Veteran Liberal Eric Abetz denies it was a case of camp Abbott versus camp Turnbull when the party’s Tasmania executive settled on a Senate line-up demoting minister Richard Colbeck.
A weekend preselection process put the minister for tourism and international education at number five on the party ticket and means he may only have an outside chance of keeping his Senate spot if there’s a double dissolution election in July.
Senator Abetz, a backer of former prime minister Tony Abbott, is in the top spot.
He’s followed by Senate president Stephen Parry, newcomer Jonathon Duniam and chief Senate whip David Bushby, before Senator Colbeck gets the nod with north Tasmanian farmer and local government councillor John Tucker taking the final spot.
Senator Colbeck is the only Tasmanian federal MP who didn’t show public support for Mr Abbott in September when he was challenged by Malcolm Turnbull.
But Senator Abetz insists Senator Colbeck is in an “eminently winnable” position, arguing the ticket line-up represents renewal.
“If we didn’t have renewal in the team, people would be criticising us for having a stale team,” the 22-year parliamentary veteran told ABC radio on Monday.
“Now that we do have renewal in the team, people are commenting on people being pushed down the ticket.”
The senator denied there was an Abbott-Turnbull divide.
“Everybody within the Liberal team supports the Liberal party and its leader, the prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, so let there be no suggestion otherwise,” Senator Abetz said.
After Saturday’s vote by 65 party preselectors, Tasmania state president Geoff Page confirmed the Liberal Senate line-up.
Senator Colbeck, who is in China on government business, issued a brief statement acknowledging the new-look ticket.
“We now need to move to the next step of ensuring the Tasmanian community understands the commitment of the Liberal team to the strong economy, jobs, well-being and prosperity of the state,” he said.
“My objective has always been to ensure the strongest representation for Tasmania in the Australian parliament – this will remain my focus.”