Move to dump Victorian Liberal MP resisted

Callum Godde |

Divisions within the Victorian Liberals have intensified as state leader John Pesutto moves to expel controversial MP Moira Deeming.

Mr Pesutto is attempting to boot the upper house MP from the Liberals’ parliamentary ranks after she spoke at an anti-trans rights event outside Victorian parliament at the weekend.

The Melbourne rally was organised by British anti-trans activist Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull and attended by neo-Nazis who repeatedly performed the Nazi salute.

In an official notice of the expulsion motion, Mr Pesutto accused Ms Deeming of “conducting activities in a manner likely to bring discredit” to the party over her association with rally figures with alleged links to extremists.

Attached was a 15-page dossier of supportive “evidence” detailing Ms Deeming’s involvement in the rally and Ms Keen-Minshull’s alleged links to neo-Nazis, which she denies.

But he faced resistance during a party room meeting on Tuesday, with a counter motion moved to delay Monday’s meeting. 

It was defeated 18 votes to 11 and brought on by Berwick MP Brad Battin and Polwarth MP Richard Riordan, who were both contenders for the leadership after the coalition’s November state election drubbing.

Mr Pesutto said he wasn’t blindsided and refused to be drawn on whether the move was a proxy leadership challenge, or if he would resign if he loses Monday’s vote.

“It shows that the party room does understand that I have grounds for wanting to have this addressed,” he told reporters at state parliament.

Ms Deeming walked into Tuesday’s meeting flanked by several colleagues, including former opposition leader Matthew Guy.

She has categorically denied she or organisers of the rally did anything wrong and labelled condemnation from party leadership unjust.

“My intention is to fight and to remain a member of the team,” she wrote in a lengthy statement on Monday.

“I hope that when I have the opportunity to present the facts as they occurred, that my colleagues will stand on principle and vote down the motion to have me expelled.”

She rushed past media without taking questions after the meeting. 

Warrandyte MP Ryan Smith, who backed Mr Battin’s leadership tilt last year, said people were “uncomfortable” with the idea of expelling Ms Deeming and he doesn’t share Mr Pesutto’s stance.

“Some of the evidence that’s been shown to me appears to have been put together to fit the accusation rather than the other way around,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne on Tuesday.

“The next few days will be the opportunity for the leadership team to change my view on that. But at this point I can’t see any reason why we should be expelling someone who has been firstly elected by the party and then subsequently elected by the people of western Melbourne.”

In federal parliament, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus attacked national Liberal leader Peter Dutton for his “silence” in condemning the display of the Nazi salute.

Mr Pesutto said he had not consulted his federal counterpart about his push to oust Ms Deeming before the Aston federal by-election next month.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the anti-trans rally was a “nasty” and “hateful” event long before masked men used the Nazi gesture.

“Why would you make it harder for trans Victorians? The notion that people are choosing this for fun … it’s so offensive, it’s so cruel, it’s not mainstream thinking,” he said.

Mr Andrews on Tuesday tweeted there was “a new flag flying outside the offices of the Victorian government”, in a show of solidarity with the LGBTIQ+ community.

“Because we’ll always respect you. And we’ll always have your back,” his tweet read, along with a video of the blue and pink Progress flag being hoisted up a flagpole.