NSW South Coast Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis will not contest next year’s federal election, stepping down from her marginal seat amid claims of “branch-stacking, undermining and leaks” – and pointing the finger at a state Liberal MP as one of the key instigators.
Her rumoured departure was confirmed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison yesterday, who said she’d been “an outstanding member” and was a good friend.
Her seat of Gilmore, based around Kiama, is the most marginal in NSW, at 0.7%.
Sudmalis, 63, wrote to Morrison last week saying she’d withdraw from the bruising local preselection contest after she lost control of her local Federal Electoral Conference (FEC), which supports the local MP in campaigning and fundraising. Morrison didn’t open the letter until yesterday and Sudmalis said she wanted to withhold her announcement until after the Wentworth by-election on October 20, but her hand was forced on the weekend after her FEC team was rolled at the local AGM and her position was “impossible”.
The second-term MP emphasised that her decision had nothing to do with the recent leadership spill, but added that she voted against it and supported Malcolm Turnbull.
But in recent months she’d faced a bitter preselection battle, including a battle for control of the local Liberal branch.
Morrison said Sudmalis “raised a number of genuine concerns” about her treatment by the NSW division of the Liberal Party.
“This is in addition to complaints I have received from other colleagues about processes in the party’s organisational wing,” he said.
“I stress that these are complaints that do not relate to the parliamentary wing, but to the organisational wing of the party.”
He says he’s asked the Liberal Federal Director to investigate how to establish a “rigorous and confidential process” for addressing complaints.
Sudmalis used parliamentary privilege last night to accuse NSW MP Gareth Ward of undermining her for six-and-a-half years as part of a “revenge-motivated trifecta surrounding me locally”.
“This is not the first time that Gareth has flexed his vengeance on strong Liberal women. He doesn’t just get even, he annihilates anyone who opposes him,” she said.
She accused local Liberal member Andrew Guile, and newspaper editor John Hanscombe of being part of the “trifecta” campaigning against her.
“This was all about Gareth’s narcissistic revenge, planned and plotted,” she said.
“Was I doing a lousy job? No. Only if you ask the local Labor member and even some of them think I’m doing an OK job.
“Was it because they thought I’d lose the next election? Hardly, when I had the confidence of the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and the current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, openly stating on national television their support for me.”
She accused the NSW division of the Liberal Party of failing to act and support her when the preselection “should have been determined before now.”
Sudmalis also appealed for a kinder approach to politicians attempting to do their job.
“Politics is a place where if you do not have great resilience, the actions of others can impact on your mental health,” she told Parliament.
“I would ask here that those who feel inspired to be spiteful, angry, insulting and gutless because they’re using their keyboards – have a think before pressing the send button. How would you feel if you received the email you’re about to send?
“I have decided enough is enough. Who was this about? Certainly not the people who elected me. It was about ego-driven ambition, bullying and betrayal and my local position is completely untenable.”
Her likely successor is a local real estate agent.
In response to her claims last night, Ward called her speech an “outrageous use of parliamentary privilege” and challenged her to make the claims outside parliament – potentially paving the way for a defamation action.
“If Ms Sudmalis believes the comments she’s made tonight, she should make them outside of Parliament and provide evidence,” he told the ABC.
“I think sometimes people confuse not getting their way as being bullied.”
The latest claims by a female Liberal MP follow comments by former foreign minister Julie Bishop and South Australian Liberal senator Lucy Gichuhi about the bullying of women in Parliament.
Victorian MP Julia Banks has already announced she will quit parliament at the next election after just one term because of bullying experienced during the recent Liberal leadership spill.
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