Crucial branch vote favours Craig Kelly in fierce preselection battle with Kent Johns

A Liberal Party branch meeting held in the garage of a home as the rain tumbled down this week is indicative of the fierce battle for preselection for the federal seat of Hughes.

A crucial vote at the annual general meeting (AGM) of Moorebank branch was deadlocked 10-10 until the late arrival of a branch member, who swung the outcome in favour of sitting member Craig Kelly.

Mr Kelly, who has held the seat since 2010, is being challenged for preselection by Sutherland Shire councillor and vice-president of the NSW division of the Liberal Party, Kent Johns.

Every vote will be vital, with sources saying the numbers are very tight.

Mr Johns is getting political, as well as personal, support from his partner Melanie Gibbons, the state MP for Holsworthy, which was previously called Menai and still includes Barden Ridge, Lucas Heights and Sandy Point.

Fairax Media revealed Ms Gibbons missed Question Time for the second time in a fortnight on Tuesday to attend the Moorebank branch’s AGM.

A crucial vote for branch president at the meeting would determine about 10 per cent of the voting numbers for the Hughes preselection, sources said.

After nine tied votes, Ms Gibbons’s candidate was defeated on the tenth.

The report said this week’s meeting, as well as the previous one to plan it, was organised for a time when State Parliament was sitting, potentially preventing Ms Gibbons from attending.

Ms Gibbons and her supporters appeared to have succeeded in rescheduling the AGM to a more convenient time, but were prevented by party rules.

Fairfax Media reported Ms Gibbons was also disadvantaged by the  meeting being held at the Chipping Norton home of the parents of Peter Ristevski, a former Liverpool councillor, who is under suspension from the Liberal Party but is supporting Mr Kelly.

The late-arriving member who decided the vote in favour of Mr Kelly was reported to be Jagoda Stojcevski, the widow of Jose Stojcevski, whom Ms Gibbons had previously accused of making threats against her.

Mr Ristevski was seen to have dropped Mrs Stojcevski at the meeting, the report said.

State government whip Chris Patterson, who approved Ms Gibbons missing Question Time, told Fairfax Media, “I look at everything depending on what’s put before me”.

Ms Gibbons said of her absence from Question Time, it was appropriate she attend the meeting because she was a branch member.

“Unfortunately, in this instance, the timings clashed,” she said.