Jim Molan’s battle to win back a New South Wales Senate position has started a war between the Liberal and the National parties that could jeopardise the Coalition agreement and the National’s only potential NSW Senate seat.
Since he was preselected in the unwinnable fourth spot on the Senate ticket, Molan has been urging his supporters to vote below-the-line, which could threaten the success of the Nationals’ Senate candidate Perin Davey.
The below-the-line campaign has seen Liberal MPs, including John Alexander in Bennelong, caught out advising voters to support the Liberals’ how-to-vote card or vote below the line for Molan.
This forced the NSW Nationals chairman, Bede Burke, to email members to advise that the below-the-line campaign “breaks the Coalition agreement and seriously harms the chances of a Nationals senator being elected”.
“That is why we are asking you to vote below the line on the Senate ballot paper, for the Nationals’ Perin Davey and Sam Farraway,” Burke’s email says.
The falling out in the Coalition escalated after Barnaby Joyce urged Scott Morrison to intervene, telling the New Daily “they fired the first shot”.
“That is completely at odds with the Coalition agreement,” Joyce reportedly said. “If the Coalition agreement became fractured, bellicose, then it would be completely and utterly chaotic. Both sides would lose.”
The conflict comes to a head just days out from Saturday’s poll, reinforcing the division both within the Liberal party over the past two terms as well as driving a wedge between the Liberal and the Nationals.
Speaking from a pre-poll voting station in Broken Hill, Davey said the result could be that the state has no senator from regional NSW.
“I understand [Molan] putting himself forward for election but we have a Coalition agreement for a reason,” Davey said.
However she did not think an intervention by Morrison would make a difference.
“I don’t know anything that can be done other than encouraging voters to think about who they are voting for,” Davey said. “I understand why Jim has done it but unfortunately, if Jim campaigns successfully, it won’t be without expense to me.”
The conflict is also driven by disquiet among Liberal conservatives over the lack of support offered by Scott Morrison to Tony Abbott, who is in danger of losing Warringah to Zali Steggall. Morrison has not visited Warringah once during the campaign.
Molan is a former army general and high-profile NSW conservative, who was also the architect for the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders campaign to turn back asylum seeker boats.
He came into the Senate after the Coalition lost senators during the dual citizenship debacle but then was relegated further down the ticket, behind moderate Liberal Hollie Hughes, who secured the second spot.
Molan was sympathetic to Alexander’s predicament, saying “John was doing what he should do for the party”. On 2GB, he described the whole story as a “gotcha moment” from Labor and the Greens.
Molan has had his campaign boosted by sections of the media including Peta Credlin on Sky News and Alan Jones.
Liberal dissident John Ruddick, who has long campaigned for grass roots preselections, said Molan would have easily won a winnable Senate position if all members were allowed to vote in Senate preselections rather than only 8% of members.
“If it all of this [campaign] goes to custard, it will be the result of factions overriding membership,” Ruddick said.
Ruddick likened Molan’s campaign to Winston Churchill’s situation in 1939, when Churchill was in danger of losing his preselection to a party apparatchik because he was campaigning against appeasement.
“My point is, parties can make seriously bad mistakes,” Ruddick said. “If Churchill hadn’t prevailed, we would all be speaking German.”