DEPOSED Wodonga mayor Mark Byatt has re-applied for Liberal Party membership 12 months out from the Victorian state election.
But his decision to return to Liberal ranks is being viewed as a longer- term bid to secure pre-selection for the federal seat of Indi rather than a potentially destabilising battle for state MP Bill Tilley’s seat of Benambra.
Multiple Liberal sources have confirmed Cr Byatt has re-applied for membership of the local branch.
The branch has 90 days to accept a person’s membership.
Cr Byatt didn’t return calls from The Border Mail last night.
He has refused to douse ongoing speculation he wants to enter politics at a higher level, but had let his party membership lapse in recent years.
Liberal Party pre-selection for Indi is expected to be highly sought after in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
The party is still smarting from Sophie Mirabella’s shock defeat by independent Cathy McGowan, despite Mrs Mirabella achieving almost 45 per cent of primary votes.
Liberal sources said Cr Byatt would be playing a dangerous game if he wanted to replace Mr Tilley in Benambra.
Mr Tilley, after a tumultuous period in 2011, which included being forced to resign from his parliamentary secretary post and ongoing tensions with Deputy Premier and former police minister Peter Ryan over the fallout from the Office of Police Integrity report, Mr Tilley was earlier this year elected government whip.
Also, the Napthine government has a tenuous grip on power 12 months out from the election and couldn’t afford a bloody internal battle for a safe seat.
One Liberal Party insider said last night the option of change, albeit remote, did exist.
The party’s administration committee has the power to dis-endorse a sitting member.
“That power is very, very rarely used for obvious reasons,” a source said.
The party hasn’t called for pre-selection for Benambra, but traditionally the sitting member is the only person to nominate and is automatically endorsed in most cases.
Cr Byatt hasn’t been a party member for long enough to nominate for pre-selection, but again the administration committee could allow it to go through if it was thought to be in the party’s best interests.
Mr Tilley couldn’t be contacted for comment last night.