Embattled Liberal-National MP Andrew Laming is under investigation by the electoral commission over more than 30 Facebook pages operated without political authorisation disclosures.
The Guardian Australia reported Mr Laming was behind the pages, which attack political opponents with pro-LNP material.
An Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) spokesperson confirmed the Facebook activity would be investigated over the requirement for electoral authorisation designed to allow voters know who is communicating.
The Facebook pages include Redland Bay Bulletin, which has a similar name to local news site the Redland City Bulletin.
“We welcome new families, update the issues and keep a close eye on politicians and their promises,” the Facebook page says.
Another is called the Redlands Institute, which describes itself as a forum for balanced discussion of major issues.
Dr Laming is quitting politics at the next election after being accused of harassing two female constituents and taking a photo of a woman while she was bending over.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has resisted calls to dump him from the coalition party room with the government holding a wafer-thin majority in the lower house.
Dr Laming has not denied taking the photo without the woman’s consent but says there was nothing untoward.
He is also under fire after he was confronted with allegations of bullying, stalking and harassing various women over several years.
The 54 year old has been given a month of paid medical leave to seek counselling and empathy training.
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Mr Laming may have committed a criminal act under section 227a of the state’s criminal code, which regulates the observation or recording of a person in breach of their privacy. The maximum penalty for such an offence is three years’ jail.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Saturday – before the latest revelations emerged – that he had given Mr Laming a second dressing-down in three days and that the MP would have to undertake cultural awareness training.
The Prime Minister stopped short of endorsing Mr Laming as fit to continue to serve in federal Parliament.
“I am not a member of the LNP Queensland Division. Our state divisions make decisions about pre-selections. Every single member of Parliament, me included, has to re-nominate for the endorsement of our party. And that’s a process which is under way currently with the LNP and, and I’m sure selectors will be thinking about all of these things,” he said.
“I spoke to him again this morning, and I am arranging for Mr Laming to now get appropriate assistance, a private course, to build his understanding and awareness about his actions.”
The shocking new revelations will heap pressure on Mr Morrison to cut the rogue MP loose and send him to the crossbench.
They come after a hugely damaging six weeks in which the Coalition has been rocked by Brittany Higgins’ shocking rape allegations, a historical rape claim against Attorney-General Christian Porter and revelations that a Coalition staffer masturbated onto the desk of a female government MP.
If Mr Morrison forced Ms Laming to move to the cross bench that would send the Coalition into minority government as it hold just 75 seats in the 151 member lower house – so such a move will be met with resistance.
The revelations about Mr Laming come three days after Nine revealed the MP had bullied two women, Alix Russo and Sheena Hewlett, online and a day after he seemed to make light of his own apology to them.
Neither Mr Morrison’s spokeswoman nor Mr Laming’s spokesman provided a comment when contacted by The Sun-Herald and The Sunday Age.
Earlier in the day, Mr Laming’s spokesman said his apology to Ms Russo and Ms Hewlett had been sincere.
James Massola is political correspondent for the Sun-Herald and
Sunday Age. He was previously south-east Asia correspondent in Jakarta and chief political correspondent. Before that he was political correspondent for the Australian Financial Review.
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Attorney-General Christian Porter is on leave after he vehemently denied allegations he raped a 16-year-old girl when he was a teenager at a Sydney debating competition. A male Liberal staffer was sacked after videos emerged of him filming himself masturbating over a female MP’s desk.
Mr O’Brien said female representation in the party was “not good enough” and the Liberals must “do better”.
“I want to see more women voting Liberal, I want to see more women joining the Liberal Party and I want to see more women elected to represent the Liberal Party,” Mr O’Brien said on Wednesday afternoon.
“Am I open to quotas? Yes, I am. I’m open to anything which will achieve the outcome … it’s ultimately a matter for the party organisation to make those changes. The changes need to be made and I’m completely up for debate and conversation about what the nature of those changes should be.
“Where we are at the moment is not good enough and I want to see us do better.”
The Age called the Liberal Party’s seven female MPs, and only Evelyn MP Bridget Vallence did not respond to calls.
Upper house MP Bev McArthur said quotas were a “form of active discrimination”.
