Prime Minister Scott Morrison has denied explosive allegations that have emerged about his behavior while fighting for Liberal preselection in 2007.
- Two outlets have reported on claims about Mr Morrison’s behavior while he was fighting to become a Liberal MP in 2007
- The Prime Minister has denied raising his preselection opponent’s Lebanese heritage as an issue in the race
- In parliament, one of Mr Morrison’s senators accused him of bullying tactics
Two media organizations have reported on the contents of statutory declarations signed by two men, which detail Mr Morrison’s battle to be preselected for the seat of Cook ahead of rival Michael Towke.
The issue flared on Tuesday night when Liberal Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told the Senate Mr Morrison was not “fit to be Prime Minister”.
“Morrison might profess to be Christian, but there was nothing Christian about what was done to Michael Towke,” she told the Senate in a fiery late-night speech.
Senator Fierravanti-Wells told the Upper House she had been told of “several statutory declarations to attest to racial comments made by Morrison at the time that we can’t have a Lebanese person in Cook”.
The Saturday Paper and the Sydney Morning Herald have reported details of statutory declarations signed in 2016, including Michael Towke who reportedly said: “They informed me that Morrison was appealing with them to not support me based solely on the rationale that my family heritage was Lebanese .”
“He was adamant and explicit that a candidate of Lebanese heritage could not hold the seat of Cook, especially after the Cronulla riots.”
Another declaration reported in the Sydney Morning Herald said Liberal Party member Scott Chapman wrote that “Scott Morrison told me that, if Michael Towke were to be preselected, there would be a ‘swing against the Liberal Party in Cook’ because of Mr Towke’s Lebanese background ‘.”
The ABC has not been able to verify those documents and earlier today when questioned about the claims, Mr Morrison rejected them.
He said “no” when asked by a journalist if in 2007 he warned Liberal members the party could lose Cook because people thought Michael Towke was a Muslim.
Mr Morrison told reporters he did not say those words and also denied saying that Mr Towke could not be trusted because of his Lebanese background.
When asked why the stories are emerging now, Mr Morrison said “you’ll have to ask them”.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister dismissed Senator Fierravanti-Wells’s scathing character assessment of him, saying it was likely a product of her being disappointed at not being selected for a winnable Senate seat.
Brutal preselection fight had been raised before
Despite Mr Morrison’s dismissal of Senator Fierravanti-Wells’s claims, others backed her concerns, including One Nation leader Pauline Hanson and crossbencher Senator Jacqui Lambie, who labeled Mr Morrison “an absolute bully”.
And some of Senator Fierravanti-Wells’s claims had been previously discussed.
She told the Senate that former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari had been asked in 2007 for information on Mr Towke, who had been in the Labor party while at University.
“Having lost the nerd, Morrison and his cronies went to Sam Dastyari to get dirt on Towke,” she said.
“This dossier of anecdotes was weaponized and leaked to the media at the point where Towke’s reputation was destroyed.”
In 2018, Mr Dastyari told radio station KIIS FM, Mr Morrison should apologise to Mr Towke.
Federal Labor frontbencher Jenny McAllister raised the pre-selection contest in a speech to Parliament in 2018.
She said that Mr Towke easily won, 82 votes to 8.
“But in the weeks that followed the preselection, a number of news articles questioned the legitimacy of this preselection, which ultimately saw him disendorsed.
“This led to Mr. Morrison being preselected.”
Senator McAllister said that Mr Towke subsequently obtained a substantial defamation settlement over the news reports.
“But by that time, of course, from a political perspective the damage was done,” Senator McAllister told the Senate.