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Pesutto and Battin sweat as party kingmakers prepare for secret ballot

Pesutto said he wanted to “provide the leadership needed to make us ready to govern over this coming term”.

“We can and must appeal to the wider Victorian community and rebuild our organizational strength to succeed in 2026,” he said.

Laundry last week.Credit:AFR

“While close, the contest has been very civil and I have the highest regard and respect for Brad.”

Many of Pesutto’s supporters were backers of former leader Michael O’Brien, including some moderate MPs representing urban electorates. Battin’s supporters include more outer-suburban and regional MPs, including those aligned with right-winger Beverley McArthur.

Whoever wins faces the task of trying to rebuild the Liberals’ fortunes before fighting the 2026 election against Labor, which would likely have as many seats as the 55 of 88 it won in 2018.

Ryan Smith, who pulled out of the Liberal leadership race and is running for the deputy position, raised colleagues’ eyebrows when he attended McGowan’s forum, which heard from Pesutto and Battin.

Victorian Liberal MP Ryan Smith.

Victorian Liberal MP Ryan Smith.Credit:Eddie Jim

Politicians were not expressly invited to the Monday night meeting, which was designed to give local branch members a small say in determining the party leader. Smith is supporting Battin in the leadership race.

Smith declined to explain to The Age why he attended, or whether he voted as a proxy for a member who could not attend.

“He already has a vote in the party room. It is very odd he rocked up,” one Liberal figure said.

Smith will run for the deputy position against Sandringham MP Brad Rowswell, South West Coast MP Roma Britnell, Polwarth MP Richard Riordan and Southwick.

Liberal MP Roma Britnell (right) at Temperance Hall, Warnambool on election day.

Liberal MP Roma Britnell (right) at Temperance Hall, Warnambool on election day.Credit:Nicole Cleary

Thursday’s ballot would also decide the leadership team for the upper house, where McArthur was contesting the party’s Legislative Council leadership post against opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier.

Matt Bach was expected to be unchallenged for the position of deputy leader in the upper house.

Labor retained the seat of Preston after the Victorian Electoral Commission completed its preference distribution on Wednesday evening. The VEC said preference distributions in Bass, where Labor was leading by about 100 votes, would be completed on Thursday as would the count in Pakenhamwhere the Liberal Party was ahead by fewer than 100 votes.

Premier Daniel Andrews said on Wednesday that the election last month represented a battle over leadership qualities because the opposition chose to focus on him rather than its policies.

Asked if vitriol directed at him from some sections of the community surprised him, Andrews said, “a little bit”, before criticizing the Liberal Party for “whipping up” fringe political actors.

The premier made the comments in a long-form interview with ABC radio’s Raf Epstein, during which he took questions from listeners about the health system, public transport, and defended his previous answers to questions about involvement in anti-corruption probes.

Most “mainstream” voters, Andrews argued, did not see the election as a referendum on pandemic management. “There were some loud voices, there were some nasty voices, but that’s not the middle, that’s not the mainstream, and elections are fought and won in that mainstream,” he said.

“They wanted a positive plan for the future. They want to put these last few years behind us as much as we can. That’s not to forget people who still need support, of course, but now more than ever, that sense of optimism, big bold ideas. A positive plan for the future. I think it had a real resonance and a real traction. “

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