Influential Tasmanian Liberal powerbroker Eric Abetz has been demoted to third place on the party’s senate ticket in a shock preselection vote.
It could signal the end of Senator Abetz’s almost three-decade senate career, given that third place on the ticket is difficult to win.
Mr Abetz lost votes to outer ministry Senate colleague Jonno Duniam in first place, and Senator Wendy Askew in second.
It was widely speculated that Senators Abetz and Duniam would take the top two positions at the next federal election, with Senator Askew in third.
If the votes are anything like they were at the 2019 federal election, this means the sixth Senate seat for Tassie is a two-way choice between Eric Abetz and the Jacqui Lambie Network. https://t.co/FpAUYqCTyB
— Jacqui Lambie (@JacquiLambie) May 8, 2021
Tasmanian electoral analyst Kevin Bonham said Senator Abetz’s seat was not unwinnable at the next poll, but he was in a risky position.
“Ever since he got into the Senate he’s been top of the ticket,” Mr Bonham told AAP.
“There’s never been any direct test of his popularity and now he has to actually fight for votes for the party as well as himself.”
Considerations that could have swayed the 67 rank-and-file members who cast votes in the preselection, Mr Bonham said, were that Senator Abetz has long been a politically controversial figure, that he is close to retirement age and that it would not have looked good to demote a woman to third place.
Senator Duniam, 38, entered the senate in 2019. He is seen as an up-and-comer in the Liberal Party and is technically more senior than Senator Abetz because of the outer ministry position he currently holds as assistant minister for forestry, fisheries and industry development.
In a statement on Saturday night Senator Duniam said he was honoured by the confidence pre-selectors had placed in him.
“Today was a vote about the future of our party, our state and our nation,” he wrote.
“I made a promise to continue to work hard every day to use my place in government, and the opportunities of my position in the ministry to deliver on our values and deliver the best outcomes for Tasmania – and I will do exactly that.
“It is a critical time for the future of our state and nation, and I am committed to ensuring that we remain in government and return three senators to Canberra at the next federal election.”
Mr Bonham said Senator Duniam was a conservative Liberal, had the appeal of youth and would not detract from the party’s electoral appeal.
Senator Askew was elected to the senate in 2016 and is chair of the Senate’s community affairs legislation committee.