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Harvey faces rival as Libs look to axe hacks

Shell-shocked Liberals are looking to Liza Harvey as leader of a decimated Opposition, with Churchlands MP Sean L’Estrange also seen as a possible contender.

The search for a new leader got under way as senior party figures made the case for a major change in the way candidates are selected to stop the march of powerbrokers and to ensure safe seats went to potential future leaders — not party hacks.

As the scale of Saturday’s election loss sunk in yesterday, surviving MPs tipped Mrs Harvey as the most likely successor to Colin Barnett to lead the WA Liberals — assuming she wants the job. She made no public comment on leadership yesterday.

Mr L’Estrange, who served as minister for mines and small business, was being floated by others as a candidate who could be preferred because of his capacity to mount aggressive attacks on Mark McGowan.

Outgoing corrective services minister Joe Francis has made it clear he wants the top job, but he could yet lose his seat. Speaking on Saturday night, Mr Francis suggested people would regret voting out Mr Barnett.

“It’s like getting drunk and eating fried chicken,” he said.

“You wake up thinking it was a good idea at the time but why on earth did I do that?”

“If I hold my seat I am likely to be a candidate.”

The West Australian understands some Liberals are pushing for a change to the constitution of the WA branch that would mean only those who have been members of an electorate for a year or more could vote to select the local candidate.

The move would stop powerbrokers branch stacking or branch bombing to put their candidate in the job. The plan is being considered ahead of an expected battle for Mr Barnett’s blue-ribbon seat of Cottesloe.

Partyroom powerbrokers and MLCs Peter Collier and Nick Goiran, who were staunch Barnett backers, are expected to face intense internal scrutiny in coming weeks. They have been left vulnerable because of the loss of many allies.

Mr Collier, in the North Metropolitan Region, has lost Andrea Mitchell (Kingsley), Albert Jacob (Burns Beach), Eleni Evangel (Perth) and Paul Miles (Wanneroo). Jan Norberger (Joondalup) is trailing in his seat narrowly.

Mr Goiran, in the South Metropolitan Region, has lost Matt Taylor (Bicton) and Peter Abetz (Southern River).

Top backers of Mr Barnett against Mr Nalder’s leadership challenge in August defended the decision, claiming a switch to the former transport minister would have made things worse.

But they acknowledged that the ill-fated challenge forced some MPs who recognised the need for a change — but did not believe Mr Nalder up to the job — to dig in behind Mr Barnett.

That made it impossible to then mount an argument for a change to Mrs Harvey a couple of months later.

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