It was only a week ago that John Pesutto insisted there “wasn’t really any alternative” but to expel Moira Deeming.
According to Pesutto, “any question of an association, even indirectly, with Nazis, white supremacists, eco-fascists or whatever else is so odious in 2023 – as it should be – that I can’t see a way back”.
John Pesutto faces the media on Monday after the party room meeting.Credit:Darrian Traynor
But there was a way back.
Conveniently, it was found during a bathroom break in a two-hour party room meeting when it started to look like Pesutto’s motion didn’t have much support.
Make no mistake, Pesutto entered Monday’s party room meeting adamant no compromise could be reached and that Deeming had to be expelled. He called the meeting, spoke in favour of the motion and failed to soften his stance despite some last-minute secret concessions by Deeming.
But it appears his mood changed when he realised the numbers weren't going his way.
Liberal MP Sam Groth’s last-minute decision to leave Fiji to attend the meeting was the “canary in the coal mine” moment, signalling Pesutto’s push to expel Deeming was in doubt. But even Groth’s four-hour mercy mission from a tropical resort to rainy Melbourne wasn’t enough to save Pesutto from an embarrassing backflip when he realised he’d promised to do something he couldn’t deliver.
Those in the meeting say contributions from MPs including Kim Wells, Joe McCracken and Richard Riordan (among others) rattled the confidence of the leadership team, who knew a loss would be viewed as a proxy no-confidence vote. Their main concern was that the leadership group hadn’t made a case for change and Deeming was guilty only of association.
Pesutto insists it was Deeming’s decision to widen her condemnation from just Nazism to some of the questionable characters she was hanging out with after the controversial anti-trans rights rally.
But the voting public is unlikely to see any condemnation; we just have to trust that it was made.
By pushing ahead with the expulsion motion, Pesutto wanted the Victorian Liberal Party to appear progressive and mainstream, but his failure to expel Deeming has exposed his vulnerability as leader, and turned her into a martyr in conservative circles.
He has also elevated the brand and amplified the views of anti-transgender rights activists who had rarely had much coverage away from the fringes.
He said his change of heart shows he is “reasonable and sensible”, and that he had “unanimous support of the party room”.
In reality, it’s evidence he is willing to save his leadership.
As one former Liberal MP complained after Monday’s chaos: “After NSW [and] this train wreck, they should forget using consultants for a review of the Liberal Party … best they call in Tobin Brothers.”
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