“Taking quotas to their logical extension, should an election result be overturned if a man defeats a woman merely to achieve a balance of sexes in the parliament?” Ms McArthur said. “Which talented man is going to step aside in the name of virtue signalling? Do women want to be selected on gender tokenism?”
Georgie Crozier said: “There are fabulous strong women and our party wants more women in Parliament”, while Cindy McLeish said there was no question that more women were needed in Parliament. “This is a discussion we must have.”
Louise Staley said: “As somebody who has tried everything, quite frankly, to get more women into Parliament, we now need to seize this moment and deliver.”
Roma Britnell said: “We must do whatever we can [to get better outcomes]”, while Wendy Lovell also added: “It’s clear that what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working and we need to look at how we get more women into Parliament.”
A senior Liberal source said the party had been arguing for 50 years about quotas, “and in the last 10 years we’ve had how many bloody meetings, mentoring, women’s leadership groups, women’s preselection things have we had?” The source added, “enough’s enough”.
Mr Baillieu said the party shouldn’t be shy in exploring options to introduce quotas.
“I don’t want to dictate how to do it, but it’s possible,” he said. “You can look at retiring members and allocate some of those seats [to new candidates] in advance, or introduce quotas for three or four state and federal elections combined and you keep it going until you get to 50-50 [gender equality].”
Former Victorian Liberal MP Andrea Coote, who headed the Women to Win group in 2016, said the Liberal Party needed to be “absolutely and utterly” debated in the current climate.
“The notion of quotas is a very emotive concept for the Liberal Party, but I feel it needs to be heartily debated and I’m really pleased to see the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition openly discussing it,” Ms Coote said.
In the federal arena, senior frontbenchers Marise Payne, Karen Andrews, Sussan Ley and Melissa Price along with a number of female MPs also said it was time to consider quotas.
NSW federal Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman said he wanted the party to adopt mandatory quotas of 50 per cent female candidates on Senate tickets then look to boost women in the lower house, but other male MPs on the government’s benches were reluctant to advocate for a formal policy, with many pointing out their grassroots members would not agree.
Labor introduced quotas for women running in winnable seats in the mid-1990s, which has led to almost half the federal caucus being female compared with just a quarter for the Coalition.
At a state level, Labor’s caucus is 48 per cent women, compared with the Liberals’ 22 per cent.
However, it would likely be more difficult for the Liberals to establish female quotas than the Labor Party. The ALP often picks its candidates in deals between factional operatives, meaning those officials can work to ensure enough females are picked. But Liberal candidates are generally are chosen in grassroots local preselections, where a field of candidates are voted on by local branch members.
Individual state branches of the Liberal Party have the power to implement changes such as quotas. The reform would likely need to be voted on at a meeting of the party’s state council, and would likely face stiff resistance from sections of the party.
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Senior Liberal Party member Kent Johns has labelled embattled MP Craig Kelly a “liar”, as the former Liberal MP continues to stand by his political staffer Frank Zumbo amid allegations that Mr Zumbo sexually harassed young women.
At least seven women have provided statements to NSW Police detailing allegations of inappropriate behaviour by Craig Kelly’s trusted advisor, Frank Zumbo
Mr Kelly has denied knowledge of allegations involving Mr Zumbo
Senior Liberal Party member Kent Johns has revealed he personally informed Mr Kelly of the allegations at least three times
Mr Kelly consistently denied any knowledge of allegations involving Mr Zumbo until reports emerged in the media last year, and again more recently.
But Mr Johns, a former New South Wales Liberal Party vice-president, told 7.30 he personally informed Mr Kelly about some of the allegations and staff concerns at least three times between 2016 and 2018.
“He’s a liar,” Mr Johns told 7.30.
“He knew what was going on. He knew the behaviour was unacceptable, and he kept ignoring it. Craig Kelly had a duty of care, which he’s failed to fulfill.”
Concerns raised reached a ‘dead end’
Mr Johns said he raised these issues with a number of senior NSW Liberal Party members, but did not receive any meaningful response.
He said he decided to speak out publicly because he had gotten nowhere trying to solve the issue through other means over many years.
“I want people to know that a lot of people tried to address the issue with Craig Kelly directly,” he told 7.30.
