A crucial crossbench MP says she will reconsider her supply agreement with the Coalition unless it immediately resolves complaints of bullying and intimidation raised by Liberal women.
Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie, who has agreed to vote with the government on motions of no confidence, said on Tuesday that deal was becoming harder to honour as more women quit politics, citing intimidation and misconduct.
Her warning came as Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged Liberal Party members to remember why they entered politics.
“That’s to serve the Australian people. Not to carry on with stupid games,” he said.
On Monday, Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis used parliamentary privilege to accuse NSW MP Gareth Ward of branch stacking and undermining her pre-selection campaign – an allegation he strongly denies.
Ms Sudmalis announced on Monday afternoon that she would not recontest her marginal NSW seat of Gilmore at the next election.
In parliament later that night, she launched an attack on her NSW colleagues, accusing Mr Ward of “bullying, betrayal and backstabbing”, claiming he “annihilates” anyone who opposes him.
“Politics is a place where if you do not have great resilience, the actions of others can impact on your mental health,” Ms Sudmalis said.
Ms Sudmalis’s decision not to contest the next election comes after her Victorian Liberal colleague Julia Banks criticised “widespread, pervasive undermining” of women and South Australian Liberal senator Lucy Gichuhi threatened to name colleagues.
“It certainly makes it more difficult – listening to Ann last night, she said this is not about Scott Morrison as prime minister but the broader issues within the Liberal Party,” Ms Sharkie said.
“We are losing three very good women from the House of Representatives and the Liberal Party absolutely needs to address this as a matter of urgency.”
If Ms Sharkie decides she can no longer guarantee supply, that will present a political headache for Mr Morrison given the Coalition’s slender majority in the House of Representatives.
The numbers in the lower house became even tighter when former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull resigned from Parliament after losing the Liberal leadership.
“What I have said to Scott Morrison is that I will give the government time until the by-election in Wentworth,” Ms Sharkie said.
Mr Morrison said on Tuesday he was 100 per cent confident there was no issue with bullying in the federal parliamentary party, suggesting any problems lay with the Liberals’ organisational wing.
“I’ve requested the federal director and president bring before the federal executive a program for rigorous and confidential receipt of complaints,” Mr Morrison said.
Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer has called for that process to be independent. That could mean the involvement of an external party, such as a law firm, although that has not been specified.
“I have made recommendations that the party organisation have an independent and confidential process that can assist when and where concerns are raised with the party organisation,” she said last week.
The problem with a lack of women in parliament could be even worse for the Liberals after the next election, according to reports from Fairfax Media. It suggests Assistant Minister for Regional Development Sussan Ley might be the only Liberal woman from NSW in the next parliament, if current polling is accurate.
Similarly, Ms O’Dwyer is tipped to be the only Liberal woman to remain in the lower house from Victoria.
The combination of poor polling, and the looming departures amid bullying claims, might reduce the number of female Liberals in the House of Representatives to their lowest level since the early 1990s.