Politics

Liberals push to speed up NSW preselections amid frustration at tactics of key Scott Morrison ally | Australian politics

The New South Wales Liberal executive will be pushed on Friday to speed up preselections in the state that could determine the outcome of the next federal election.

A number of Liberals are frustrated about the backroom tactics of a key ally of the prime minister – the immigration minister, Alex Hawke. Party sources say Hawke has been deliberately delaying preselections in Morrison’s home state in order to circumvent grassroots plebiscites to install candidates.

Guardian Australia understands a motion will go to the state executive on Friday calling for outstanding preselections to be expedited. With a federal election now only months away, the motion is said to have the support of both the hard right and moderate factions.

Liberals are worried the backroom brinkmanship is jeopardising the government’s election preparations.

Only a handful of preselections have been completed. Exasperated Liberals point out the party currently has no candidate preselected for the electorate of Parramatta – a targeted seat after the departure of the long-serving Labor MP Julie Owens.

Some sources say the Warringah conference is particularly agitated about the prolonged delays because there is no Liberal candidate preselected to take on Zali Steggall – the independent who unseated Tony Abbott at the 2019 election.

Factional politics in the NSW Liberal party is notoriously brutal. This preselection season is the first time candidates will be selected through a controversial plebiscite model successfully pushed by Abbott.

Some of Hawke’s colleagues contend he is using his position as Scott Morrison’s organisational proxy to generate a crisis that can only be solved through central intervention – a tactic that would maximise the position of his own “soft right” faction. The moderate and the hard-right conservative factions have formed a loose alliance in the state to counter the power of Hawke’s centre-right faction.

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The Liberal party performed strongly in NSW during the 2019 federal election, but the government is under pressure from climate-focused independents rallying in heartland seats, and from political insurgencies on the right, with micro-parties emboldened by government restrictions imposed during the coronavirus pandemic.

The latest quarterly polling data from Guardian Essential suggests that Clive Palmer’s United Australia party has picked up steam since August. On primary votes, the UAP is currently a nose in front of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, led in NSW by the high-profile former Labor politician Mark Latham.

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The UAP has gone from nothing to grabbing 5% of the primary vote since August. Voter interest is concentrated in regional parts of the country – although the strongest support at the moment seems to be in NSW rather than Queensland.

Ahead of the final two parliamentary sitting weeks of the year, Morrison and the Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, have moved into faux campaign mode, with an election due in the first half of 2022.

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