They had one job.
With the retirement of local state MPs Jai Rowell and Chris Patterson, the Liberal Party had to choose, neatly and openly, the best possible new candidates for the seats of Wollondilly and Camden.
Why has it failed this task so spectacularly?
In Wollondilly, a backroom deal effectively sidelined local candidates, so a well-connected bloke from Sans Souci, in need of a seat, could be parachuted in.
In Camden, a somewhat sneaky tactic has installed a close ally of Mr Patterson as the next Liberal candidate – without having to face any genuine preselection process by local party faithful.
What a sham.
I reckon loyal local Liberal voters deserve better.
If the Berejiklian Government had set up a committee to find ways to treat Camden and Wollondilly with utter contempt, it could not have done a better job. It’s too late now to repair the insult to Wollondilly, but the Premier needs to step in to intervene in the Camden fiasco.
As I have railed about in many columns and front pages over the decades, it’s usually the ALP that serves as the lord high priests of the dodgy preselection process.
But credit where credit is due, Labor has drastically cleaned up its act in choosing candidates in recent years.
For example, Greg Warren in Campbelltown had to not only convince local ALP rank and file in an open ballot against challengers, but…
One name comes up again and again as a good Liberal candidate for Camden: Brett McGrath.
In a pioneering move, he also had to win a “community ballot”, where all Campbelltonians, not just party members, were asked to vote for the candidate they would most like see – in an attempt to select someone better than a slimy factional hack good at stacking branches.
Greg, a former soldier, won both ballots – and then, the seat. Fairly. Openly.
If the Libs had the balls to hold the same sort of “community ballot” in Wollondilly, do you think for a second Nathanial Smith, from the other side of Sydney, would have been chosen?
Not a chance. So, here’s hoping that Wollondilly Mayor Judy Hannan, running as an independent, can “chuck a Kerryn Phelps” in March and teach the Libs that the shire is not a doormat.
In the same vein, if a “community ballot” was held in Camden do you believe Peter Sidgreaves would be chosen by popular acclaim, particularly given that his notion of what constitutes a fair fight is not shared by many of us.
(Cr Sidgreaves could solve this entire fiasco by simply re-nominating, then running in a fair and open field against fellow Liberal nominees. But he refuses.)
Just to make it clear, these other nominees didn’t originally put their names forward because Chris Patterson had made it clear he was staying on. But Cr Sidgreaves seemed to have some sort of, um, sixth-sense knowledge that his ally was about to retire and made sure his own name was registered. Others without that, um, sixth-sense knowledge missed the boat.
A real pity, because one name that comes up again and again in local conservative circles as a preferred Liberal candidate for Camden is Brett McGrath.
The former head of the Macarthur Law Society and Macarthur’s volunteer of the year is intelligent, articulate, renowned for his honesty and decency, and the sort of candidate the Libs need.
But he, and other worthy nominees, are blocked from even putting their hands up.
Premier Berejiklian needs to step in personally to restore democracy to her party – and fair play to Camden.