Zali Steggall more likely to support Coalition in hung parliament if Scott Morrison dumped

Independent MP, who could hold balance of power, says she has ‘grave concerns’ over PM’s leadership and influence of the Nationals

Independent MP Zali Steggall has signalled she could be more likely to support the Coalition in the event of a hung parliament if Scott Morrison wasn’t the leader.

Steggall – who could be in a king-making position post-election if the federal result in May is close – told the ABC on Thursday night she had “grave concerns in relation to Scott Morrison’s leadership”.

She pointed to “deep concerns within my community about some of the things that have occurred in the last few [years]”.

Steggall said she would look at the substance of what the government would deliver to inform her choice. But pressed on the Q&A program about whether or not a different leader would make it easier for her to back the Coalition, Steggall said: “That is obviously an open possibility.”

She also pointed to the influence of the National party over the Morrison government’s climate policy as a factor in any deliberation.

Steggall said her constituents in Warringah – the blue ribbon seat she wrested from the Liberals in 2019 – were “incredibly frustrated at the stranglehold the Nationals … have over government policy, particularly around climate”.

She said the government had adopted a “fake” announcement at the Glasgow climate conference last year when it signed up to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 because there weren’t the policy mechanisms to deliver the result – and the Nationals then extracted a multi-billion dollar regional development package in exchange for agreeing to the target.

Tuesday’s budget earmarked more than $21bn in infrastructure and development spending – a quid pro quo for the Nationals adopting the mid-century target as policy. The government allocated money for inland rail, freight, the water grid and a regional accelerator program.

Steggall was on the Q&A panel on Thursday night with the Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce.

Asked whether she was prepared to support a minority Coalition government if Joyce was still the deputy prime minister, the independent replied: “I’m not in a position to answer that at this point.”

“It will depend on policy.”

In a press conference on Friday, Morrison responded to Steggall’s comments to say Coalition “was seeking re-election in its own right, just as we did last time”.

“The people of Australia will make this choice about who should lead the country,” he said.

Steggall said Australia delivering on its net zero commitment was an “incredibly important” factor for her and her constituents, and she added: “We know Barnaby holds Australia to ransom on that.”

Joyce said: “Are you going to support Labor or the Coalition? It’s something you actually can answer tonight.”

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Opinion polls suggest Labor would win outright any election held today, but strategists on both sides of politics believe the contest is close, and could be close enough to deliver a hung parliament.

Morrison is attempting to reboot his political fortunes with Tuesday night’s budget, which included an $8.5bn cost of living relief package giving low and middle income earners support to deal with rising consumer prices.

Anthony Albanese used his budget reply speech on Thursday night to promise an additional $2.5bn to fix the aged care sector. Labor says it will also back and fund a pay rise for Australia’s aged care workforce.

The House of Representatives adjourned on Thursday night, and Morrison is expected to call the election within days. Both leaders are campaigning in western Sydney on Friday.


Katharine Murphy Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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