Upper house president Bruce Atkinson is said to have been pressured to step aside for Mary Wooldridge. Photo: Michael Clayton-Jones
Denis Napthine’s bid to find a seat for Mary Wooldridge has hit a wall, after the premier failed to negotiate an upper house solution.
Two weeks after an unsuccessful push to install Ms Wooldridge in the plum seat of Kew, Dr Napthine has strenuously denied pressuring upper house president Bruce Atkinson to step aside to accommodate her.
The Age reported on Friday that Dr Napthine and his office met with Mr Atkinson and asked him not to contest his upper house seat of Eastern Metropolitan to enable Ms Wooldridge to take on the number two spot ahead of Thursday’s cabinet reshuffle.
Dr Napthine’s office confirmed a ‘‘routine’’ discussion had taken place, but said no pressure whatsoever had been exerted on Mr Atkinson.
Mr Atkinson, who is widely respected in the parliament, confirmed a meeting had taken place on Tuesday to discuss his future. He also confirmed he had stated his intention to contest the election, and later added he had felt no pressure from the premier’s office to step aside.
According to several sources, Mr Atkinson had appeared visibly upset in the chamber on Tuesday night following the meeting.
It follows a significant blow earlier this month after Dr Napthine declared Ms Wooldridge ‘‘will win’’ in Kew and that he needed her by his side in the cabinet.
Some Coalition MPs are angry about what they believe was a heavy-handed approach by Dr Napthine to accommodate Ms Wooldridge, who is in charge of the politically fraught community services portfolio.
The upper house electorate of Southern Metropolitan has also been considered following a decision by Andrea Coote, who holds the number two position in the seat, to retire at the election.
But the push has also been resisted, with Georgie Crozier, who holds the number three spot, expected to be elevated.
‘‘It shows the premier has learned nothing from Kew,’’ said one Coalition MP. ‘‘He should be focused on running the state in crucial areas like child protection and infrastructure.’’
Meanwhile, Liberal backbencher David Koch has announced he will not contest the November election, creating a vacancy in his upper house seat of Western Victoria. There is speculation that Ms Crozier could potentially be approached to contest that vacancy, opening up a position in the Southern Metropolitan electorate for Ms Wooldridge.
The latest headache for Dr Napthine follows a frontbench reshuffle which promoted five Coalition MPs into the cabinet, but failed to find a solution to accommodate Ms Wooldridge, whose existing seat of Doncaster is being abolished by the electoral commission.
The messy preselection process has added to already heightened tensions within the government. As a reported in The Age, a Liberal party room meeting during the week turned hostile, with former premier Ted Baillieu demanding a reassurance that his federal colleagues stay out of the preselection process and upper house MP Bernie Finn saying MPs with ‘‘nothing better to do’’ than spread rumours should retire.