In 2018, Mr Johns wrote an email to moderate Liberal Party members, saying they were all aware of the alleged “treatment of young women” in Craig Kelly’s office.
“The behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept,” he wrote.
He told 7.30: “I’d got to the point where I’d raised it with senior members of the Liberal Party operationally, senior members of the Liberal Party politically, and gotten to a dead end. I just was frustrated.”
The NSW Liberal Party told 7.30 it had no record of allegations about Frank Zumbo ever being raised with the party’s executive.
Mr Johns long held ambitions for the federal seat of Hughes, having once lost to Craig Kelly in a preselection contest.
He questioned whether knowledge of his political ambitions was used by the Liberal Party and Craig Kelly to undermine his concerns.
“It was seen through the prism of a political competitor,” Mr Johns said.
“Maybe that impacted my effectiveness, that people were not taking it as seriously as I did.”
He insisted the latest revelations had nothing to do with politics.
“I don’t want the seat of Hughes,” he told 7.30.
“What I want is these girls to be safe. That’s all this ever came down to.”
‘A smile on his face and an erection in his pants’
7.30 has obtained signed statutory declarations from three former staffers who worked at Craig Kelly’s electorate office. The staffers describe how they raised specific allegations with the MP as early as 2013.
During a meeting in June 2014, one staffer wrote, Mr Kelly was informed about an incident where Frank Zumbo emerged from a meeting with a young woman behind closed doors with a visible erection.
“Frank Zumbo walked out of the boardroom with a smile on his face and an erection in his pants,” the former staffer wrote.
Another allegation details an instance where others in the office overheard a young woman screaming.
7.30 has also obtained a police statement from a young female staffer who alleges Mr Zumbo sexually harassed her for three years from 2015.
Mr Zumbo vehemently denied all the allegations and said he was appalled that anyone would be making them.
However, the Department of Finance and NSW Police are currently looking into some of the claims.
While still employed in Mr Kelly’s electorate office, Mr Zumbo is also the subject of an apprehended violence order.
‘Craig would turn around and walk out’
7.30 is aware of at least seven women who provided statements to NSW Police, detailing allegations that Mr Zumbo’s behaviour around them was uncomfortable and sexually inappropriate.
One of the women, who was a political adviser in Craig Kelly’s office between 2015 and 2018, alleges that Frank Zumbo sexually harassed her.
The woman did not want to be identified, as she is running for office in the UK. However, she shared her seven-page police statement with 7.30.
The 27-year-old alleges that Frank Zumbo would greet her with hugs and kisses in Craig Kelly’s office, but then progress to trying to kiss her on the lips while putting his arms around her and pulling her close to him, and rubbing her body against his.
A year after she started working in the electorate office, she says that Mr Zumbo would begin the day by grabbing her breasts as she went in to hug him.
She alleges that in 2016, when she was 21, Mr Zumbo tried to kiss her in front of two witnesses.
“I pushed him away by putting both hands on his chest and saying, ‘Stop. I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to kiss you,'” she wrote in her police statement.
Then, in June 2018, she alleges Mr Zumbo exposed himself to her.
Her police statement reads: “I looked over at Frank and noticed he had taken his penis out of his zipper on his pants. I began crying while saying, ‘Frank, I don’t want to do anything like that. Please just take me home.’ Frank tried to encourage me by saying, ‘Come on.’ But as I continued crying, he put his penis away.”
7.30 can reveal that Mr Zumbo was the subject of two concurrent bullying and intimidation investigations which started in 2014.
Two senior female staffers in Craig Kelly’s office lodged compensation claims, alleging persistent bullying and intimidation by Mr Zumbo, who was still a volunteer at the time.
In one of the compensation claims, a staffer described regular shouting matches in the office and constantly feeling threatened that her job was on the line because of Frank Zumbo. She described how she became concerned about the large number of young women who were brought to the office by Mr Zumbo.
The woman was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, which according to her medical certificate was caused by “her interactions with Prof Zumbo (volunteer) at her workplace.”
Frank Zumbo has consistently denied the bullying allegations.
Mr Zumbo was also investigated by the South Australian government over allegations of bullying and intimidation that spanned between 2014 and 2015, when he was employed part-time in the office of the Small Business Commissioner.
