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Moira Deeming may have lost her bid to stay in the Liberal Party’s parliamentary team, but her ghost will continue to haunt the party room.
Of the 29 MPs that John Pesutto now leads, 11 – 38 per cent – didn’t support Deeming’s expulsion, effectively telling their leader that they back her right to free speech as well as her decision to sue him for defamation.
John Pesutto speaks after Moira Deeming was expelled from the parliamentary party room.Credit: Darrian Traynor
That list of 11 includes members of Pesutto's own shadow cabinet.
After the meeting, Pesutto described the win as a “strong endorsement” of his leadership and insisted the team is a “disciplined, united and focused” unit, begging the question, what would a fractured and distracted team look like?
While a win might be a win, it's difficult to see how the party recovers from this trauma and division.
Ultimately, leaders fall because they are unable to unite divided parties.
On Friday, Pesutto didn’t extend any olive branches to his internal foes to try and heal wounds within the party. Instead, a Deeming supporter, Renee Heath, was stripped of her role as Liberal secretary.
By supporting this move, Pesutto wanted to look strong, in control of his party and willing to stand up to anyone willing to step out of line. It's not the worst idea, but implementing such a strategy requires authority.
Now the vote is over, Pesutto must convince colleagues, party members and federal MPs that he made the right call for the Victorian Liberal Party.
To borrow a line from Martin Luther King Jr., the mark of a good leader “is not a searcher for consensus, but a moulder of consensus”.
To mould consensus, Pesutto will need to explain the exact reason why Deeming has been expelled. Was it because she attended an anti-trans rights rally? Was it due to an alleged association with neo-Nazis? Or was it her decision to sue Pesutto?
Here’s where Deeming’s ghost returns.
Renee Heath after the Liberal Party meetingCredit: Eddie Jim
With the threat of defamation action hanging over him, Pesutto will be limited in what he can say, making moulding a consensus all the more difficult.
If any legal action proceeds, his fate as leader is also tied to the outcome of that court decision.
After Friday's vote, Pesutto said Deeming’s revived legal action “didn’t sit well” with Liberal MPs. He is right. Liberal MPs were fed up with her flip-flopping threats and her ultimatum to Pesutto last week.
“People understand that to be a party, you can’t really have such litigation between members of the same party room,” he went on to say.
While this might be the case, the question must be asked, how would the party room feel should the opposition leader be found liable for defaming a fellow MP?
Being an opposition leader is one of the most brutal and thankless jobs in politics.
Doing so with a bitterly fractured party, while juggling a lawsuit and trying to hold on to a marginal seat might prove impossible.
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