MEDIA identity John Fitzgibbon is firming as the challenger to Ballarat MP Catherine King at the next federal election, with no other Liberal Party members seeking preselection for the seat.
Mr Fitzgibbon, general manager of 3BA and Power FM, is currently being considered by members of the Liberal Party’s Ballarat Federal Electoral Conference and will be preselected for the seat if less than one fifth of its members oppose his nomination.
A spokesperson said the process was mandated by the One Applicant Procedure outlined in the party’s Victorian constitution, with members required to respond to the nomination before September 25.
Mr Fitzgibbon yesterday declined to comment on the process, citing party rules which forbid candidates from speaking to the media.
A board member of Ballarat Regional Tourism and director of the North Ballarat Football Club, he last month promised to bring new approaches to issues affecting Ballarat.
The 39-year-old is expected to face a tough fight to win the seat, considered safely in the Labor column with a margin of 11.8 per cent.
Ms King increased her margin by 3.6 per cent at the 2010 election, and national opinion polls published yesterday showed a rise in the Gillard government’s stocks.
The respected Newspoll published in News Limited papers showed Labor and the Coalition even on 50 per cent two-party preferred, while the latest Nielsen poll showed the Coalition leading 53 per cent to 47.
A spokesperson for Grant Broadcasters, owners of 3BA and Power FM, said Mr Fitzgibbon had no influence on news or programming decisions at the stations and could not control editorial coverage.
Mr Fitzgibbon is expected to take leave once formal campaigning begins next year, with an election required before November.
The Courier understands optimism is growing among Liberal party members in Ballarat, with Mr Fitzgibbon’s campaign expected to outperform that of former candidate Mark Banwell.
Ballarat Mayor Mark Harris had been considered a possible nomination for the contest but opted to contest next month’s local government elections.
Echoing recent attacks from Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan, Ms King yesterday said Liberal state governments were cutting budgets for health, education and community services.
“The Liberal candidate-in-waiting must distance himself from Tony Abbott’s policies and stand up to the Liberal Party extremists,” she said.