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Another MP overboard? Former Liberal minister Stuart Robert ‘under pressure’

As the Liberal Party tries to right the ship after a bruising defeat at the weekend’s Aston by-election, a second senior member of the former government has been tipped to go overboard.

The New Daily revealed on Monday that senior Liberals had been briefed that former prime minister Scott Morrison would soon quit politics.

Speculation is rampant within the party room that one of his closest allies, Stuart Robert, could follow.

One Liberal MP said there was a growing expectation that Mr Robert “would be going” at a time when his ministerial record and business affairs have come under increasing scrutiny.

“He’s under considerable pressure,” the MP told TND.

“There’s the problem of robodebt, but he also has some of his own personal issues (with alleged business conflicts) coming up in Parliament.”

No comment

A spokesman for Mr Robert did not respond to written questions on Monday afternoon asking if he intended to see out this term of Parliament as the MP for Fadden, a Gold Coast electorate he has represented since 2007.

Mr Robert also did not respond to a follow-up text message putting the question to him personally.

Despite the Liberals having just been handed a 6.5 point swing against them in the by-election for the outer Melbourne seat of Aston on Saturday, the prospect of two more is not wholly unwelcome in some corners of the party room.

The royal commission into the robodebt scheme is yet to hand down its final report. But Mr Robert – who presided over the scheme in its final days – last month testified that he had made public statements endorsing the accuracy of the debt collection program even though he knew it was flawed.

“As a dutiful cabinet minister, ma’am, that’s what we do,” he told commissioner Catherine Holmes.

Commissioner Holmes replied: “Misrepresent things to the Australian public?”

A firm run part-owned by Mr Robert’s former business partners, “de facto” lobbying firm Synergy 360, has also been the subject of a recent independent review into government contracts for which it was lobbying that raised questions about whether taxpayers had gotten value for money.

Findings from the royal commission and another parliamentary inquiry into contracts are still to come.

Mr Robert told Parliament in March he rejected any imputation that Synergy 360 ran on an improper business model and said the review into procurements linked to the company’s clients had found “zero, none, nil misconduct identified in any way shape or form”.

But another Liberal MP told TND they fear revelations could underline a major problem for the foundering opposition: Voters’ anger towards the former government about revelations that came to light only months after it lost power at last May’s election.

A Labor attack ad posted to social media on the eve of the Aston poll included this line about Peter Dutton: “He’s the leader of the remnants of Scott Morrison’s faction in the Liberal Party.”

Last man standing

Former MP Bruce Baird – who was Mr Morrison’s predecessor in the Sydney seat of Cook – and Malcolm Turnbull criticised Mr Dutton’s leadership on Monday, but MPs from neither wing of the Liberals are mounting numbers against him.

The Opposition Leader’s long-time critic, Mr Turnbull, said voters perceived him as a “hard-right culture warrior”, but also said there was not any credible alternative.

Mr Morrison and Mr Robert are also two of the final remaining members of a small grouping that wielded an influence over Liberal affairs much greater than their numbers.

“Then it’s pretty much just [Alex] Hawke left,” a Liberal source said.

(Journalist Niki Savva chronicled the way members of the faction strategically damaged Mr Turnbull and Mr Dutton in a 2018 leadership ballot by pretending to be loyal to both).

The New Daily revealed Mr Morrison was in talks for an overseas directorship, and party colleagues had been told he would quit around the time of the May 9 federal budget or earlier.

Questions were put on Sunday to Mr Morrison’s office and the chairman of the Cook federal electorate conference.

A spokesman for the former PM did not deny the report on Monday in response to questions about whether the MP had accepted an American position on a board of directors and would soon quit politics.

“Mr Morrison keeps his parliamentary register of interests up to date in accordance with the rules,” the spokesman said.

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