Christopher Pyne has been forced to admit seeking the help of GetUp! to protect his boss and factional ally, Malcolm Turnbull, from a leadership challenge from Tony Abbott – a move seemingly at odds with the government’s attacks on the activist group.
The Saturday Paper reported exclusively over the weekend that Mr Pyne asked GetUp! in November 2009 to shore up Mr Turnbull’s numbers against Mr Abbott.
Mr Pyne confirmed the report was accurate.
“In the 2009 leadership contest I supported Malcolm Turnbull as leader of the Liberal Party and encouraged all those around me to do the same, including stakeholders and lobby groups such as GetUp!,” he told Sky News on Sunday.
The Saturday Paper‘s source was Simon Sheikh, former national director of GetUp!, who told the newspaper that Mr Pyne called the activist group personally to request an email and phone campaign to support Mr Turnbull.
Mr Pyne reportedly offered to provide GetUp! with a list of undecided MPs to lobby to support Mr Turnbull’s leadership of the Liberal Party.
Mr Sheikh said he refused the request, ostensibly because of a lack of time to organise the campaign, but for the real reason that he did not want to get involved in internal Liberal Party politics.
Mr Abbott won a Liberal Party leadership ballot in December 2009, and went on to serve as prime minister from September 2013 to September 2015, before Mr Turnbull seized back the leadership and the prime ministership.
GetUp! has been in the spotlight in recent days after federal police raided the offices of the Australian Workers Union at the behest of the Registered Organisations Committee – a watchdog created by the Turnbull government.
The officers were seeking documents relating to donations from the AWU to GetUp! authorised during Bill Shorten’s time as union leader.
The weekend’s revelations appear at odds with the repeated Question Time attacks by Mr Turnbull, Mr Pyne and other frontbench MPs on GetUp! and its ties to the Labor Party.
Mr Pyne is a known moderate, or ‘wet’, within the Liberal Party who supports same-sex marriage.
In June this year, the heightened factional tensions within the Liberal Party after audio of his speech at Sydney’s Star Casino to moderate allies leaked to the media.
Mr Pyne boasted in the speech that the moderate faction was on the ascendent within the government.
“I would say that our fortunes are pretty good at the moment. And most of your senior cabinet ministers, George Brandis, Marise Payne, yours truly – quite a few of us are very senior ministers in a Turnbull government,” he was reported as saying.
“Now there was a time when people said it wouldn’t happen, but George and I kept the faith. We voted for Malcolm Turnbull in every ballot he’s ever been in.
“There’s still a couple of things we’ve got to do to be able to prove that winning positions is all very well.
“Friends, we are in the winner’s circle but we have to deliver a couple of things and one of those we’ve got to deliver before too long is marriage equality in this country.
“We’re going to get it. I think it might even be sooner than everyone thinks.”
Mr Pyne later apologised for the comments.