Scott Morrison and NSW treasurer and leading moderate Matt Kean are publicly at loggerheads over the future of the prime minister’s controversial captain’s pick for the seat of Warringah.
Kean has declared Katherine Deves, who made offensive comments on social media about transgender people, should be disendorsed – a view shared by a number of other prominent Liberals.
But Morrison said on Saturday he would not join the “pile on”.
“I don’t share Matt’s view. I share Tony Abbott’s view. I’m not joining that pile on,” he told reporters.
Abbott, who lost Warringah to independent Zali Steggall in 2019, condemned the “pile on from people who claim to be supporters of women’s rights”.
Abbott told the Sydney Morning Herald Deves was “a tough, brave person who’s standing up for the rights of women and girls, for fairness in sport”.
The Deves issue exploded after news.com.au revealed her offensive social media posts, which included referring to transgender children being “surgically mutilated and sterilised”. She also said she was “triggered” by the rainbow pride flag.
The posts had been deleted.
After they were reported, she apologised for using language that was “not acceptable”.
Kean said on Twitter:“There is no place in a mainstream political party for bigotry. Coming out as Trans would be hugely challenging, especially for kids, and political leaders should be condemning the persecution of people based on their gender, not participating in it.”
He told the media: “She should be disendorsed”. .
Deves was one of a batch of NSW candidates chosen at the last minute by a committee headed by Morrison. He was particularly anxious to find women candidates.
But now Deves has become not just a drag on the vote in Warringah – which the Liberals were not expected to win from Steggall anyway – but a problem more widely.
Some Liberal sources say that if Deves is not removed, this could harm the Liberal vote in North Sydney and Wentworth, where there are high profile “teal” candidates. The Liberal MPs in these seats, Trent Zimmerman and Dave Sharma respectively, crossed the floor as part of a Liberal backbench revolt to protect gay and trans children.
There are also fears within the party that more damaging material about Deves might emerge.
Deves is a strong campaigner for banning transgender women from women’s sport. Morrison some days ago praised her for her activism on women’s sport but after the social media posts were revealed he said he had not been aware of her other comments.
Morrison on Saturday said Deves had principally been talking about ensuring fairness in sport and standing up for women and girls in sport. “And she has learnt from her experiences about how she’s sought to deal with this issue in the past.
"And I have no doubt that she’ll pursue these issues in a more sensitive way, a more respectful way in the future.”
In an email that’s had wide distribution in the Liberal party, Walter Villatora, a branch president in Warringah, has written: “The view of many experienced members is that we would suffer less of a loss without a candidate than a candidate that has brought the party into disrepute to this extent. Steggall and the media will not let this go”.
Liberal sources said that before Deves was chosen it was known within the party that she was a “single issue” candidate and had made some provocative comments.