Listening to the radio this morning, grassroots Liberals in Gilmore sounded heartbroken – like their footy team had just lost the grand final.
“It’s an absolutely idiotic decision and I really feel for Grant cause he is a genuinely fantastic guy,” – David Gregory, President (resigned) of the Liberal Party Berry said, speaking to ABC Radio.
Also speaking to ABC Radio, Philip Motby, President (resigned), Liberal Party Gerringong said: “Head office seems to think they know more than we do, so they are bringing their man in, let them man the polling booths and do the running around, I’ve been doing it for 40 years.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has endorsed Aboriginal leader, businessman, Sky News commentator and former ALP National President Warren Mundine as the Liberal candidate for the seat of Gilmore, which stretches from Tuross Head to Kiama.
That is despite Mr Mundine not living within the electorate or being a member of the party.
“Warren has demonstrated his leadership ability over many decades, including the role he has played in reforming our welfare system, and has a deep understanding of what matters to Australian families and the pressures they face,” Mr Morrison told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“Warren has deep connections with the Gilmore community and will be a highly-effective champion for them and their families. He will play a very significant role within our team and the direction we take in the future.”
The move upsets the local preselection process that backed Milton real estate agent Grant Schultz late last year. Mr Schultz has now quit the party and will contest the Federal Election as an independent.
“I think all parties have failed to address, to focus and represent their electorates, and instead have only focused on winning and their own internal politics,” Mr Schultz told Fran Kelly, ABC RN Breakfast.
In Batemans Bay, speaking with Region Media, local Liberal Party Branch President, John Haslem describes the situation as a mess that started with internal pressures on sitting member Ann Sudmalis, who resigned in September 2018.
“There was plotting to destabilise her as the local member,” Mr Haslem says.
Implying that Mr Schultz was a part of that, Mr Haslem says members in Moruya and Batemans Bay didn’t take part in Mr Schultz’s preselection ballot because they didn’t see much point in taking part in a one-horse race.
“There is a deep schism in the party in Gilmore,” he says.
Asked if he would support Mr Mundine as the local candidate Mr Haslem says, “We have got to have a candidate, and the Prime Minister has taken the view that Mundine is going to be a better candidate.”
“If he [Morrison] is a feminist like me, I am surprised he didn’t find a woman to stand.
“I will support the Liberal Party because that is what I have been doing for a long time, but it will make it difficult for us [to win].”
Unlike his comrades in Berry and Gerringong, Mr Haslem says he won’t be resigning from the party, suggesting that some of those who have are the ones who have been causing the internal problems.
“Let’s play the game straight but I don’t think it’s being played straight at the moment,” Mr Haslem says.
The sitting state Liberal member for the seat of Bega, which takes in part of Gilmore, won’t be drawn on the issue.
“The Federal Government needs to realise that the billions of dollars the NSW Government has been putting into the Princes Highway has so far not been matched. If the Commonwealth is going to do anything, how about they start matching the dollars that we are putting in and start duplicating the highway,” Andrew Constance says.
Shelley Hancock, the State Liberal member for South Coast and the Speaker of the NSW lower house, was more forthcoming than Mr Constance, telling the Sydney Morning Herald that this was “one of the darkest days of the Liberal Party” and that the Prime Minister’s actions had ensured Labor would win the seat.
Ms Sudmalis only won the seat in 2016 by 1,503 votes from Labor’s Fiona Phillips. Gilmore is considered the most marginal seat in the country.
“I just can’t believe that Scott Morrison would parachute in someone who doesn’t even live in the electorate. He lives on the North Shore of Sydney, I think the voters of Gilmore deserve better,” Ms Phillips says.
“I’ve been endorsed now for 22 months and have been out there every day talking to people.
“It’s going to be very difficult now for any new candidate regardless of the political party,” Ms Phillips says.
The Gilmore local says she isn’t phased by a contest against Mr Mundine.
“I am a mum, I’ve got four teenagers, I was born in the Gilmore electorate, I grew up on a dairy farm, I was a TAFE teacher and have really wide experience, it doesn’t worry me at all.”
The local political manoeuvrings within the Liberal Party come amidst the fog of the party’s axing of Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership last year and Mr Haslem is concerned this week’s events just compound poor perceptions.
“People vote against things, that’s going to be the catch for Mr Mundine,” Mr Haslem says.
“He is going to have to work his butt off.”
Eurobodalla Mayor, Cr Liz Innes says she hopes the best candidate for Gilmore rises to the surface.
“I say to people, keep a cool head, have a good look at the candidates, who is going to stand up for the local area?” Cr Innes says.
“I go back to my core values and look to what is in the best interest of the wider community. People need to become a little more engaged, go and take a look at their policies and make your own mind up.
That said, the Mayor thinks 2019 “might be the year of independents”.
“I am not sure how people will react to Mr Mundine being brought in, but I do think it’s unfortunate how he has been brought in.
“Ultimately the power sits with the people,” she says.
ABC election analyst Antony Green has described the switch to Mr Mundine as ‘odd’ and one that would probably hurt the Liberals’ chances.
“I do not think the Coalition have a better chance today than they did yesterday. They have made the issue a big issue in the local electorate now,” he said.
“They will lose a lot of foot soldiers if they have annoyed the local branches.”
The only thing missing now is an election date when voters will have the final say.