NSW Liberals reopen nominations in Warringah in race to find candidate to run against Zali Steggall | Liberal party

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The New South Wales Liberals have reopened nominations in the federal seat of Warringah as the beleaguered party attempts to find a candidate to run against the independent MP Zali Steggall.

The move comes after the state executive declined to back the only remaining nominee, Lincoln Parker, to contest the seat previously held by the former prime minister Tony Abbott.

Several other nominees have withdrawn, fearing that the failure of the party to hold a preselection has left far too little time for candidates to run a viable campaign against Steggall, who holds the sat with with a 7.3% margin.

The federal election must be held by May.

The decision to reopen nominations clears the way for the disabilities campaigner David Brady, who is backed by the moderate faction, to shift his political ambitions to the northern beaches seat instead of the NSW Senate race.

But Parker has told local branch members he will not bow out and will contest the preselection.

Parker, who is not factionally aligned, told colleagues that he did not believe the seat was “owned” by the left of the party, and he “was not giving up”.

If more than one person nominates, party rules require that there be a plebiscite which gives branch members the main say in who becomes the candidate. But the process laid out in the NSW Liberal party constitution takes weeks, and Steggall has already begun campaigning for re-election.

On Wednesday the state executive rejected a plan proposed by the party’s deputy director, Simon McInnes, to shorten the timetable for plebiscites and allow the actual meetings to be held as online “tele-town halls”.

Despite this, the NSW Liberal branch announced on Thursday that it would proceed with branch preselections via plebiscites using the longer timetable in Hughes, Parramatta and Eden Monaro.

The actual face-to-face presentations by candidates and the ballots were currently scheduled to be held some time between 28 March and 31 March, and work was under way to finalise who is eligible to vote in each seat.

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Under the party rules only people present at the in-person meetings can vote.

Some of the people who take part in the plebiscites, such as party officials, representatives of the leaders, and members of state executive need to be at more than one preselection, so they cannot be held at the same time.

But these dates are after the 25 March deadline set by the federal executive to resolve its long-running preselection delays.

The party closed nominations in some seats in May 2021, but has been unable to finalise the vetting process due to delays which some in the party believe have been engineered by factional leaders for their own ends.

It was unclear whether the Liberal party federal executive would regard the timetable as satisfactory.

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Some party members expressed open scepticism about whether the NSW division was serious about having plebiscites of branch members or whether it was just going through the motions prior to federal intervention.

A branch preselection in Hughes would mean that the right’s favoured candidate, Alex Dore, a former Young Liberal president, would not be eligible to run as he had not nominated. There were several other nominees in Hughes including the state MP for Holsworthy, Melanie Gibbons.

It was unclear how and when a preselection would take place in Warringah if there was more than one nominee.

The federal budget was due to be delivered on 29 March and the prime minister was expected to call the election soon after, leaving little time for newly endorsed candidates to become known in these key winnable electorates.