Victoria’s opposition leader, John Pesutto, says the first he knew of longtime conservative MP Ryan Smith’s resignation was when he read a statement posted online.
After 16 years in parliament, Smith, a former leadership aspirant, announced on Wednesday he would step down from parliament on 7 July, triggering a byelection in his electorate of Warrandyte, in Melbourne’s northeast.
Smith suggested party negativity had played a part in his decision, just three weeks after the expulsion from the party room of Moira Deeming.
“With a great deal of consideration, I have decided it is time to bring this chapter of my life to a close,” he said in a statement.
“I have been privileged to hold this role and believe that many who choose this career do so with their communities’ best interests in mind.
“However amongst other reasons, I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the growing negative tone of politics, both internally and more broadly.”
Following the party’s election loss in November last year, Smith had put his hand up to run for the Liberal leadership, vowing to protect “faith values” and limit the impact of climate policies on outer suburban households.
He eventually pulled out of the race to support Berwick MP Brad Battin, who lost the ballot to John Pesutto by one vote.
Pesutto has been struggling to bring his party back to the centre after years of factional instability between moderates and conservatives, which again flared after Deeming’s attendance at an anti-transgender rights rally.
Deeming was eventually expelled from the party room but received the support of Smith and other conservative MPs throughout the six-week saga, which led the federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, to threaten the possibility of a federal takeover of the Victorian Liberal branch.
Pesutto told reporters on Wednesday he had learned of Smith’s resignation by reading his statement online.
“These announcements are very personal announcements that involve, obviously, discussions and thoughts with his own family and close network of friends,” he said.
“How someone chooses to make their announcement is really a matter we have to respect.”
The opposition leader said the Liberals would “throw everything” at the byelection.
The Liberals hold the seat, which takes in the suburbs of Warrandyte as well as Donvale, Warranwood, Ringwood North and parts of Doncaster East, by a 4.2% margin, after Smith had a slight swing towards him at the November election.
Warrandyte has only been won by Labor on two occasions since it was created in 1976: at the 1982 and 1985 elections.
“I’ll be working, obviously, with the membership and the leadership of the organisational side of the party to make sure we choose the strongest candidate,” Pesutto said.
“I would very much like to see a woman in amongst the candidates.”
In his statement, Smith thanked his local community, staff, parliamentary colleagues, the Liberal party and the press in his statement, as well as his wife, Avril, and children, Brodie and Jamie.
“My son was one when I entered politics and my daughter was born into it. I am exceedingly proud of both of them and they have been, not only the lift I need when I get home, but a big reason why I work to try to make things better for our community,” he said.
“I wish the next member for Warrandyte the very best of luck and remain optimistic that the contest of ideas will ultimately provide Victoria with its best days ahead.”