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Two Liberal MPs have declared there are “terrorists” in the Victorian parliamentary party room trying to undermine John Pesutto’s leadership.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Brighton MP James Newbury said there were three or four “terrorists” who would rather bring down Pesutto than hold Premier Daniel Andrews to account.
Victorian Opposition Leader John Pesutto speaking to the media after Moira Deeming’s suspension. Credit: Darrian Traynor
“They need to work out whether they’re Liberals or whether they want to sit on the crossbench,” he said. “Everybody’s had enough.”
Former opposition leader Matthew Guy echoed those comments a short while later.
“There’s a couple of terrorists within the parliamentary party who need to work out whether they want to sit with the parliamentary party or not,” he said. “But the vast majority of us back John Pesutto and will continue to back John Pesutto because he’s a very good leader.”
Earlier on Thursday, News Corp papers published stories that quoted anonymous Liberal MPs who claimed they were considering lodging a formal bullying complaint against the Victorian opposition leader over his treatment of upper house MP Renee Heath during a recent meeting.
There are conflicting accounts of what transpired during Tuesday’s party room showdown. But the debate centres around the minutes from a previous meeting in March when MPs voted to suspend Deeming for nine months.
Heath, who is close to Deeming, is also the party room secretary, meaning she is responsible for taking notes of what is said at official meetings.
On Tuesday, she provided three different versions of the minutes from March, with some MPs questioning whether quotes contained in the second and third versions were generated from a secret recording, according to those who were in the room.
Pesutto moved a motion to reject Heath’s minutes, according to MPs.
One Liberal, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Age that Pesutto was calm, just wanted to get the minutes right and said words to the effect: “It’s OK, I’m not having a go at you.”
Heath is said to have left the meeting in tears. She later sent an email to colleagues saying she felt “completely stitched up and misrepresented”.
“I am upset. Very upset,” the email read. “The way I have been treated and the way other conservative women in this party are treated is nothing short of bullying.”
Speaking to ABC Radio Melbourne on Thursday, Pesutto said it was not correct to describe the exchange in question as bullying. He added that he was simply trying to address the conflicting minutes.
“The party room overwhelmingly saw the common sense in what I was proposing, and they endorsed that,” he said.
“I’ve got no problem with diversity of political opinion. I love the fact the Liberal Party combines progressive and conservative elements.”
Upper house Liberal leader Georgie Crozier described the saga as “a couple of people being mischievous”.
“It’s disappointing, actually, that these sorts of allegations are being made,” she said. “John is a very good, decent man. ”
The Liberal MP for South West Coast, Roma Britnell, said she was present at the meeting and “what’s been recorded is so incorrect”.
“I’m disappointed people are speaking [with] anonymity. If you’ve got something to say, say it. And I think there’ll be a theme … when you look and see [who’s responsible]. It’s not hard.”
Nepean MP Sam Groth added that his colleagues should be talking more about integrity issues and the state’s record debt levels.
“We’ve got a budget coming up in two and a half weeks,” he said.
“We should be focusing on the corruption this Andrews government is facing with all the IBAC hearings. And we should actually be worrying about how we can present ourselves as an alternate government and stop arguing among ourselves about fringe issues.”
Asked about the turmoil this morning, and whether she had a response to some MPs using the word terrorist, Deeming said: “I don’t buy into this ridiculous language.”
With Rachel Eddie
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