That shrinking feeling? Scott Morrison fan club in Liberal firing line

The former PM said the condition built during his time at the Lodge.

The former PM said the condition built during his time at the Lodge. Photo: AAP

Scott Morrison’s fan club could soon grow even smaller.

MPs fear the former prime minister is refusing to resign from Parliament to save face after devastating findings from the Robodebt royal commission that he allowed colleagues in cabinet to be misled by a proposal for the unlawful multibillion-dollar scheme.

But his remaining allies in Parliament could now pay the price as preselection challenges strike up across the country.

Nominations closed on Monday night for preselections in every Liberal-held seat in New South Wales, except for Mr Morrison’s seat of Cook.

Liberal factional bosses exempted the former prime minister from a potentially humiliating push out of Parliament as he ponders his political future.

His closest allies won’t have that luxury as members of a faction Canberra insiders called the “Morrison club” fight for political survival.

Numbers man

The MP who engineered Mr Morrison’s entry into Parliament and rise through it, former immigration minister Alex Hawke, is the first of many MPs now facing possible “de-selection”.

The infamous Liberal numbers man has held the safe seat of Mitchell since he and Mr Morrison struck a factional deal that allowed both to enter Parliament in 2007.

But long-simmering local fury about a factional hold on the seat drives a challenge from Mr Hawke’s right and a conservative army colonel Michael Abrahams.

Mr Hawke’s critics accuse him of playing politics ruthlessly, even by the standards of the NSW Liberal Party.

He and Mr Morrison combined their power to pull off a victory in a ballot for the prime ministership by hoodwinking others into thinking they had their loyalty, including current Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, according to a recent book.

“Morrison and Hawke have ruined the Liberal Party in New South Wales,” said former senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells in a blistering farewell speech last year.

“In my public life I have met ruthless people. Morrison tops the list, followed closely by Hawke.

“What is the hold that Hawke has over Morrison? Good question.”

Mr Morrison’s next most loyal lieutenant, Stuart Robert, quit politics in May, one year after the former PM led the Liberals to their worst election defeat in history.

Sussing it out

Deputy leader of the Liberals, Sussan Ley, has long publicly denied any association with factional politics in NSW.

Other Liberals say Ms Ley has long been aligned to the faction led by Mr Morrison and Mr Hawke, who saved her bacon in the face of an earlier threat to her hold on the seat of Farrer.

Liberal right winger Jean Haynes will campaign on those links after she publicly resigned from a party post on Monday and announced a challenge to the party’s federal deputy.

Another loyal member of the Morrison club, western Sydney MP Melissa McIntosh, will now also have to try to fend off a push from her right.

Mark Davies, whose wife Tanya tried to bring down Gladys Berejiklian in a leadership challenge over the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW, will seek to depose Ms McIntosh from the crucial seat of Lindsay.

“He should have the numbers, and there is no Scott Morrison to save her (this time),” said one Liberal.

Conservatives are also eyeing a potential challenge in the Senate to Mr Morrison’s close supporter Hollie Hughes when those nominations open later.

Elsewhere in Australia, two other Liberals from the party’s hard right are also in preselection trouble.

Gerard Rennick, an opponent of vaccinations and the science of climate change, has appealed against alleged “irregularities” after Liberal National Party members voted to drop him down the party’s Senate ticket into an unwinnable position.

A fellow member of the hard right, South Australian Senator Alex Antic, seeks to do the same to former social services minister Anne Ruston in a preselection challenge that could relegate her to an unwinnable spot on the Liberal ticket at the next election.

Call for Dutton to intervene

Party moderates have called for Peter Dutton to intervene and stop a potentially “messy” challenge to Senator Ruston in August.

Liberal members were enraged last May when Mr Morrison and Mr Hawke used their power to stop votes on preselections by party members that could have resulted in challenges to sitting MPs aligned to the former PM.

MPs, challengers and a spokesman for the NSW Liberal Party declined to comment.

Challengers must proceed through an internal Liberal candidate vetting process before votes by party members can proceed.

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