Scott Morrison faces a major Liberal party crisis after Malcolm
Turnbull moved to torpedo the Prime Minister’s plan to protect the
preselection of controversial rightwing backbencher Craig Kelly.
Morrison wants the NSW Liberal executive to re-endorse sitting NSW
federal members so Kelly does not have to face a ballot in which he would be defeated.
Kelly has threatened to run as an independent if he loses preselection
and also at times has left the way open to go to the crossbench.
The Coalition is already in minority government after the loss of
Wentworth and last week’s defection of Julia Banks.
Kelly has lost the support of his local branch members, and the
moderates have the numbers to remove him. His preselection opponent,
Kent Johns, has been under pressure to pull out of the race – as he
was persuaded to do before the last election to save Kelly.
Kelly was one of those who scuppered the National Energy Guarantee, in
the party meltdown that ended Turnbull’s leadership. He is a constant
presence in Sky and used his appearances to undermine the Turnbull
position on energy.
After hearing of the save-Kelly plan Turnbull immediately began
lobbying moderate executive members not to agree to the
cross-factional deal. When his lobbying reached the media, he took to
In a series of tweets he said: “Today I learned there was a move to
persuade the State Executive to re-endorse Craig Kelly as Liberal
candidate for Hughes in order to avoid a preselection – in other words
to deny Liberal Party members in Hughes the opportunity to have their
He said he had spoken with “several State Executive members to express
my strong view that the Party’s democratic processes should operate in
the normal way especially after such a long debate in the NSW Liberal
Party about the importance of grass roots membership involvement.”
“It is time for the Liberal Party members in Hughes to have their say
about their local member and decide who they want to represent them.”
“It has been put to me that Mr Kelly has threatened to go to the cross
bench and “bring down the Government”. If indeed he has made that
threat, it is not one that should result in a capitulation. Indeed it
would be the worst and weakest response to such a threat.“
He was “strongly of the view that the normal democratic process should proceed.”
The Australian reports that Turnbull told one executive member, NSW
Minister Matt Kean, that if Kelly moved to the crossbench it would
“force Morrison to an early election and that will save the
Turnbull had said that when he was PM he and Morrison had agreed to a
March 2 election – before the state poll later in March but Morrison
The Liberals believe that whichever government faces the people first
in NSW will get a double whack from angry voters. Morrison indicated
last week that the election would be in May after an April 2 budget.
Another NSW rightwinger, senator Jim Molan is arcing up over his
dumping to an unwinnable position on the Senate ticket. Molan is also
looking to Morrison to do about about his position.
“Let’s see what he does, but I’m not here to be taken for granted,”
Molan told Perth radio on Sunday.
“I would make the arrogant statement that the Liberal Party needs me
more than I need the Liberal Party.”
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.