Grattan / Turnbull versus Morrison in Liberal crisis over Kelly

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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. 

Michelle Grattan

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 Twitter.

In a series of Sunday night 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 say.”

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.“

Turnbull said 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 Berejiklian government”.

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 was reneging.

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 something about his position.

“Let’s see what he does, but I’m not here to be taken for granted,” Molan told 6PR on Sunday.

“I would make the arrogant statement that the Liberal Party needs me more than I need the Liberal Party.”

Michelle Grattan is a professorial fellow at the University of Canberra. This article was originally published on The Conversation

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Michelle Grattan
Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra, Michelle Grattan is one of Australia's most respected and awarded political journalists.

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