of NSW preselection battles, where the ball is on the other foot and conservative sitting members are under threat from dominant progressives.
That said, what’s good for the NSW goose is good for the Tasmanian gander. Tasmanian Liberal Party members deserve a fair and rightful opportunity to preselect the most competitive candidate that will genuinely appeal to that ‘broad church’ within and outside the Party membership.
Only then will the Liberals achieve their full vote potential.
*Hans Willink is a former Army Officer, IT Director and political candidate.