One former employee told investigators his dealings with Mr Zumbo left him feeling “exhausted, stressed and bullied”, and that his time in the office with Mr Zumbo “wraps up into one long nightmare”.
An investigation found bullying and harassment had taken place. Mr Zumbo denies the allegations.
Meanwhile, at the University of New South Wales, where Frank Zumbo was an associate professor, concerns about his conduct were flagged before his sudden departure in 2015.
Former student Kate Nichols said that as a lecturer, Mr Zumbo would persistently contact her over Facebook asking to catch up outside of class.
She said the alleged behaviour felt sleazy, unwanted and intimidating at the time, but now, in the context of multiple other allegations, she views what allegedly happened under a different light.
“It almost feels like grooming-type behaviour,” she said.
Mr Zumbo told 7.30 through his lawyer that he denied any recollection of a “Kate Nichols” and had no record of any Facebook messages with a person of that name.
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In a letter to Mr Kaless, Mr Sibma said he accepted the former staffer “has been found not guilty of indecent assault”, and that his comments in December 2019 had caused Mr Kaless distress.
Mr Sibma said he accepted the court’s findings regarding Mr Kaless’s conduct without reservation.
The Upper House MP had criticised the government’s handling of the case at the time.
The state government is currently defending two legal actions brought by Mr Kaless.
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RUSSIA IS ONE of the few places where commercial surrogacy is entirely legal (along with Ukraine, Georgia and some American states). Foreigners can pay a Russian woman for the use of her womb. Each year Russian surrogate mothers give birth to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of babies (estimates vary wildly). And in contrast to America, the service is cheap. Nine months of gestation plus labour can be bought for around $20,000. But in the next few months or so, Russia’s parliament looks set to ban the practice, at least if the customers are foreign. “Russia is not an incubator,” says Irina Yarovaya, a deputy speaker of the Duma, Russia’s parliament.
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The apparent trigger for this proposed change was the death of a baby boy who was born to a surrogate mother on behalf of a Filipino family last year. The baby was nursed in a rented flat outside Moscow and died while recovering from an operation on his brain. When the police entered the flat, they found three other babies being nursed for different Filipino families. These included three-month-old twins belonging to Fredenil Hernaez Castro, a member of the Philippines’ parliament.
The police decided that they had stumbled upon a trafficking ring. Doctors who worked for the fertility clinics where the children had been born were arrested. So were a translator and a courier who had organised some of the documents. A lawyer who had made the arrangements was charged with child-trafficking but left the country before being arrested. The babies were sent to an orphanage, instead of their lawful Filipino parents.
Russian television channels launched a campaign of alarm, not about cops putting babies in orphanages, but about surrogacy itself. They claimed that certain reproductive specialists were in fact criminal outfits, bent on stealing embryos and faking documents. They warned that surrogate children might be brought up by same-sex couples.
A government investigative committee seized medical records from reproductive clinics in Moscow. It claimed that surrogacy services could legally be provided only to single women and heterosexual couples. (There is no such rule.) The authorities threatened to prosecute single men who have hired surrogates, and to take away their children. Several gay men fled Russia to avoid losing their children and their freedom.
Many countries ban surrogacy because they fear that poor women will be exploited—that they are not capable of deciding for themselves whether the fee is worth the labour. Some activists liken surrogacy to prostitution (which they also think should be illegal). In Russia, by contrast, pro-government conservatives see the debate as an opportunity to bash gays. “If we do not engage in sexual education of our children, then the LGBT sex-instructors of NATO will do it for us,” said one talk-show guest recently. (NATO, a western alliance that Russia views with suspicion, has nothing to do with sex education in schools.)
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, often vows to defend traditional family values. It is a potent rallying cry. Last year he held a referendum to change the constitution. The main aim was to allow himself to stay in power beyond 2024, but it was bundled with dozens of populist measures, including a constitutional ban on gay marriage. “As far as ‘parent number one’ and ‘parent number two’ go…as long as I’m president this will not happen. There will be dad and mum,” said Mr Putin. Voters had to say yes or no to the whole constitutional package. It passed easily. ■
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Panic womb”
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A federal Liberal staffer took a video of himself masturbating over the desk of a female MP in her office in Parliament House, before sharing the video with other staffers.
