Turnbull government assistant minister Jane Prentice will lose her place in Parliament at the next federal election after failing to win a preselection contest that points to bitter divisions in the Liberal Party.
Ms Prentice, a moderate widely identified as backing the Prime Minister in the party room coup that ousted Tony Abbott, was rewarded for her loyalty in 2016 when elevated from the back bench as Assistant Minister for Social Services and Disability Services.
Her former staff member, Brisbane City councillor Julian Simmonds, was instead chosen as the Liberal National Party’s candidate for the Queensland seat of Ryan on Saturday by a two-to-one margin among the 350 party members who voted.
Ms Prentice has been the LNP’s MP for Ryan – a safe LNP seat in Brisbane’s western suburbs – since 2010 after a decade serving on the Brisbane City Council.
No sooner had the vote been announced than the ideological rifts within the Liberal Party became blindingly obvious.
Fellow Liberal Michelle Landry, who represents the seat of Capricornia in central Queensland, said she was “appalled” by her fellow party members’ decision to evict Ms Prentice.
“We’ve hardly got any federal females in Queensland in government, and one has been pushed aside for a young male,” she told the ABC as shockwaves from the decision rippled through the state and throughout the country.
“I’ve had young females in the party call me up and say ‘We’re going to resign.”
“We’ve got to build more women into the party. We’ve got to get more women into political positions so that we have as much power as the men do.
“Enough is enough and I’m just really upset by the whole thing,” she said.
In Victoria, where the state Liberal Party has been a recent battleground between ultra-conservatives and moderates, a veteran political operative who asked not to be named, put it like this:
“The resentment for what Malcolm did to Abbott has never really gone away – in fact it has grown worse with every losing Newspoll,” he said.
“In Queensland, where the Libs and Nats are one party, the conservative faction is more open and more vocal.
“What we just heard was a cry of revolt.”
The most telling aspect of the preselection contest, he said, was that Mr Simmonds was not an obvious Abbott supporter and something of a moderate himself.
As political observers scratched their heads to recall any previous front-bencher who had been ousted in a preselection battle, the victorious Mr Simmonds said he was “very pleased” to have been picked and would be “standing up and fighting for our area”.
Ms Prentice’s fellow Queenslander, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, defended the preselection process, denying that gender was a factor in the decision.
“We have a 100 per cent commitment to getting more women into politics, but equally we have a democratic process,” Mr Dutton said.
“The members … have looked at the merits of each candidate and have decided that Julian is best placed to represent the seat of Ryan.
“They do that because he’s an energetic person. He’s somebody who’s demonstrated his capacity to deliver for local residents in the western suburbs.”
LNP president Gary Spence thanked Ms Prentice for being a “faithful servant”.
“[She] has our thanks and gratitude for a lifetime of support for the Liberal Party and LNP,” he said.
“We expect that her role as the assistant minister for social services and disability services will continue until the election, especially given the fantastic work that she is doing with the NDIS.”
Queensland Labor senator Murray Watt said he sorry to see Ms Prentice booted by her own party.
“A hard working, caring member – one of the few remaining moderates (and women!) they had left,” he tweeted on Saturday.
Fellow Labor MP Andrew Giles said Ms Prentice was a “thoughtful, decent and thoroughly competent Liberal”.
“That there’s no space for her views speaks volumes to the sad state of the LNP,” he wrote on Twitter.