Sunday, 04 Dec 2022

Melbournes eastern suburbs are ground zero in battle for Liberal partys future

Melbournes eastern suburbs are ground zero in battle for Liberal partys future


Melbournes eastern suburbs are ground zero in battle for Liberal partys future

When the Victorian state Liberal MP John Pesutto lost the seat of Hawthorn to Labor in 2018, live on television, few at the time would have expected it was a harbinger for the party's federal fate four years later.

Hawthorn, in Melbourne's inner-east, sits entirely within the federal seat of Kooyong, where the independent Monique Ryan toppled the then treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in May. As the electorate of the Liberal party founder, Robert Menzies, Kooyong's loss prompted intense soul-searching within the party.

Had it veered "too far to the right", as the leading New South Wales moderate, Matt Kean, suggested? Or, as Tim Smith, the MP for the state seat of Kew, which also sits within Kooyong, wrote, did the party need to forgo "loud, entitled and privileged" voters of the inner-city and focus on the "true forgotten people" in the outer suburbs?

Pesutto, who is vying to reclaim Hawthorn at November's state election, is firmly in the first camp.

"I'm convinced we can win these seats. I'm not of that school of thought that says you pack up and leave," he told Guardian Australia.

Hawthorn and Kew, where Jess Wilson is running for the party after Smith was forced to resign following a drunken car crash, are considered vital to the Victorian Liberals, still reeling from their federal election rout.

Pesutto and Wilson, both self-described "small-l Liberals", are considered potential future leaders and there are fears that without them in the parliament the party will continue to narrow its base, hindering its ability to win elections.

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