Ten News reported a group of Coalition government staffers exchanged pictures and videos among themselves of their antics in Parliament House, which included signing sex workers into the building.
The video, stills of which were shown in a pixelated form on Ten News on Monday night, reportedly shows a man masturbating over the desk of an unnamed female MP.
Ten News also reported that sex workers had been brought into Parliament House to visit MPs.
Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, whose department is the technical employer of parliamentary staffers, said he was disgusted and appalled by the allegations, which showed “complete disregard” for what Australia’s parliamentary democracy stood for.
“It also demonstrates an enormous disrespect for a member or senator in relation to those staff, those offices. It equally shows a complete contempt, frankly, for the Australian taxpayers who paid the wages of such staff,” he told a Senate committee hearing.
“In my opinion, any individuals who engaged in such activity ought to prepare to pack their bags and leave the building for good. They should also think intently about apologising not just to their employing member or senator but to the Parliament and to the Australian public.”
A spokeswoman for Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan said the presiding officers were not aware of the incidents or allegations until they aired on Monday evening.
“MPs and Senators employ their own staff. If the presiding officers are informed of the identities of the staff members, they are of course prepared to take action within the context of their responsibilities,” the spokeswoman said.
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The uptake of electric vehicles in Australia is too slow, a Liberal federal MP has told Parliament, and the industry needs to be supported by tax breaks and free tollways.
Federal MP for North Sydney Trent Zimmerman has called on the federal government to cut its luxury car tax and for states to offer lower registration charges for electric vehicles.
He said he would advocate for a taskforce to help introduce such changes.
“If we are to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, which surely must become our goal, it must be a focus of our work,” Mr Zimmerman told Parliament on Monday, noting that 19 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transport sector.
“The average age of cars on the road today is just over 10 years,” he said. “Working back from 2050 means that, to reach net zero, we need to adopt the goal of reaching close to 100 per cent electric or other low emission vehicles in the new car market by the mid 2030s.”
Electric vehicles make up less than one per cent of new car sales, compared with a global average of 4 per cent and over 50 per cent in leading countries such as Norway.
Mr Zimmerman called on Australian governments not to follow the path of Victoria and South Australia in introducing road user charges for electric vehicle owners. He called for other states to adopt NSW plans to replace its bus fleet with 100 per cent electric or low emission vehicles by the end of this decade.
During an online forum last week, hosted by the conservative environmental group Coalition for Conservation, its chair Cristina Talacko said she believed there was “a bit of a lack of policy” in the electric vehicle area, and as a result electric car manufacturers were directing their product to other markets, causing a shortage in Australia.
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Michael O’Brien says he will remain leader of the Victorian Liberal Party as speculation of a party room spill mounts.
“I’m confident that my leadership will be supported by my party and I don’t think this will actually get up,” he said.
“I’m confident that my party leadership will be endorsed and supported by the party.
“As a former treasurer, we know that rebuilding this state and the economics is so critical who better placed than a former treasurer to do what we need to do.” Asked if he thought he would be leader tomorrow night, Mr O’Brien replied “yes”. Speculation has been rife tomorrow would see a party room spill and a possible challenge by Shadow Roads Minister Brad Battin. Today, Mr O’Brien’s colleagues got behind their leader. “Now is not the time for a leadership spill,” Liberal MP David Davis said. Shadow Attorney-General Edward O’Donohue said “a leadership challenge would be a big mistake”.
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“I’m confident my leadership will be supported by my party and I don’t think the spill motion will get up,” said Mr O’Brien, who has been in the job for little more than two years.
Mr Battin’s camp, who spent Monday in a “war room” of their own after weeks of covert planning, are confident of success and believe they have 11 confirmed votes against Mr O’Brien’s nine. Sixteen votes – a majority of the 31 Liberal MPs – are required for victory.
Mr Battin criticised the current leadership when pitching to colleagues. He said Mr O’Brien had walked away from fights on tax reform, health and education.
Mr Battin is not running on a leadership ticket with a deputy. He told MPs he would create new portfolios that better reflected the issues facing voters and promote energetic MPs to the frontbench.
