Dave Sharma’s shock preselection win secures Liberal Senate spot

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Former Wentworth MP Dave Sharma has secured a shock preselection victory to enter the Senate after coming out on top of a hotly contested preselection race for the Liberal Party’s vacancy.

A firm outsider after his own moderate faction threw its support behind former NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance, Sharma emerged from Sunday’s preselection ballot victorious after an hours-long process which included a delay after the technology used to run the vote crashed as pre-selectors tried to cast their ballots.

Former Wentworth MP Dave Sharma.Credit: Dominic Lorrimer

In the end, Sharma will enter the Senate on his second attempt after he defeated Constance by 295 to 206 in the final round of voting.

About 500 delegates turned up to Sydney’s Fullerton Hotel on Sunday for the vote to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of former foreign affairs minister and moderate powerbroker Marise Payne.

Despite Sharma being from the same faction, the result is a shock for the moderate powerbase, and is a devastating blow for Constance’s federal political ambitions. It comes just six months after he was also defeated by former Liberal Party state president Maria Kovacic to fill the spot left following the death of former senator Jim Molan.

The race to fill Payne’s Senate spot set off a complicated factional tangle which saw nine candidates vying to win the seat. The list included a string of high-profile Liberals, including former ACT senator Zed Seselja, Sharma and Constance.

Seselja enjoyed the support of the party’s hard right and won endorsement from federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, while Constance was formally backed by the bulk of the dominant moderate faction, including Payne.

However, senior Liberal Party sources said after the vote that Constance’s loss was likely the result of preference flows away from him.

The vote, though, was complicated by support for former NSW premier Dominic Perrottet’s one-time chief policy advisor, Monica Tudehope.

Tudehope, the daughter of former NSW finance minister and upper house MP Damien Tudehope, was supported by Perrottet, who released a video in the lead-up to the vote calling her the party’s “future”, and his former chief of staff turned Business Council of Australia chief Bran Black.

Her candidacy also won support from some sections of the party’s moderates, including the group Hilma’s Network, which seeks to promote more female MPs in the Liberal Party’s ranks, meaning the final result remained uncertain as preselectors began voting on Sunday afternoon.

Seselja’s defeat is blow for the party’s conservative faction after he was heavily backed by Dutton, as well as Tony Abbott and current Liberal frontbenchers Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, Andrew Hastie and Angus Taylor.

A former minister for the pacific under Scott Morrison, Seselja’s nomination ruffled some feathers within the NSW division of the party after he previously served as leader of the opposition in the ACT and as a senator from the Territory.

The crowded field included former RSL NSW president James Brown, and lesser-known candidates including the Lowy Institute researcher Jess Collins, barrister Ishita Sethi, lawyer Pallavi Sinha and solicitor Nim Rutnam.

It made for a long afternoon in which candidates pitched themselves to delegates before a question and answer session, followed by a preferential vote, which was delayed when the online server used to conduct the ballot crashed.

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