Scott Morrison faces Liberal mutiny over Warringah candidate Katherine Deves’ trans views

NSW treasurer Matt Kean and long-time Liberal activist Walter Villatora call for Deves to be disendorsed

Scott Morrison is facing a mutiny over the Liberal party’s controversial candidate in Warringah, Katherine Deves, with intensifying calls for her to be dumped because of “hurtful and divisive” comments about transgender people.

Liberal moderates have been concerned for some time that Deves’ candidacy would prove damaging to the Liberal party’s standing with centre-right progressive voters in key metropolitan contests.

Deves is a “captain’s pick” by Morrison to run against the independent MP, Zali Steggall, in Tony Abbott’s former seat of Warringah.

A string of news stories this week have revealed inflammatory comments on various social media platforms including one where Deves equated anti-trans activism to standing up against the Holocaust during a YouTube panel.

The News South Wales treasurer and high-profile state moderate Matt Kean wants Deves dumped from the federal campaign – a development first reported on Friday night by

Kean later told Guardian Australia: “This is not the 1950s. This is not an intolerant society. These kinds of horrendous views are not OK, and I’m sure the voters of Warringah agree. Time for the Liberal party to beat them to it and disendorse her.”

Federal Liberal MP Dave Sharma – who bills himself as a moderate Liberal and is facing a stern contest from independent Allegra Spender in his marginal seat of Wentworth – liked Kean’s statement on Twitter. Sharma would not expand on his views when contacted by the Guardian.

On Saturday morning, Morrison again defended Deves, declaring: “I’m not joining that pile on”. Morrison pointed to comments made by Tony Abbott, the former prime minister and member for Warringah, who praised Deves as “tough” and “brave” and said he “can’t understand the pile on from people who claim to be supporters of women’s rights”.

“I don’t share Matt’s view. I share Tony Abott’s view,” Morrison said. “I’m not joining that pile on. Others may wish to, who fundamentally are seeking for her [Deves] not to be there. I suspect because they don’t like some of the things she’s talking about when it comes to women and girls and sport.”

Morrison said Deves’ comments had been “insensitive” but she had apologised several times in recent days. He suggested Labor candidates had similarly made insensitive comments in the past.

“I haven’t called for others who’ve said insensitive things who are even in the parliament to be disendorsed.

“There’s been ways that she’s prosecuted her case of which she’s very passionate about … There are ways that she’s expressed this in the past that she no longer feels comfortable with.”

At a press conference shortly after, the opposition leader, Anthony Albanese, was asked if he thought Morrison should dump Deves, and said it was a matter for the Liberal party.

“If I was Scott Morrison, I wouldn’t have selected her in the first place,” he said.

Guardian Australia has also obtained an email from Walter Villatora, a long-time Liberal party activist in Sydney’s north.

Villatora says in the email officials and party members are calling for Deves’ resignation “in light of her hurtful and divisive comments that have proliferated the media, particularly in the last few days”.

He notes the NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg – who is the duty senator for the Liberal campaign in Warringah – “has publicly voiced his concerns on focusing on these matters instead of what’s important to the community and the Australian people at a time when major challenges are facing everyone, particularly in relation to the cost of living, national security and post pandemic and flood recovery”.

Bragg this week spoke out against a private senators’ bill being championed by Tasmanian Liberal Claire Chandler after the prime minister told reporters he shared Chandler’s views.

The conservative Tasmanian senator has advanced private member’s legislation allowing sporting groups to exclude transgender people from single-sex sports.

Morrison said initially he would have “more to say” on that issue but after moderates, including Bragg, and the member for Bass, Bridget Archer, expressed objections, later clarified the Chandler bill was not government policy.

Colleagues were furious when Chandler on Monday sent out an email to supporters asking for donations to a $45,000 “action” fund that would enable “push back” against “radical activists pushing their gender fluid ideology and silencing women”.

Chandler declared in the email that Labor and the Greens were “fighting to kill this bill and the mainstream media is misrepresenting it”.

By donating to the fund, Chandler said, supporters could “stand up and protect the rights of women and girls by getting the word out so more Australians demand MPs and senators back my Save Women’s Sport Bill”.

Archer this week restated her view that the proposal was “a vanity bill” and “not government policy”. Archer won her seat in 2019 by 600 votes.

Centrist Liberals are concerned posturing by conservatives will erode the chance of holding city seats under threat from the teal independents.

Villatora points out in this email the campaign in Warringah still hasn’t been launched. Preselections for Morrison’s captain’s picks, including Deves, were only rubber stamped at the last minute because of open civil war in the New South Wales division of the Liberal party.

Liberal sources have expressed fury this week that extensive checks on the controversial Warringah candidate’s controversial social media history were either not done, or the results of the research were ignored.

Villatora points out that Steggall, the incumbent independent in Warringah, will weaponise the comments against Deves in the contest. “The Steggall campaign is in full swing starting with a massive launch.”

He notes Steggall has two operational offices in the electorate while the Liberal party has none. “The view of many experienced members is that we would suffer less of a loss without a candidate than a candidate that has brought the party into disrepute to this extent.

“Steggall and the media will not let this go. This controversy is hurting the Prime Minister (who is now distancing himself from the controversy) and impacting on our federal electoral prospects, which should be our priority.”

He says he has called for Deves’ resignation “in writing”. He says the Liberal party should redirect efforts out of Warringah into the northern Sydney seat of Bennelong.


Katharine Murphy and Elias Visontay

The GuardianTramp

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