Right-wing Liberal backbencher Kevin Andrews – the father of the House of Representatives – has lost preselection to a barrister and former special forces veteran who served in Afghanistan.
Keith Wolahan, 43, defeated Andrews, 65, who held a number of portfolios in the Howard and Abbott governments, by 181 to 111 for the blue ribbon Victorian seat of Menzies, which Andrews has occupied since he won it at a byelection in 1991.
This was the first time in decades that a federal member has lost a preselection ballot in Victoria.
His defeat is a blow for the Liberal conservatives, who campaigned hard to shore him up, and will hearten the local Liberal critics of outspoken NSW right-winger Craig Kelly, who has been a thorn in the government’s side over COVID and a hardliner on climate issues.
Kelly confirmed to The Conversation on Sunday night that he was seeking another term and was “absolutely confident” he would have Scott Morrison’s support and that of “all my colleagues”.
Andrews has been a strongly conservative voice on issues ranging from euthanasia and abortion to climate change, and also a player in leadership battles. His last ministerial post was in the defence portfolio in the Abbott government, a job he lost when Malcolm Turnbull became leader.
In the Howard years Andrews introduced the private member’s bill that quashed the Northern Territory’s euthanasia law.
Andrews had endorsements from Morrison, John Howard and Tony Abbott, as well as from a raft of ministerial colleagues, including the deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg. In his letter of endorsement Morrison wrote that Andrews “provides wise counsel to ministers and colleagues, including myself”.
But the result shows that high profile endorsements don’t always impress locals – the Menzies preselectors responded to the call for renewal at the centre of Wolahan’s campaign. It is an embarrassment particularly for Assistant Treasurer and Victorian conservative faction leader Michael Sukkar.
Wolahan has a master’s degree in international relations from the University of Cambridge, as well as degrees from Monash and Melbourne universities. He was an army reserve commando – he did not serve in the regular army.
He said after the result: “Today was a vote by the members for the future”.
Frydenberg said: “Today the Liberal Party in the seat of Menzies has started a new chapter”.
Before the ballot Liberal sources had predicted a close result that could go either way – the size of the margin was a surprise.