Bennelong is a seat the Liberals need to win back to make Tony Abbott Prime Minister.
The party preselection saw a tough contest between former tennis ace and property developer John Alexander and local Chinese businessman Mark Chan that was ultimately convincingly won by Alexander with 67 votes of a total of 105.
Broadly, the Liberal Left was supporting Alexander and the Right supported young ex-student politician from Sydney Uni Mark Chan. It appears the so-called â€œHard Rightâ€ directed some of their votes towards Alexander, reflecting the current strained relationships in the Right between forces aligned with Alex Hawke and those aligned with David Clarke.
ALEXANDERâ€™S CANDIDACY IN PERIL
Those opposed to Alexander say that his candidacy is a â€œtime-bomb waiting to explode.â€
â€œHe thinks that being a tennis star will wash away the stink from his business dealings. It doesnâ€™t work that way.â€
They point to highly controversial dealings between John Alexander and the White City Tennis Club where members of that club say he acted unlawfully and unethically. This website explains the ugly feud from their highly biased perspective.
The site claims the NSW courts have criticised Alexander for engaging in â€œunconscionableâ€ behaviour, that heâ€™d failed in his fiduciary duties and been one of the â€œprimary wrongdoersâ€ in a deal that went wrong.
Now the parties are fighting over control of the land as it has appreciated considerably since the time Alexander effectively bought it from the White City Tennis Club.
LABORâ€™S BIG OPPORTUNITY
Liberals told VEXNEWS yesterday that the controversy would be enough to enable Laborâ€™s Maxine McKew to give Alexander an almighty serve.
And McKew was quick to give Alexander a backhander last night, declaring:
“I also note that Mr Alexander’s property interests have seen him involved in a protracted court case. I hope these issues can be resolved quickly because I can assure him the people of Bennelong deserve and will expect nothing less than his full attention.”
While we acknowledge it as a cruel injustice, an involvement in the property development and real estate industries is not always conducive to a career in politics. It is perhaps considered a slightly sleazier profession than â€˜journalistâ€™. Slightly.
And it seems that Alexanderâ€™s foray into developing the former home of tennis in Sydney has pitted him against a community organisation in expensive and ugly litigation. Members complain:
After evicting the 1400- member club from its traditional Paddington clubhouse in November, Mr Alexander has been accused of making demands that could send club members broke by asking them to pay for repairs the club estimates will cost up to $1 million.
Regardless of the eventual result of the litigation, it seems certain that Alexanderâ€™s foes will haunt him politically should he emerge as the Liberal candidate in Bennelong.
The NSW Court of Appeal decided in June this year that Alexander had been in breach of his agreement with the White City Tennis Club, and ordered that he return the property to the club. Since that decision, Alexander and his partners have taken the case to the High Court on appeal and are still awaiting a decision.
During Alexanderâ€™s control of the site, he caused the members considerable angst, they say:
Its members claimed had treated them as trespassers on the grounds since an agreement between them broke down. Members could only walk to the courts on paths marked in red and were banned from using the showers and toilets after their games.
The developer may have been within his rights to do this but itâ€™s not exactly the ideal conduct for a marginal seat candidate.
NIGHT OF THE BENNELONG KNIVES
Party members said it was inevitable Alexander would be asked questions about his role in shafting the White City Tennis Club yesterday evening.
Liberal insiders say that most of Alexanderâ€™s support comes â€“ appropriately enough â€“ from a favourable draw from among the State Council.
Most of the locals favour popular local businessman Mark Chan who has worked very hard for the party over a number of years. Chanâ€™s extensive community links could work strongly in the partyâ€™s favour, insiders say. By contrast Alexander has only recently joined the party in order to unsuccessfully contest a couple of preselections and does not live in the electorate.
The Bennelong area is not a centre of factional operations for either camp, so most of the locals will be making a decision on who is most likely to serve the party best locally.
Alexander reportedly reached out to David Clarke aligned selectors who were looking for a reason to knife Chan or some of his backers in the Right. He needed the Clarke Right’s support in order to win.
Now that he’s the Liberal candidate, heâ€™ll need some top spin to hit his way out of his colourful commercial past.
WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The David Clarke group claim around 10 votes of the total and appear to be the “swing votes” in the contest. With their support, Chan backers say, he’ll be up by eight votes, without them, a narrow loss is likely. But as previously noted, it’s a non-factional area, with swinging votes all over the place.
Chan has had a history of unlikely electoral success, with old chums recalling today his triumphant Â ”99% of Australians like spring rolls, Mark Chan likes spring rolls, Vote 1 Mark Chan” win at Sydney University, so if anyone can win tonight, Chan can.
11.30PM UPDATE: John Alexander wins comfortably… with 67 votes in the first round.