Scott Morrison absent as Cook Liberals sharpen knives over parachuting saga

by novellagabb

Liberals in Scott Morrison’s seat of Cook are in uproar over the parachuting of Simon Kennedy as the party’s candidate in the upcoming by-election. 

Kennedy, a former McKinsey consultant, failed 2022 candidate for the northern Sydney seat of Bennelong, and recent Maroubra resident who moved to Woolooware in the past few weeks, triumphed over Sutherland Shire Mayor Carmelo Pesce at a preselection ballot in early March, gathering 158 votes against Pesce’s 90. Since the ballot, branch members loyal to Pesce have been complaining Liberal Party bigwigs from outside the district had too much sway in the selection. 

“The local branch is pissed off, big time,” one Liberal source told Crikey.

Crikey understands Kennedy had the backing of the Liberal shadow treasurer Angus Taylor, another McKinsey alumni and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s representative on the preselection panel. Scott Briggs, the president of the Liberal Party’s federal electoral committee in Cook and an ally of Morrison’s, was another strong backer of Kennedy, Crikey understands. 

Other prominent Liberals that supported Kennedy included former prime minister Tony Abbott and ex-NSW premier Dominic Perrottet. Taylor, Abbott and Perrottet all appeared at functions held in the Shire to support Kennedy’s selection, and Abbott made calls to members with voting rights in the preselection process. 

“Tony Abbott was ringing preselectors himself — when you’ve got an ex-prime minister calling you, and you’re just an average person, it’s persuasive. You think ‘Wow, I feel important,’” a source said. 

Another source said the fact so many prominent Liberals had rallied behind Kennedy was a sure sign the “party machine” was behind his candidacy. 

But a senior Liberal source and Kennedy supporter said the candidate was “an absolute star” who would be a contender for a ministerial post in any future Liberal government.

“A majority of locals supported Simon Kennedy — isn’t that more of an indictment of the quality of the local candidates?” the person told Crikey.

“Ultimately the locals made the decision that it was better to select someone from the outside than someone from the inside.”

Unlike Abbott, Morrison stayed outside of the selection process, preferring it to run its course without his input. Although he’s made some appearances in the community alongside Kennedy, the ex-prime minister has taken a mostly hands-off approach to the campaign itself as well, Crikey understands. 

There are even rumours Morrison is planning to be abroad on April 13 when the by-election will be held. Two Liberal sources told Crikey Morrison has a work trip booked to Washington, DC that was planned before the by-election date was announced. The same sources said Briggs would join him on that trip, but Briggs denied that. 

“That’s incorrect. I’ll be around on polling day and I’m helping out on the campaign,” Briggs told Crikey. 

Morrison did not reply to messages left with his former office, party, and on a social media account. Crikey asked the Liberal Party to comment on Morrison’s polling day plans but did not receive a response by deadline. 

The local Liberals who spoke to Crikey said the unease over the preselection process had contributed to the dismal turnout for a goodbye event planned for Morrison. The dinner in the Sutherland Shire was planned for late March and then postponed indefinitely.

“They expected three to four hundred people, but couldn’t even get 100,” one source said. 

There are other signs of strife in the Shire branch of the Liberal Party: former mayor Kent Johns, a backer of Kennedy, has been forced to apologise and take a leave of absence from the Sutherland Shire Council, where he’s a councillor, after a recording of him making profanity-laden remarks was leaked to The Australian

The newspaper’s Margin Call column speculated the leak was part of a campaign of “serious character liquidation” aimed at punishing Johns for his support of Kennedy.

The Liberals expect to have an easy run in Cook, which is held by the party on a 12.4% margin.

Abbott, Taylor and Perrottet couldn’t be reached before deadline. Pesce declined to comment.

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