Victorian Opposition Leader John Pesutto is on track for a victory in Monday morning’s vote to expel Moira Deeming from the Liberal party room, despite the numbers narrowing over the weekend.
Liberal MPs say the ballot determining the controversial MP’s future, to be held at 10am, is an early test for Pesutto despite Deeming claiming she would back the current leadership team if the vote fails.
In an 11th-hour plea to colleagues on Sunday, Deeming said in an email: “My offer to publicly back the current leadership team, if the vote to expel me fails, still stands.”
There are 31 members in the state Liberal party room, meaning Pesutto needs at least 16 votes for his motion to expel Deeming to succeed. He has found support for his motion from the party’s moderate faction, while those opposing it tend to be more conservative or former leadership rivals.
Western Metropolitan MP Deeming is fighting to remain in the Coalition’s ranks after Pesutto said he would push to remove her for “organising, promoting and attending” the Let Women Speak protest on the steps of state parliament just over a week ago. The anti-transgender rights rally was gatecrashed by far-right extremists who performed the Nazi salute on the steps of parliament.
As of Sunday afternoon, Deeming and her supporters believed they could rely on at least 10 to 12 votes, according to more than half of the party room, who spoke to The Age on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss internal party matters.
MPs have been told Deeming has the support of upper house MPs Renee Heath, Bev McArthur, Ann-Marie Hermans and Joe McCracken. Lower house MPs Richard Riordan and Chris Crewther – who were last week seen driving Deeming into parliament – are also believed to oppose the motion.
Warrandyte MP Ryan Smith, who was dumped from shadow cabinet by Pesutto, told the ABC last week that he believed the leadership team had not provided substantial evidence to expel Deeming.
The opposition leader and his supporters expect to gain at least 16 to 18 votes in favour of the expulsion. However, that number includes MPs who don’t want to expel Deeming but also don’t want to create leadership tensions by voting against the leader’s motion.
“Ninety per cent of the room want both [Pesutto and Deeming] to stay,” one Liberal MP said. “But Pesutto’s leadership is going to be untenable if the motion fails. It’s not a rule, but it will be seen as a vote of no confidence.”
Liberal MPs for and against the motion told The Age that should Deeming be expelled, Pesutto could still face instability in the long term unless his motion had a sweeping victory, which, in a small party room, may be a margin of seven or so votes. The opposition leader won his position by just one vote in early December.
Another Liberal MP said colleagues ought to study the results of the NSW election. The NSW Coalition were pummelled on Saturday night and now has a similar number of seats to the Victorian division.
“Every Liberal outfit across Australia has been continually roasted, so we have to modernise,” the Victorian MP said.
“NSW were the gold standard. They were forward leaning, and they still got done over. Granted, they were a long-term government, but we clearly have a brand problem because of the feds.
“We can either be a right-wing fringe-tickling party, or a modern centrist party, and the vote on Monday decides which.”
In her Sunday email to MPs, seen by The Age, Deeming described the accusations against her as “poorly researched” and said the Liberal leadership had legitimate grounds to retract the expulsion motion.
“I condemn Nazism unreservedly, and my offer to make another public statement to that effect, workshopped with the media department and signed off by leadership, still stands,” Deeming wrote.
“I condemn bigotry towards the LGBTQI+ community, and especially any inferences or claims that being a part of that community implies any kind of paedophilia.”
In the email, she does not condemn British anti-transgender campaigner Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull, who spoke at the rally, or Melbourne anti-trans activist Angela Jones, who tweeted on the day of the protest: “Nazis and women want to get rid of paedo filth, why don’t you?” These were among the conditions the Liberal leadership put to Deeming at a meeting convened after the rally in an effort to avoid expulsion.
Asked at the weekend whether he was nervous that Monday’s motion would pass by only a few votes, deputy Liberal leader David Southwick said: “I’m focused on getting beyond tomorrow. No one wants politicians talking about themselves.”
Nationals MPs, while unable to participate in Monday’s Liberal party room vote, have backed Pesutto’s stance.
With Rachel Eddie
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.