Two senior Liberals have spoken out on the party’s pre-election disarray, with NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet describing it as an “absolute debacle”.
Also on Wednesday, federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg admitted the factional fighting over federal election candidates had been ugly.
“It has been less than ideal, but I’m glad that it’s heading to its conclusion and that we’ve secured new candidates for these seats,” he told the ABC.
“But I don’t want you just to focus on the Liberal Party. The Labor Party was in a High Court just a week ago having their own federal Labor takeover of the Victorian division challenged.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been under fire for going over the top of the party’s NSW executive to install his own candidates. He has defended his actions as intended to protect woman MPs whose preselections were at risk.
“I’m asked all the time, ‘Why won’t the prime minister do more about getting good women in parliament and stand up for the women in parliament?’ So I stood up for the women in my team,” he said.
“The prime minister was standing up to things happening in the party to make sure that quality people, who are doing a quality job in their seats, should be able to go forward to the next election.”
Of the three sitting MPs Mr Morrison intervened to save, one was a woman – Environment Minister Sussan Ley. Mr Morrison’s ally Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and backbencher Trent Zimmerman were also saved.
There are also another nine candidates across NSW who were selected by a panel made up of Mr Morrison, Mr Perrottet and the former president of the federal Liberal party, Chris McDiven. They include several women.
The panel’s picks were confirmed on Tuesday after the NSW Court of Appeal dismissed a legal challenge to their selection.
A senior Liberal source confirmed to The New Daily on Tuesday night that those behind the challenge would seek leave to do so again in the High Court.
Mr Perrottet welcomed Tuesday’s ruling but said it left candidates with little time to campaign. An election is likely to be called within days.
“It’s pleasing now that there are candidates that are putting their hands up who’ll be endorsed by the Liberal Party,” he said.
“But it’s an abject failure of the division to not be in a position whereby there are candidates that members of the public here in NSW can vote for if they want to support a Liberal candidate at the next election.
“The election is going to get called any day now and we only [now] have candidates in many seats being endorsed.
“There’s not much of a lead-up time.”
Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who has been relegated to an unwinnable spot on the party’s NSW Senate line-up, has rejected Mr Morrison’s assertion that he was protecting women.
“Morrison is simply using the ‘gender card’ to conflate captain’s picks to trash democratic processes in NSW,” she said in a statement to the ABC’s 7.30 program.
“I do not accept criticism from a person who lacks a moral compass.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells last week spoke under parliamentary privilege to condemn Mr Morrison as “not fit to be prime minister” and branding him “ruthless”.
Mr Frydenberg admitted the situation was troublesome but noted half of Mr Morrison’s picks across NSW were women.
On his own portfolio, Mr Frydenberg attacked his shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers, for being the architect of higher taxes, testing his new slogan across breakfast television following Mr Chalmers’ National Press Club address.
“What we saw from Jim Chalmers yesterday was not an economic plan. It was simply a rant,” Mr Frydenberg told Sky News.
“Don’t look at what Jim Chalmers says, look at what Jim Chalmers does. The fact is he has helped the Labor Party come up with more than $80 billion of new spending during the pandemic alone.”
On Tuesday, Mr Chalmers reiterated that Labor had no plan to raise taxes other than ensuring multinationals pay their fair share of tax to pay for election commitments.
He also promised not to overturn already-legislated income tax cuts due to start in 2024.
There have been multiple disastrous polls for the Coalition as Mr Morrison struggles with public perceptions about his own character.
A Roy Morgan poll – conducted in the past week after an onslaught of criticism of Mr Morrison from people within the Liberals – shows the ALP extending its lead to 57-43 in two-party preferred terms.
But Mr Morrison brushed off the polls, telling 7.30 on Tuesday, “elections are always tight”.
“It’s a tough job, and it’s been a tough time, and people have had a tough time of it over the last three-and-a-half years,” he said.
“As Prime Minister, you’ve got to take all the slings and arrows – and I do – but I never lose my focus on the job.”