Federal Politics


Pyne staffer joins the fight for Philip Ruddock's seat of Berowra

An Afghanistan war veteran who now works for Christopher Pyne is taking on the factional forces of the NSW Liberal Party for Philip Ruddock's Sydney seat of Berowra.

John Bathgate, a former adviser to Mr Ruddock, is a surprise inclusion in preselection for the blue-ribbon Liberal seat.

More News Videos

Liberal civil war moves to Berowra

With Philip Ruddock's retirement, his seat of Berowra is set to become the latest in a series of pre-selection battles. Fairfax's Heath Aston explains.

Factional players have dismissed his challenge as doomed, saying Julian Leeser, considered Mr Ruddock's longtime heir apparent, has the numbers locked up with the backing of the left, centre right and hard right factions.

"Party members in Berowra would not be able to pick John Bathgate out of a police line-up," said one senior Liberal.

John Bathgate, a former soldier who will contest preselection for Philip Ruddock's seat of Berowra.
John Bathgate, a former soldier who will contest preselection for Philip Ruddock's seat of Berowra.  

Mr Bathgate will start at a distinct disadvantage, with 48 of the 120-odd preselectors to be drawn from the highly-factionalised Liberal state executive and state council.

Mr Leeser, a member of the centre right who worked for Mr Ruddock during his time as Attorney-General, has been building his profile in the Liberal branches of Berowra and was rumoured to have the numbers to roll Mr Ruddock if the veteran Liberal did not step aside this year.


Mr Ruddock announced this month that he would quit Parliament after 43 years to become Australia's first special envoy for human rights.

So far, he has not publicly endorsed a successor and Mr Bathgate will be hoping to attract the votes of preselectors who would have backed Mr Ruddock over Mr Leeser.

A source familiar with Mr Bathgate said Mr Leeser's numbers are "softer" than his backers, including the state MP for Hornsby, Matt Kean, would like to admit.

But a factional player laughed off that suggestion. "He has no connection to the local area, no connection to the local branches and not much connection with the NSW Liberal Party. You don't just lob up and ask for one of the safest seats in the country," the source said.

Mr Bathgate, a NSW Liberal Party member of eight years, was a parliamentary tactician for Mr Pyne in his role as Leader of the House since 2013 but more recently became a policy adviser on innovation.

His father, Liam Bathgate, was a one-time director of the National Party and went on to work for former premier Barry O'Farrell as his chief of staff.

Before working for Mr Ruddock, John Bathgate served two tours in Afghanistan for the Australian and British armies.

A fortnight ago, he began renting a house in Hornsby, inside Berowra.

Mr Bathgate and Mr Leeser were unable to comment due to preselection rules that forbid candidates talking to the media.

Nominations for safe Liberal seats close at 5pm on Friday.

As revealed by Fairfax Media on Monday, Bronwyn Bishop is facing a challenge by one of Tony Abbott's closest allies, Walter Villatora, for her seat of Mackellar.

Follow us on Twitter