Victorian Liberal leader John Pesutto says he is confident of having “positive discussions” about preferences with independent Ian Cook for the Mulgrave by-election.
Mr Pesutto told Sky News Australia on Friday he has already reached out to Mr Cook as the ballot paper firms up ahead of the November 18 poll in Daniel Andrews’ old seat.
The Liberal Party on Wednesday night pre-selected Courtney Mann, a staffer with Mr Pesutto, as its candidate after previously being urged not to run in the by-election.
Former premier Jeff Kennett wanted Mr Cook to have the best possible chance of defeating Labor after he finished ahead of the Liberal Party at the 2022 state vote.
Mr Pesutto was asked whether he spoke with Mr Cook – who was second to Mr Andrews last November – about the Liberals preferencing the independent.
“I reached out to Ian yesterday and I told him how supportive we were of him,” the Opposition Leader said.
“In terms of preferencing, we’re going to have some pretty positive discussions I think about that.
“I didn’t settle the details of that arrangement with Ian but we had a really positive and productive discussion.”
Labor holds Mulgrave on a margin of a 10.8 per cent margin, with the party choosing Greater Dandenong City Council Mayor Eden Foster as its candidate.
Other confirmed candidates are Rhonda Garad from the Greens, Celeste Ackerly from the Sustainable Australia Party and Ethelyn King from the Libertarian party.
Mr Mann previously ran for the Liberal Party against Mr Andrews in Mulgrave in 2010, with Mr Pesutto admitting the candidate currently does not live in the electorate.
“He doesn’t now but he grew up in the electorate. He spent the first 25 years of his life growing up in the electorate,” he said.
“He spends a lot of time in the electorate now because his mother lives there.
“And he was our candidate in 2010 and if you go back and check the record you’ll see that he did quite well. He didn’t win the seat, but there was a swing.
“He knows the area very well, he’s of the area, so he’ll make a really good candidate.”
The by-election will serve as the first major leadership test for Jacinta Allan, who took over as premier from Mr Andrews about a month ago.
“You never take any election for granted,” Ms Allan told reporters on Friday.
“It’s the right of the voters to make the choice. It’s our responsibility to make sure we’re presenting the best possible choice.
“And in Eden Foster I’m confident that we’re presenting an outstanding candidate for the community of Mulgrave to represent them.”
Candidate nominations close next week.
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