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Federal election 2022: Scott Morrison preselection battle to be heard in the High Court

Australia’s highest court will hear arguments about why Scott Morrison’s “captain’s pick” candidates for a dozen seats might not be valid at an expedited hearing on Friday afternoon before a final decision is made in the long-running dispute.

A now expelled member of the NSW Liberal Party is refusing to give up on his bid for branch members to be given the opportunity to vote for candidates in 12 NSW seats after Mr Morrison intervened and installed his preferred choices.

Matthew Camenzuli’s lawyer Scott Robertson applied for special leave to appeal to the High Court on Wednesday after his legal challenge against the Prime Minister’s temporary takeover of the NSW division was dismissed in the NSW Court of Appeal earlier this week.

That judgment cleared a major hurdle for Mr Morrison to call the election, however the appeal has created another headache.

At a directions hearing on Thursday in the High Court, Justice Stephen Gageler expedited Mr Camenzuli’s appeal and listed the matter to be heard at 4pm on Friday.

Mr Morrison is listed as the first defendent in the case.

His lawyer Guy Reynolds SC will be required to file a response to Mr Camenzuli’s application by 1pm.

Mr Robertson will then file a reply by 3pm, giving the parties just an hour until they then give their oral submissions.

Justice Gageler earlier asked Mr Reynolds what his attitude was to the matter being expedited.

“As far as expedition my clients are happy with a measure of expedition consistent with both the degree of emergency of the case and provided they are given adequate time in the circumstances to prepare their written and oral submissions,” he said.

The High Court is the last option for Mr Camenzuli to overturn the Prime Minister’s choice of candidates before the election.

Scmo in Newcastle
Camera IconThe validity of Prime minister Scott Morrison’s captain pick candidates remains uncertain. Damian Shaw Credit: News Corp Australia

He was expelled from the Liberal Party on Thursday.

At the centre of the issue is that Mr Morrison was part of a committee, which also included NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, appointed by the federal arm of the party to temporarily take control of the state division on two separate occasions.

He did this because factional brawling had stalled the preselection process and was leaving the Coalition with empty seats.

NSW is a crucial state for the Coalition.

During the first takeover the committee endorsed Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman and Environment Minister Sussan Ley as candidates without challenges.

Matthew Camenzuli
Camera IconMatthew Camenzuli has taken his fight all the way to the High Court. Credit: Supplied

These are among the safest seats for the Liberal Party.

On the second occasion a further nine candidates were selected without plebiscites, including in winnable seats like Parramatta, Eden-Monaro and Warringah.

Mr Morrison has previously been called out by NSW Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells for selecting “captain’s picks” instead of letting grassroots members decide the candidates in their electorates.

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday night told Sky News that the NSW Liberal Party needed to have a “come to Jesus” moment over the impasse.

“As soon as this election is over, we really do need to have a very tough conversation about delivering to the Liberal Party’s members the democratic commitments that were made to them back in 2016 and 2017,” Mr Abbott told Sky News host Chris Kenny.

“Let’s win this election, let’s fight the good fight, but then things have got to be sorted out, and commitments have got to be honoured.”

Mr Abbott had championed a rule within the party that requires “one member, one vote” in preselections after he was ousted from the top job by Malcolm Turnbull.

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