Former MP who defied vaccine mandate joins Liberal preselection race

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Candidates are lining up to replace retiring Victorian Liberal MP Matt Bach, with a former crown prosecutor and an oncologist among those being encouraged to run against a former MP who defied COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Neil Angus, who refused to get vaccinated and was blocked from entering state parliament in 2021, is hoping to return to Spring Street when Bach leaves the upper house at the end of the year.

Angus, a former shadow minister who represented Forest Hill for 12 years, confirmed to The Age he would nominate for preselection to fill the vacancy in the North-Eastern Metropolitan region.

After being barred from Parliament House, Angus lost to Labor in the newly created seat of Glen Waverley in the 2022 election when his electorate was abolished as part of a boundary redistribution.

Bach announced last month he would leave parliament at the end of the year and move to the UK with his family. His departure is viewed as a serious loss for the Victorian Liberal Party.

The Liberals now face a factional fight for his upper house seat, which is expected to be decided in a ballot by delegates.

Neil Angus refused to get a COVID-19 vaccine and was banned from entering Parliament House in 2021.

Among those who have confirmed they will nominate for preselection is Sarah Overton, a former KPMG director and ministerial adviser to Mary Wooldridge during the Napthine government, who lost out in the preselection for the Warrandyte byelection.

Lucas Moon, a veteran and anti-pokies campaigner, who ran for the party in inner-city Richmond last year, confirmed he was strongly considering entering the race.

Barrister Sharn Coombes, a former crown prosecutor and two-time runner-up on reality television program Survivor, has been named as a potential candidate. Coombes, who also contested the federal seat of Dunkley last year, did not respond when contacted by The Age on Wednesday.

Ranjana Srivastava, an oncologist, Fulbright scholar from Harvard University and Guardian columnist, has been approached by Liberal figures keen to bolster the credentials of the state parliamentary team. She declined to comment.

Sharn Coombes, barrister and reality TV star.

Srivastava contested preselection for the federal seat of Aston, with the backing of former health minister Greg Hunt and former premier Jeff Kennett. She previously lost preselection for the upper house seat ahead of last year’s state election.

Law student and rower Antonietta Di Cosmo, who was supported by moderates when she narrowly missed out on the Warrandyte preselection to Nicole Werner, was also being encouraged to run. She did not return calls on Wednesday.

Upper house MP Nick McGowan, also from the North-Eastern Metropolitan region, has told party members he wrote to outgoing Liberal president Greg Mirabella to “ensure that [Bach] is replaced through a vote by local members as is consistent with the [party’s] constitution”.

“This is critical, and reflects the feedback we have both received from members locally,” he wrote in an email to members.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto said he would respect the preselection process. While he said he wanted more women representing the party in parliament, he said that was not for him to decide.

“I’ve been around long enough to know, in the party, that members appreciate it when leaders of the party respect the process,” Pesutto said on Wednesday.

“I’ve always stood by the general principle, and I think it’s shared widely across the party, that of course we want more people from diverse backgrounds.

“We want more female members of the parliament representing the Liberal Party, and we’re working towards that. We had a great win in Warrandyte.”

The party’s administrative committee is yet to determine when the preselection will go to a ballot. But a spokeswoman said the party expected to set a date to open nominations in coming weeks.

Bach, a key ally to Pesutto, also left a hole in the party’s leadership team that was filled by Northern Metropolitan MP Evan Mulholland.

Mulholland’s promotion creates two vacancies in the parliamentary Liberal team – shadow cabinet secretary and opposition whip – and is likely to trigger a wider reshuffle, with Bach leaving the education and child protection portfolios.

Opposition Leader John Pesutto (front) with the new leadership team (left to right) of Georgie Crozier, Evan Mulholland and David Southwick.Credit: AAP

Pesutto said he was discussing some movements and would make decisions in coming days, but that there would be no major reshuffle.

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