“If you never have a fight, no one will ever talk to you,” one MP quoted Mr Battin as saying.
The tight margins mean the votes of about five backers of Mr Guy – including Beverley MacArthur, James Newbury, Tim Smith and Craig Ondarchie – will probably decide whether Mr O’Brien loses the top job.
Members of this group, who have been the main agitators against Mr O’Brien, were kept in the dark about the fresh plan to oust their leader, with some members learning of the news via Twitter.
A senior Liberal said Mr Guy’s backers could vote for a spill motion to succeed at a party room showdown beginning at 8.45am, meaning the leadership would be declared vacant but then vote for Mr O’Brien in the head-to-head contest against Mr Battin.
This strategy would wound Mr O’Brien’s authority and in effect be a vote of no confidence in his leadership. But it would also act as a repudiation of Mr Battin and keep a weakened Mr O’Brien in the chair, laying the foundations for a future challenge by Mr Guy, who has consistently denied he wants to return to the leadership.
There is a small chance Mr Guy will decide to run if a spill motion is successful, or that another MP puts their hand up.
One state MP, who predicted the spill motion would fail, said: “This is being driven by people whose ambition exceeds their ability. They are going to fail.”
Another senior Liberal said: “The hillbillies are trying to take over the joint.”
Another MP said if the Guy camp did not back the push, they would be seen as hypocritical having worked to destabilise Mr O’Brien for months.
Another source familiar with the numbers within the party room said Mr Battin would not be successful. They said leadership challengers often fail in their first attempt, and they believed the process would weaken Mr O’Brien’s leadership and open him up to a challenge from Mr Guy closer to the election.
The party’s senior MPs, including Mr Battin, met for a shadow cabinet meeting late on Monday morning. After the meeting, Mr Battin began phoning his colleagues to inform them of his run.
Mr Battin’s key supporters include Ryan Smith, Richard Riordan, Bridget Vallence and Roma Britnell. The group believes it has a wider cross-section of internal support than backers of Mr Guy.
Those in Mr O’Brien’s camp include deputy leader Cindy McLeish, Bernie Finn, Gordon Rich-Phillips, Gary Blackwood, Kim Wells and David Morris.
Mr O’Brien’s backers are generally longer-serving MPs from the faction of the party aligned to state president Robert Clark, while his opponents tend to be aligned with federal MPs, including Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Housing Minister Michael Sukkar, who oppose Mr Clark.
Mr Battin is expected by his supporters to be more popular among suburban and multicultural voters than Mr O’Brien, who colleagues believe has not communicated effectively with these groups.
Mr Battin, a 45-year-old father of two who gained prominence campaigning against the Andrews government’s reforms to the Country Fire Authority, is one of the party’s only MPs who represents an outer-suburban seat – Gembrook – which he won from Labor in 2010.
He was a police officer between 2001-2007 before becoming a Bakers Delight franchisee until 2010 when he entered parliament. He was a parliamentary secretary for the environment in the Napthine government.
An Andrews government source said Mr Battin had a common-man earthiness that would contrast positively against Mr Andrews’ style.
One senior Liberal source said: “He’s not got the best policy mind but he speaks well, he’s got passion about him and he appeals to the suburbs where the political centre lies.”
Mr O’Brien took over the party at one of its lowest points after the 2018 election thumping. He has faced internal criticism for his approach during the pandemic, through which he has struggled to take advantage of the prolonged lockdown caused by COVID-19 seeping from quarantine hotels.
An Ipsos poll published by The Age in October showed 15 per cent of Victorians surveyed approved of the Opposition Leader’s performance during the pandemic. Mr Andrews had a 52 per cent approval rating.
Some Victorian Liberals have been worried that the result of the election in Western Australia – where a Labor premier who hogged the limelight during the pandemic reduced the Liberal Party to two seats – could foreshadow a similar drubbing at the next election.
Former premier Jeff Kennett, who is rumoured to be weighing up a run for state president against Robert Clark, told The Age on Monday that the WA wipeout could be repeated in Victoria if the Liberal Party did not improve its performance and select better candidates. He said a leadership change might not occur until “much closer” to the November 2022 election.
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Annika is state political editor for The Age.
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