Prime Minister Scott Morrison has brushed aside explosive allegations from one of his own senators that he is “ruthless” and “lacking a moral compass”.
Ousted Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells laid into Mr Morrison during a fiery late-night parliamentary speech on Tuesday.
In her speech – delivered just hours after the Coalition’s pre-election budget – the senator, who lost preselection for her NSW upper house seat at the weekend, claimed Mr Morrison was “not fit to be prime minister”.
“He is adept at running with the foxes and hunting with the hounds, lacking a moral compass and having no conscience,” she told the Senate.
“In my public life, I have met ruthless people. Morrison tops the list followed closely by [Immigration Minister Alex] Hawke. Morrison is not fit to be prime minister, and Hawke certainly is not fit to be a minister.”
However, Mr Morrison said being criticised went with the territory.
“As Prime Minister, there are lots of people who will disagree with you, there are lots of people who will say all sorts of things about you,” he told Sydney radio 2GB on Wednesday.
“It comes with the job. You’ve got to have a thick skin and you’ve got to be able to focus on the things that matter most to Australians.”
However, One Nation senator Pauline Hanson on Wednesday backed up Senator Fierravanti-Wells’ claims, also criticising Mr Morrison.
“This is not a prime minister for the people, he’s also … a bully,” she told the Senate.
“I back the senator up completely with that. He is a bully because I have experienced it myself. He’s a man where ‘You do it my way or there’s no way’, and it’s a shame.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said that while Mr Morrison had been been quick to point out the need for culture reviews within Labor – particularly in relation to recent allegations of bullying of the late Senator Kimberley Kitching – he had not addressed issues within the Liberals.
“Those people who know Scott Morrison well attest to the flaws in his character,” he told ABC News on Wednesday.
“It’s extraordinary that a sitting serving senator who’s been a former minister, who has served alongside in the ministry with Scott Morrison, says he is unfit to be prime minister. Those comments do say a lot.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells’ speech came a day after another address to the Senate, during which she took aim at bullying within the Liberal Party and drew parallels between herself and Senator Kitching.
On Tuesday night, she also labelled Mr Morrison an “autocrat”, adding that other Liberals shared a similar view.
“They have lost faith in the party, they want to leave. They don’t like Morrison and they don’t trust him,” she said.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells was relegated to an unwinnable spot on the Liberals’ NSW Senate ticket at the weekend. Mr Morrison attributed her attack to that loss.
“I know Connie’s disappointed that on the weekend 500 members of the Liberal Party went to a preselection and they didn’t select Connie,” Mr Morrison said.
“I understand that and I understand that there are many disappointments in political life.
“When you are prime minister, people hold you responsible for many, many things and there are decisions taken over your life as prime minister that can lead to disagreements.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells also accused Mr Morrison of making racist comments during his preselection battle for the NSW lower house seat of Cook in 2007.
“I’m advised that there are several statutory declarations to attest to racial comments made by Morrison at the time that ‘we can’t have a Lebanese person in [the federal seat of] Cook’,” she said under parliamentary privilege.
She was referring to Michael Towke, who eventually lost the Liberal preselection for Cook to Mr Morrison.
Mr Morrison said her claim was “rubbish”.
Pressed on the issue, he said: “It’s not true”.