The Victorian Liberal Party will not run a candidate in the inner-Melbourne seat of Richmond, delivering a setback to Labor’s campaign to defend the once-safe seat from a Greens challenge.
The party had been deliberating on whether it should field candidates in four inner-city seats, where Labor and the Greens are going head-to-head.
The Labor-held seats of Richmond and Brunswick and the Greens-held seats of Melbourne and Northcote were absent from a list of nominations the Liberal Party lodged with the Victorian Electoral Commission.
A message sent to Liberal Party members today by Opposition Leader Matthew Guy and state president Michael Kroger said it would run candidates in Melbourne, Northcote and Brunswick.
But it said the party had decided not to contest Richmond, held by Planning Minister Richard Wynne, because of his involvement in the red shirts scandal.
“Our first principle is that Richard Wynne was involved in the red shirts rort and it would be contrary to our principles to assist in his re-election, given our view that he should have already resigned from Parliament,” the message said.
“Our second principle is that the Liberal Party is not a preference machine for the Labor Party. The days of us simply handing votes to Labor are over.”
Traditionally the Liberal Party has run candidates in unwinnable inner-city seats and preferenced the ALP ahead of the Greens, which helped Labor hold off the minor party.
Red shirts worked in Richmond in 2014
The red shirts rort involved Labor paying $388,000 for election field organisers out of the parliamentary purse during the 2014 campaign.
Members in safe seats hired electorate officers to work in marginal seats, under an arrangement that the state Ombudsman found was wrong.
Labor repaid the money, but a police investigation is ongoing.
The Ombudsman’s investigation found 21 Labor MPs, including six ministers, had misused their parliamentary entitlements by signing off on timesheets for the field organisers.
However, Richard Wynne was not among them.
Mr Wynne was one of the MPs who had field organisers sent to work in their electorates.
Richmond ‘challenging’ for Labor
Of the four inner-city Labor-Greens contests, Richmond was considered Labor’s best chance of defeating the minor party.
Mr Wynne has been the member for Richmond since 1999 has a high profile in the seat.
Some in Labor said the party had been preparing for some time for the Liberal Party to vacate the Richmond contest, and a senior party source today played down the development, saying the seat had long been “challenging” to hold.
“Nothing changes for us,” the source said.
Mr Wynne issued a statement accusing the Liberal Party of turning their backs on their supporters in Richmond.
“I’m focused on doing what I’ve done for the past 19 years — and that’s knocking on as many doors as I can and talking to as many Richmond locals as I can about what matters to them, and sticking up for them when it matters most,” he said.”
“In Richmond, the choice couldn’t be clearer — it’s between a Labor Government that has always put the community first, the most progressive government in the country, or the Greens political party, who talk a lot but have delivered nothing.”
Matthew Guy said he hoped Liberal supporters would understand the party’s decision. (ABC News: Stephanie Anderson)
The Greens candidate for Richmond, Kathleen Maltzahn, tweeted that the Liberal Party decision was “a blow to Labor” and that Mr Wynne “depends entirely on Liberal preferences for power”.
“It doesn’t matter to us if we’re running against just Labor or Labor and the Liberals — on planning, on coal, on crime, on forests, there’s no daylight between them. The Greens are the real opposition,” she tweeted.
Safe injecting room advocate Judy Ryan is also running in Richmond for the Reason Party, led by Fiona Patten.
The ABC understands that Reason, which could soak up some moderate Liberal voters in the seat, is likely to preference Mr Wynne ahead of Ms Maltzahn, whose views on sex workers have caused tensions within the Greens.
Ms Maltzahn had been a longtime advocate of the Nordic model of criminalising sex work, under which the illegal act is the purchase of sex rather than the selling of sexual services.
But in May, after the Liberal Party adopted the Nordic model as its policy, Ms Maltzahn promised that if she was elected she would vote against the Nordic model in Parliament, describing the Coalition’s agenda as “anti-women”.
Earlier today Mr Guy said he trusted Liberals voters would understand the party’s decisions about fielding candidates.
“I hope that all Liberal voters would understand that we are doing what is right for the Liberal Party to get a government for all of Victoria that can govern for the longer term interests of Victoria,” he said.