Frydenberg chooses candidate to back in Aston byelection

Former treasurer Josh Frydenberg is backing barrister Roshena Campbell to replace Alan Tudge in the eastern suburbs seat of Aston.

Frydenberg was rumoured to be interested in Tudge’s seat, and would have had a powerful claim to snaring it, but quickly ruled it out and has thrown his weight behind Campbell, a Melbourne City councillor who has failed in a previous preselection battle but is respected by moderates and conservatives and viewed as well-credentialed.

Former treasurer Josh Frydenberg will provide a character reference for Roshena Campbell, inset.Credit:Wayne Taylor

Two senior Liberal sources, who were not authorised to speak publicly because Campbell had not yet submitted her nomination, said the 38-year-old would nominate before Thursday’s cut-off with the likely support of two other Victorian Liberals, senator James Paterson and first-term MP Keith Wolahan.

Frydenberg – who is weighing up a re-run in Kooyong, the seat he lost to independent Monique Ryan – will provide a character reference for Campbell, sources familiar with her bid said, marking an influential endorsement for the hotly contested preselection.

Tudge said last week he was quitting politics due to the personal toll on his family prompted by a series of political scandals. He vacates the outer-suburban Melbourne seat held by the Liberals with a margin of just 2.8 per cent after a massive 11.6 per cent primary vote reduction at the last election.

Labor plans to campaign hard to win the byelection and increase its majority in the lower house to two seats. Party strategists believe Opposition Leader Peter Dutton is an unpopular figure in Victoria because of previous inflammatory comments about African street crime leaving Melbourne residents scared to go out to dinner and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party, which some say turned off ethnically Chinese Australian voters. Almost 15 per cent of Aston electors have Chinese heritage.

Longtime Liberal figure Emanuele Cicchiello is expected to stand and former state MP Cathrine Burnett-Wake has also put up her hand for Aston. Healthcare leader Amy Bach has been mooted as a candidate. Dr Mary Wang, who has mainland Chinese heritage, is also being encouraged to stand, as is Nicole Ta-Ei Werner, who recently ran for the Liberal Party in the state seat of Box Hill and is ethnically Chinese.

Outspoken former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett is backing Ranjana Srivastava, an oncologist, Guardian columnist and Fulbright scholar. “I have been very disappointed the party has gone for traditional white males when you have a woman of international standing, who exudes all the principles of hard work, of family, of the Liberal Party, who would bring extraordinary experience into the parliament,” he said.

Dutton, Dan Tehan and other senior Liberals have called for a woman to run for the party, but securing this outcome may not be straightforward. There had been speculation that the party’s central decision-making body would pick the nominee itself and install a woman, which would likely have been barrister Campbell, who has an Indian background.

But Victorian division president Greg Mirabella said he expected an open preselection would be conducted involving hundreds of local party members having their say, making the outcome less predictable and opening the door to Aston branch members picking a man. If the government set the date for the byelection in late March or early April, it may force the party to make a top-down decision.

“We expect to follow our normal procedure, but if the AEC gives us only 33 days [the minimum notice it is required to give], we may have to consider shortening the process,” Mirabella said.

Campbell’s ability to win an open preselection in Aston, where she does not live, is increased by the support of Aston branch secretary Michael Gilmour, who has significant support among the region’s conservative membership. This group will be key to deciding the successful candidate.

The most likely Labor candidate is Mary Doyle, the unionist who was Labor’s candidate at the last election. Labor sources not authorised to speak publicly said they would consider a different candidate if they were backed by a union, which would draw campaign funds from the union, or a high-profile candidate with strong name recognition.

These Labor sources said the party favoured a shorter campaign, meaning a byelection date in April was more likely than a time after the May budget.

Kennett said he believed the party could hang on to the seat and while the timing of Tudge’s exit was not ideal, it was important the outgoing member prioritised his mental health.

Several senior Liberal sources expressed frustration about the timing of Tudge’s resignation after the party stood by him as he encountered periods of political turmoil.

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