Liberals have raised fears the woman chosen to replace Kelly O’Dwyer is a “flight risk” to join the crossbench because she only joined the party to run in a Victorian seat at the 2018 election.
Respected paediatrician Dr Katie Allen joined the party two years ago and later ran unsuccessfully for the Liberals in the state seat of Prahran, where she was trounced by the Greens.
Insiders say she distinguished herself for her intelligence and perhaps more concerning for party strategists – an independent streak.
In the final-round preselection contest between Ms Allen and Greg Hannan on Sunday, she beat him 158 votes to 115. The seat was held by Ms O’Dwyer at the last election on a margin of 9.9 per cent.
Prior to the weekend preselection, several MPs, including a cabinet minister, raised concerns with The New Daily that Ms Allen could be “the next Julia Banks”, a reference to the recruit who ratted on the party and now sits as an independent.
“I suspect there’s a high risk she’s a flight risk,” a Liberal said.
But another Liberal MP said: “It’s less that she’s a flight risk. It’s more that she’s a discipline risk. She’s a doctor and she’s very confident of her own opinions.”
Supporters insisted the “flight risk” tag was a product of her opponents in the fiercely contested preselection.
“They bashed Katie as the new Julia Banks. They ran that very hard. And it didn’t work,” a senior Liberal said.
Dr Allen told The New Daily on Sunday she was unable to discuss her candidacy in detail until she is endorsed by the state executive but was grateful for the support of preselectors.
“I am humbled and honoured to be the preselection for the Liberal Party,” she told The New Daily.
“I want to work hard for the people of Higgins in order to be their authentic voice in Parliament.”
— Dr Katie Allen (@Katie4Prahran) June 15, 2018
Ms O’Dwyer congratulated Dr Allen as an outstanding candidate.
“As a doctor she’s cared for so many people in our local community and, as our pre-selected candidate, she will be working hard for every single member each and every day and caring for them in that very same way,” Ms O’Dwyer said.
Dr Allen showed her independent streak during the 2017 poll by running dead on the “African gangs” the state Liberals campaigned on, which insiders say would never work in “progressive Prahran”.
On social media, she has criticised the approach, praising an opinion piece in The Spectator that said: “Victorian voters turned up their noses at (former state leader) Matthew Guy’s reactionary racial dog whistling. We are no longer a nation easily at fear of foreign nationals or cultural diversity. Endless sloganeering on ‘African gangs’ and cultural security offered no match for Daniel Andrews’ undeniable record of infrastructure delivery.”
Dr Allen described the piece as “sensible, considered commentary”.
The article she endorsed, by Tom Akhurst, went on to say: “Reactionaries miss the mark on many fronts. Australians are by no means raving feminists, but they certainly accept a woman’s equal entitlement to the workplace. Where Abbott would have ‘the housewives of Australia … understand as they do the ironing’, Turnbull initiated the ‘disrespect is where all violence against women starts’ campaign.”
Dr Allen beat a Melbourne Cup field of eight candidates including NBN board member Zoe McKenzie, who was regarded as a frontrunner, Victorian state upper MP Margaret Fitzherbert, Jane Bell, Michael Flynn, Jeremy Hearn, Karen Massier and Mr Hannan.
Despite the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the outgoing Ms O’Dwyer urging preselectors to choose a woman, Mr Hannan came close to securing the blue-ribbon seat.
The concerns that a woman would again fail to secure a safe Liberal seat followed the preselection over the weekend of former soldier Vince Connelly, who once worked for Julie Bishop, who secured preselection for retiring MP Michael Keenan as the Liberal candidate for the Western Australian seat of Stirling.