Liberal alarm over Kew fundraising push

Liberal alarm over Kew fundraising push


A Liberal preselection tussle over the now-marginal state seat of Kew is coming to a head, with front-runner David Davis accused of ranking last among his shadow cabinet colleagues as a political fundraiser during the last election.

Party strategists fear the seat is now on a knife edge, after a 5 per cent swing against the party in 2014, and a further 5.9 per cent swing against it in 2018.

Kew MP Tim Smith, who will quit politics following a drink-driving incident.Credit:Justin McManus

An October 2021 redrawing of electoral boundaries means Kew – once considered a Liberal stronghold – is notionally held by just 4.5 per cent, making it a marginal seat.

Ahead of a local vote on Saturday to pick a candidate to contest the 2022 election, a leaked internal spreadsheet from Liberal Campaign Headquarters obtained by The Age shows Mr Davis at the bottom of a fundraising league table of Liberal Party shadow ministers during the 2018 state election campaign.

Much of the money raised was used to help pay for an American voter data harvesting system, known as i360.

The political software, developed in the United States for the Republican Party, was ultimately abandoned, but not before shadow ministers collected hundreds of thousands of dollars from Victorian supporters to help pay for it.

The confidential league table, from the Liberal Party’s campaign headquarters, shows Opposition Leader Matthew Guy was the biggest fundraiser before the 2018 poll, contributing $816,750.

Caulfield MP David Southwick came second, banking $434,818 for the party, followed by Michael O’Brien, who raised $208,250.

Kew incumbent Tim Smith, who is vacating the seat after crashing his car while drink-driving, came fourth, raising $205,000. Mr Smith is a polarising figure in the party, but even his opponents acknowledge he has been an extremely successful fundraiser. New disclosure rules show that during the 2021 financial year he was the party’s most successful fundraiser, raking in $101,000 through his fundraising outfit, the Kew 500 Club.

Mr Davis, who is believed to be favoured by Mr Smith to take over, contributed $10,000.

Liberal Party rules prevent members from commenting on preselection contests. But behind the scenes, some senior Liberals have raised concerns Mr Davis will be unable to deliver the “serious dollars” they believe will be needed to hold the seat.

The opposition’s leader in the upper house, David Davis, during the recent marathon debate on the pandemic bill.Credit:Joe Armao

Jess Wilson is a contender for Liberal preselection in the once-safe seat of Kew.Credit:Victorian Young Liberals/Twitter

They are also concerned he will appear as a stale choice in a seat with changing demography, with growing numbers of relatively young professional working families moving into the area.

However, others are adamant that Mr Davis, who is currently the opposition’s leader in the upper house, has the experience, local background and strategic skills to retain the crucial seat.

Mr Davis declined to comment, in line with party preselection rules. The fundraising spreadsheet has been circulated by opponents who say a fresh approach will be needed if the crucial seat is to be retained.

Mr Davis, elected to State Parliament’s upper house about 25 years ago, is seen by some as an adept political strategist.

In his confidential application of endorsement, he listed his ability to use the upper house “as a political weapon” as a major career achievement.

He also draws on his experience.

“As an experienced Upper House member, I understand how to work with Lower House fundraising campaigns to support these while working on separate but synergistic fundraising for the Upper House,” Mr Davis says.

Another leading contender in the preselection battle is the Business Council of Australia’s policy director Jess Wilson, who is backed by her former boss, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, and is also close to federal Liberal senator James Paterson.

The ballot will also be contested by Victoria Police acting senior sergeant Felicity Sinfield, construction firm executive Lucas Moon, lawyer Monica Clark and construction manager Michael Sabljak.

A poll of 920 Kew voters undertaken by political analysis company RedBridge in early November, shortly after Mr Smith’s drink-driving incident, put the Liberal Party’s primary vote in the seat on 36 per cent (down from 49 per cent in 2018), compared to about 29 per cent for Labor, 12 per cent for the Greens and 9.3 per cent for a strong independent.

RedBridge director Kosmos Samaras suggested a two-party preferred voted was tied at 50-50.

Overall, climate change was identified as the single biggest issue, although not among Liberal voters.

The polling also suggested the selection of a female candidate would be unlikely to make a big difference to most voters in the electorate. Some 70 per cent of the people who identified as Liberal voters said the selection of more women would not make a difference to their vote.

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