Horsham Liberal Party members angry, disillusioned| Lowan Election

HORSHAM Liberal Party members are angry and disillusioned about an agreement blocking a Liberal candidate from contesting Lowan at this year’s state election.

They have asked the Victorian Liberal Party’s State Council to immediately withdraw from the agreement and support the fielding of Liberal candidates in vacant seats.

In 2010, Liberal leader Ted Baillieu and Nationals leader Peter Ryan agreed not to run candidates against their Coalition partners in the event of a sitting member retiring.

Following Hugh Delahunty’s announcement that he would not recontest Lowan for the Nationals at the November state election, the Liberal Party confirmed it would honour the Baillieu-Ryan agreement.

Senior Horsham Liberal Howard Rodda said that after 65 years of Liberal Party membership he was extremely disappointed he would not get the chance to vote for a Liberal candidate in November’s election.

“I feel the same feeling that most Liberal supporters are feeling – we’re let down by it,” he said. 

“We’ve been disenfranchised and that’s what Liberal Party members are feeling.

“What’s the point of belonging to the party if you can’t vote for a candidate?”

“We’ve been disenfranchised and that’s what Liberal Party members are feeling. What’s the point of belonging to the party if you can’t vote for a candidate?” - Horsham Liberal Howard Rodda

Mr Rodda said after a Liberal candidate ran in Mallee at last year’s federal election, Liberal voters were looking forward to the chance to vote for a candidate at state level.

“We were looking forward to being allowed to contest this election but apparently we’ve been bypassed by the state executive, so our supporters are very disillusioned.”

Horsham Liberal Party branch president Barry Crewther said he had made a submission on behalf of the branch to the Liberal Party State Council to overturn the decision and allow them to field a candidate.

State Council sits on April 12 and 13, but Mr Crewther said he held little hope the submission would succeed.

Jim McCabe of Dimboola was the last Liberal to hold Lowan until he was narrowly defeated by the Nationals’ Bill McGrath at the 1979 election.

Mr McCabe said he was concerned the decision would lessen the value of Liberal Party membership in the electorate, with the potential to cause long-term damage to the party.

“I am very disappointed about that, there’s no way being a Liberal Party member in Lowan is of any value if there’s no candidate,” he said.

“The party is let down by the agreement, which was totally unnecessary.”

Both Mr Crewther and Mr Rodda said they were concerned the emergence of fringe right-wing parties – such as Katter’s Australian Party and the Palmer United Party – could erode primary votes from the Coalition, which otherwise would have gone to the Liberal Party.

Mr Crewther said party members had been denied the chance to vote for a Liberal candidate by an undemocratic decision. 

“There are people within the party who are very vocal and certainly upset that it’s gone the way it has and basically their natural right of justice to be able to vote for their own candidate in a vacant seat is being denied to them.”

Member for Lowan Hugh Delahunty declined to comment.

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