Labor has seized on disarray within the Liberal Party after government members questioned the prime minister’s account of why federal intervention was needed in NSW.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Scott Morrison made statements that were “demonstrably not true” after he defended going over the top of the party’s NSW executive to install his own candidates in the state.
“That is why so many people in the prime ministers own inner circle – people who know him well – have all come to a common view that he cannot be trusted,” Mr Albanese said.
Mr Morrison says his actions were to protect female MPs whose preselections were at risk and denied allegations of bullying and autocratic behaviour, branding it as coming from disgruntled parliamentarians.
While campaigning in a key Perth seat, Mr Albanese said the government was focused on internal politics and not Australians.
“They clearly need time in opposition to get their act together because at the moment their entire focus is on themselves,” he said.
“They are not dealing with the challenges of how our economy goes forward, they are not dealing with issues like the aged care crisis.”
Environment Minister Sussan Ley – one of the three sitting MPs Mr Morrison’s intervention saved – defended the prime minister, saying he was willing to listen and focused on getting the right outcomes for Australians.
“The recent political pile on the prime minister could not be further from the reality of the leader I have worked closely with at the cabinet table, at party discussions or socially,” she said in a statement.
“I welcome Australia’s prime minister publicly and strongly supporting and promoting talented women, some facing re-election and others standing for the first time.”
Mr Morrison’s also spared ally Immigration Minister Alex Hawke and backbencher Trent Zimmerman.
His picks were upheld on Tuesday after the NSW Court of Appeal dismissed a legal challenge from a party member, clearing the way for an election to be called this week.
“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,” Mr Morrison told the ABC’s 7.30 program.
“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.”
Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who has been relegated to an unwinnable spot on the party’s NSW Senate line-up, rejected the prime minister’s claim he was protecting women.
In a statement to 7.30, she said: “Morrison is simply using the ‘gender card’ to conflate captain’s picks to trash democratic processes in NSW.”
Senator Fierravanti-Wells last week spoke under parliamentary privilege to condemn Mr Morrison as “not fit to be prime minister” and branding him “ruthless”.
NSW state Liberal MP Catherine Cusack has accused Mr Morrison of politicising the devastating floods and publicly stated she would not vote for him at the coming election.
Labor frontbencher Jason Clare said the internal divisions were tearing the Liberal Party apart, making it unfit to lead.
“If you have Liberal Party MPs saying they can’t trust Scott Morrison, why should the Australian people?
“And if you have members of the Liberal Party saying they’re not going to vote for Scott Morrison, then why should the Australian people?”
By Dominic Giannini in Canberra
Get all the latest Canberra news, sport, entertainment, lifestyle, competitions and more delivered straight to your inbox with the Canberra Weekly Daily Newsletter. Sign up here.