Liberal MPs will have to wait until Friday to resolve their disagreements after a vital meeting was abruptly postponed. The MPs are upset that the party’s leadership team wanted financial support to fend off a defamation threat from a famous anti-trans rights campaigner.
To request indemnity from the party in the event that Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull files a lawsuit, Opposition Leader John Pesutto, David Southwick, Georgie Crozier, and Matthew Bach spoke with Victorian Liberal Party President Greg Mirabella and State Director Stuart Smith on Tuesday.
Keen-Minshull gave the leadership of the Victorian Liberal Party a 28-day ultimatum to deliver a formal apology, make restitution, and reimburse her legal expenses, or she will file a lawsuit.
She participated in a contentious gathering in Melbourne in March that former Liberal MP Moira Deeming attended and that neo-Nazi demonstrators gatecrashed. Deeming was first suspended from the parliamentary party as a compromise after Pesutto’s unsuccessful attempt to oust her, but she was ultimately ejected following a protracted and contentious fallout.
Keen-Minshull was accused of publicly associating with far-right extremist organisations, including neo-Nazi extremists, in a party room motion against Deeming during this time. Keen-Minshull has refuted this and stated that it is false. She and Deeming are not implied to be connected to neo-Nazis by The Age.
Separately, Deeming has vowed to file legal defamation charges against Pesutto.
Party headquarters has been reluctant to cover Pesutto’s legal costs in connection with that situation.
Chris Crewther, a Mornington MP and lower house party whip who had backed Deeming, emailed colleagues to schedule the Wednesday meeting for 1pm.
“Following a request from a number of colleagues, and discussions and confirmation of this time with JP [Pesutto], I’m emailing you to let you know that there will be an informal meeting of Liberal parliamentarians at 1pm today in the party room, where there’ll be an opportunity to informally discuss a number of internal party matters with JP.”
But the meeting started half an hour later than expected.
“I advise that due to activities surrounding our GP summit into Labor’s health tax, today’s informal party room meeting called by Chris Crewther will not proceed,” Trung Luu, the party’s parliamentary secretary said in a follow-up email.
On Friday, a formal party room meeting will be held in its place.
According to Pesutto, the now-postponed meeting was planned to provide his coworkers an update on the potential legal action from Deeming and Keen-Minshull.
He acknowledged that he was in conversation with the party’s top brass on how to pay for the leadership team’s defence.
“Clearly, I think the party needs to look at this,” Pesutto said. “I give the party a wide berth on this because we haven’t been down this path before. It’s kind of a new experience for the party.”
He has already stated that he will defend Deeming’s legal actions, and on Wednesday he stated that he tried to mediate the situation. He affirmed that any action taken by Keen-Minshull will be resisted by the leadership team.
“All I can tell you with complete confidence and certainty is that my colleagues will vigorously contest that matter,” Pesutto said.
“I’m very satisfied that the case has no ultimate merits.”
He claimed that the Warrandyte byelection victory was his top priority, along with holding the Andrews Labour administration responsible. He also insisted that the Liberal Party needed to undergo reform.
Some lawmakers, according to a frontbencher for the Liberal Party, wanted to know what protections the group could provide given that elected officials must speak “without fear or favour.”
Under the condition of anonymity to discuss internal party matters, a number of other Liberal MPs told The Age they planned to use the meeting to determine whether the party’s insurance coverage covered legal fees.