Opinion

Liberals should have acted months ago to control Gilmore rift

Ian Campbell24 January 2019
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Warren Mundine in Nowra yesterday talking to local. Photo: Scott Morrison Twitter.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Warren Mundine in Nowra yesterday talking to local. Photo: Scott Morrison Twitter.

It seems Ann Sudmalis’ ‘mates’ in the Liberal Party have finally stepped up and acted against the betrayal she says forced her resignation from parliament.

Resigning in spectacular fashion last September, the Member for Gilmore labelled some within her party as bullies and backstabbers.

Speaking on the floor of Parliament last September, Ms Sudmalis said she felt let down by a lack of action from the NSW division of her party in addressing the “bullying, betrayal and backstabbing” she had experienced locally over six and a half years

“Since the day of winning preselection in 2012, the local, self-determined senior Liberal has been leaking damaging material to the media and having publicity stunts that are completely against federal policy initiatives,” Ms Sudmalis said.

“The final straw came when this same state MP [Member for Kiama, Gareth Ward], after stacking my branches completely, rolled my supportive FEC committee at the AGM, installing people who have never been part of a federal campaign. The FEC committee is central to winning an election.

“Who was this about? Certainly not the people who elected me. It was about ego driven ambition, bullying and betrayal and my local position is completely untenable,” Ms Sudmalis told Parliament.

At the time, Mr Ward labelled Ms Sudmalis’ statement as sour grapes.

“I think sometimes people confuse not getting their way as being bullied,” he told the ABC.

“The comments, I think, are more reflective of someone who is bitter towards me than the other way around.”

In dumping the locally pre-selected Grant Schutlz as the Liberal candidate to succeed Ms Sudmalis and announcing Warren Mundine as the Liberal candidate for Gilmore, Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke strongly about the state of the party within the electorate.

Speaking to the media in Nowra yesterday, Mr Morrison said the Milton real estate agent should have stepped aside when Ms Sudmalis announced she was leaving.

“The division had actually asked Grant Schultz to step aside, allow new nominations, he chose not to do that,” Mr Morrison said.

“You don’t get to bully your way into a seat in the Liberal Party, that’s not how it works.”

Mr Schultz has denied being a bully and suggested Mr Morrison provide evidence.

Speaking with local Liberals, Region Media has learnt that Foreign Affairs Minister Senator Marise Payne was a first-hand witness to the pressures Ms Sudmalis was under.

Region Media has been told Senator Payne has always taken an interest in internal politics on the South Coast and that she actually chaired the explosive branch meeting that took place prior to Ms Sudmalis’ resignation last year.

A senior party figure in the Eurobodalla says locals questioned Mr Schultz about his decision to challenge Ms Sudmalis for preselection suggesting that he should wait his time rather than attempt to unseat a sitting female member.

In the preselection ballot that ultimately backed Mr Schultz as the local candidate, party members in Moruya and Batemans Bay choose not to take part, citing a lack of confidence in the process.

Ms Sudmalis only won the seat in 2016 by 1,503 votes from Labor’s Fiona Phillips. Clearly in the eyes of some Gilmore Liberals, the seat, now considered the most marginal in the country was unwinnable with Ms Sudmalis as the candidate in 2019.

Why did senior party members only act to end and address the divisions within the local Liberal Party yesterday?

Senator Payne had a front-row seat long before the broader community knew what was happening. It’s illogical to suggest that at least two Prime Ministers were not aware of what was going on and how split the branch was.

Where was the decisive action that might have spared the voters of Gilmore this spectacle?

Democracy is something people die and fight for around the world, those of us with the right to vote have a duty to protect and preserve our freedoms – citizenship.

I am no advocate for any party or candidate, but I do expect all parties to do their bit for democracy and put forward authentic, credible candidates for voters to engage with and choose from.

That’s what the Prime Minister thinks he has now done by dumping Schultz and installing Mundine.

I just wish the party acted months ago so that the voters of Gilmore had clear air to make their decision – its one that could decide who forms government in 2019.

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