Deputy Liberal leader Sussan Ley has escaped an ugly pre-selection contest after her challenger was rejected as a candidate by a powerful nomination review committee and a backer was expelled from the party.
The decision to block challenger Jean Haynes follows claims of a wild civil war in the regional seat including tit for tat expulsions and claims that a Liberal Party powerbroker had been “hiding in a forest in a ski mask”.
While Ms Ley was expected to trounce challenger Haynes with over 70 per cent of the vote, her nomination was blocked on Friday.
The nomination review committee includes former Liberal frontbencher Marise Payne, NSW Liberal Party President Jason Falinski, Chris Stone and the local FEC President.
On Friday night, Liberal Party figure Christian Ellis, who was involved in moves to unseat Ms Ley, was also expelled by the NSW Liberals for bringing the party into disrepute.
During the week, Mr Ellis’ political enemies highlighted a recent firearm charge that was heard in the Deniliquin local court on August 16,
Mr Ellis pleaded guilty, with no conviction recorded.
It follows a tit for tat round of expulsion motions in the Deniliquin branch of the party and complaints about the impact of all the unpleasantness on the “little old ladies of Deni,” the town that is home to the world-famous Deni Ute Muster.
According to party insiders, this has included attempts to expel a group of party veterans who are loyal supporters of Sussan Ley, some of whom are women in the 70s and 80s who have given up to 50 years of service to the party.
Simmering political tensions in the tiny town of Deniliquin, NSW had exploded in the wake of the challenge to Ms Ley’s preselection.
In an email sent to the Liberal Party executive announcing her candidacy, Ms Haynes said she had made the decision after “much reflection and consultation with my family”.
“I have decided to nominate for the federal state of Farrer,’’ she said.
“In order to do so our Constitution requires my resignation from the state executive.
“It has been a privilege to take part in the governance of the party and I’ve learned a great deal in the process.”
But in an extraordinary string of emails sent to news.com.au, penned by local councillor Shirlee Burge, demanded action over political unrest in the electorate.
She has previously told Parliament of a reported sighting in which Mr Ellis was potentially seen driving a vehicle linked to him, while “wearing a ski mask”.
“I believe he has been hiding out in the forest because there have been sightings of him driving a vehicle known to be his but wearing a mask,” Ms Burge told an NSW upper house inquiry.
In another email to the NSW Liberal Party President Chris Stone, Ms Burge complains nobody at Liberal HQ is listening to her.
“Your receptionist said you had a meeting tonight and were so busy !!,’’ she wrote.
“I hope you enjoy the meeting and while at it have a good look at the quality or lack of that will probably keep Labor in power in NSW for at least 25 years. Have a great day.”
A NSW upper house inquiry has previously heard evidence that a local Liberal powerbroker Christian Ellis had purchased several properties in the Deniliquin region, and owned a property worth over $2m in Sydney.
Ms Haynes and Mr Falinski were contacted for comment.
Party sources confirmed the Liberal Party State director used campaign powers to suspend Ms Haynes for 90 days.
As a result, she cannot proceed to ballot for preselection
Last month, news.com.au revealed that Ms Ley was set to be challenged in a move described as “factional skulduggery”
It’s highly unusual for a Liberal frontbencher — let alone the acting leader — to be challenged.