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Vic Lib John Pesutto’s party allies shrug off walk-out protest by Moira Deeming supporters

Moira Deeming expelled from Liberal Party room

Victorian Liberal leader John Pesutto can unify the party and is the right man to take the Coalition to the next state election, allies insist, despite facing fresh dissension in the ranks.

Mr Pesutto was booed and heckled after dozens of rank-and-file Liberal members walked out as he rose to give a speech at the party’s state council in Bendigo on Saturday.

The staged walkout was prompted by the expulsion of renegade MP Moira Deeming from the parliamentary team last week after she threatened Mr Pesutto with defamation action.

Opposition finance spokeswoman Jess Wilson was disappointed members used the event as opportunity to air their concerns but said the party must draw a line in the sand.

She backed Mr Pesutto for the job of uniting the party amid speculation of a leadership challenge less than six months after taking over from Matthew Guy following the Coalition’s election drubbing.

“We heard from John yesterday about how he wants to set a direction for Victoria,” Ms Wilson said on Sunday.

Visions of 2026

“He set out that direction … and he’s the man to take us to 2026.”

Mr Pesutto promised a review of Victoria’s tax system if elected and called for discipline among the party faithful.

Shadow treasurer Brad Rowswell said the opposition had to be credible, focused and disciplined to perform its function as the alternative government.

“That’s what Jess and I and John and the majority of our team are doing,” he said.

“For as long as these beltway stories run, our opportunity and our obligation to hold this Labor government accountable is all the more harder.”

Victorian Liberal president Greg Mirabella said the internal factional warfare must end, estimating it had generated $58,000 worth of negative column inches.

A ‘cancer’ in the party

“There is a cancer in the Liberal Party. It has been there for a long time,” he said.

“It is the propensity with which Liberals take their disputes, their grievances, their dislikes to the media.”

In a social media post following the tense scenes, Ms Deeming said there were bigger issues at play than the rise and fall of careers including her own.

“Victorians are suffering because basic rights – like those fought for and won by our great grandmothers – have been rebranded as bigotry and abandoned,” she wrote.

“It’s important to remember that this issue isn’t just about me.”

Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, who did not attend the weekend’s state council, hasn’t ruled out federal intervention in the Victorian branch to address the tumult.

-AAP

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