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Premier Denis Napthine's intervention on Mary Wooldridge backfires and there's no Plan B

Defeated: Mary Wooldridge.

Defeated: Mary Wooldridge. Photo: Jason South

ANALYSIS

Over the past weeks Premier Denis Napthine has been asked what Plan B was for senior cabinet minister Mary Wooldridge should she lose preselection in Kew to Tim Smith.

''She will win preselection,'' a confident Premier frequently told the Spring Street press pack.

A Plan B was never discussed or even flagged. The Premier also took the unusual step of actively campaigning for Wooldridge, writing to branch members saying she was ''vital'' to his team.

It was a high-stakes gamble for Napthine to intervene in local matters, and it has embarrassingly backfired. Many say his intervention drove votes to Smith. Now the Premier has a minister - one of the best in a team lacking widespread firepower - without a seat.

This week, instead of concentrating on trying to sell the government's message nine months out from an election - this weekend's Age/Nielsen poll found the Coalition trailing Labor 47-53 - Napthine and his team will be asked what is next for Wooldridge.

It is yet another unwelcome distraction. As one senior member of the government bluntly put it: ''It's a bloody awful result.''

The public's eyes too often have been turned away from the government's agenda of building infrastructure and managing the budget by Liberal-turned-independent Geoff Shaw's domination of the political cycle and the parliamentary chaos that has followed.

With locals overwhelmingly backing Smith, there are also questions about Napthine's authority within the party, with branch members ignoring his, and his government's, plea for Wooldridge to succeed over Smith for the sake of the Coalition's re-election chances in November.

Questions have also been raised about the broader state of the Liberal Party, which Napthine will no doubt be hounded about, including the interference of factional powerbrokers and the influence of federal MPs.

Wooldridge is also the most prominent female member of the government and her loss has again highlighted issues about female representation on the Liberal side of politics.

Already senior women in the party have lashed the decision by locals; one told Fairfax Media that it was clear some men could not recognise Wooldridge's talents.

The May budget is sure to be full of big-ticket items ahead of the November election and the government has indicated it has ''a lot of good things'' to announce.

So the challenge for Napthine and his team is to put yet another distraction aside and focus on selling their agenda.

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