Liberal Senator Gary Humphries has said a few times during the past few months that he has never taken his preselection for granted.
A bid for his Senate seat by Canberra Liberals leader Zed Seselja has been the worst-kept secret in the territory even before October’s election.
But Humphries has done very little, until the 11thhour, to shore up his numbers. Even with the enemy banging down the gate, he didn’t do much.
The Canberra Times heard tell in January that Humphries was making phone calls here and there to supporters to ensure he could rely on their vote in the event of a challenge.
Seselja, his brother-in-law and former chief-of-staff Steve Doyle and their good friend, ACT party president Tio Faulkner, have been working effectively and energetically for years to seal their grip on the party machinery.
Humphries and other moderates have been sidelined and marginalised, it’s true, but few put up much of a fight.
Take Wednesday night’s meeting of the powerful management committee. There are maybe three people on that 13-member committee who might have voted to grant Humphries’ request to reopen the qualifying period for preselectors. And one of those was Humphries himself.
Most of the committee is loyal, to some degree or another, to Seselja, his entourage or ally-of-convenience Alistair Coe.
But loyalty aside, it is not unreasonable for committee members to have taken the view that if a party member has not rocked up to a meeting for six months, they have no business voting in a preselection, particularly when there was a very hard-fought election just three months ago.
Yes, it is true there was plenty of politics in Seselja’s manoeuvres, but the allegations of dirty tricks are just allegations.
Seselja’s critics seem to believe that some form of chivalric code has been breached, but Zed has every right to use his influence in the party – as long as it is within the rules – to maximise his chances of success in the preselection poll, and he is perfectly entitled to challenge a senator who will have been around for four terms come September.
Humphries made enemies in the CanberraLiberals before the 2004 territory election by backing a young hopeful called Zed Seselja into preselection in the Molonglo electorate, running the numbers, working the phones. So if a breach of faith exists, then there it is.
Now, Humphries has made common cause with former party president and long-time Seselja critic Gary Kent to try to challenge the validity of the process. The two men have never had much time for each other but politics, strange bedfellows and all that.
Humphries is challenging the process because he knows it is his only hope.
Many of the Liberal foot soldiers who fought so enthusiastically for Seselja in October are signed-up and card-carrying preselectors, as are large numbers of the party’s youth movement, marshalled by Coe.
Humphries’ supporters and Seselja’s enemies, like the senator himself, have been complacent and disengaged from internal politics and have been easy to outmanoeuvre. If Humphries or Kent cannot find a way to make their constitutional case stick, then the senator is toast and it is his own fault.