Leaked Liberal Party emails reveal extent of division and dysfunction ahead of crushing state election defeat
An exchange between senior members of the Victorian Liberal Party Administrative Council. (Supplied)
Senior Victorian Liberal Party figures voiced urgent fears about having “zero” tax policies and a lack of female candidates, only to be rebuffed in the lead-up to the last month’s disastrous state election loss.
- A series of leaked emails highlight the extent of division within the Victorian Liberal Party
- Senior party members expressed fears over female representation and a lack of tax policy
- The party’s state treasurer has now resigned
The ABC has viewed dozens of leaked emails sent in the weeks before and after the crushing election result, revealing a party ravaged by division and disfunction.
The fractious email exchanges between senior members of the party, including recently resigned president Michael Kroger, detail fears over the direction of the party and its governance.
One email decries an absence of policy to sell to the Victorian public and business community, while another points the finger at the party’s “lack of talent”, saying its candidates were too “scared” to front the media.
The crisis engulfing the state Liberals has now further deepened, with party treasurer David Mond quitting over serious concerns of financial and corporate governance and anger the party was being run as a “personal fiefdom” of former president Mr Kroger.
Mr Mond this afternoon resigned from his position less than nine months into his three-year term, blaming a failure of policy and urging for a major party transformation.
“The party is in dire straits. I think we’ve reached our nadir,” Mr Mond told the ABC.
Michael Kroger quit as president of the Victorian Liberal Party following the party’s disastrous election result. (ABC News: Gus Goswell)
The extent of Mr Mond and Mr Kroger’s strained relationship comes to the fore throughout the emails, with the former president accused of bullying and intimidation.
In one email, Mr Mond accuses Mr Kroger of yelling at him in front of other senior Liberal Party figures.
“If you did that to an employee at 104 [Exhibition St, the party’s headquarters], it would constitute bullying in the workplace with adverse legal consequences for the Secretariat,” he wrote.
Mr Kroger has been contacted by the ABC for comment.
In another email to Mr Kroger, Mr Mond offers a withering assessment of Opposition Leader Matthew Guy’s preparation just weeks before the state election.
“Despite having four years to prepare, Matthew [Guy] and his team have produced zero policies on taxation and absolutely no business policies … It’s too late now.”
Lack of support for boosting number of women in parliament
In contrast to Premier Daniel Andrews’ recently announced 50 per cent female Cabinet, the Victorian Liberal Party has come under repeated attack for its lack of female candidates.
One email thread in September under the subject line ‘Re: Women in Parliament’ reveals a failed plan to boost female representation.
David Mond has resigned from his position as treasurer of the Victorian Liberal Party. (ABC News)
Hatched by Mr Mond and fellow Administrative Committee member Ivan Stratov, a motion was moved for former state treasurer Kim Wells, Upper House president Bruce Atkinson and outspoken conservative Bernie Finn to retire and make way for three women.
It failed, with Mr Stratov told the party’s focus should be on campaigning.
“Winning the election must be the main priority at the moment and any public diversion off-message from our side could de-rail what chance we might have of ousting a first-term government,” wrote Liberal candidate for the Western Victorian Region, Beverley McArthur.
Chair of the Liberal Party’s federal women’s committee and fellow Administrative Committee member Helen Kroger echoed Ms McArthur’s sentiment in a subsequent email.
“Can’t be distracted from main game at this time. It’s why I haven’t been contributing to ‘women’ commentary lately, need to take oxygen out of it b4 election. [sic].”
Mr Mond said the lack of support for the motion was lamentable and that the party’s election campaign suffered from a lack of female representation.
“I think it was important to send that signal that we are serious about change,” Mr Mond said.
“We need to promote generational change if we’re going to survive as a party.
“We are becoming irrelevant.”
The Liberal Party held a swathe of seats in Melbourne’s east after the 2014 election. (ABC News)
The Liberal Party lost several seats to Labor in Melbourne’s east in the 2018 election. (ABC News)
Call for inquiry into Liberal Party
An inquiry into the devastating election loss is being conducted by party heavyweight Tony Nutt.
Mr Mond said there was a greater need for a retired judge or other eminent person to chair a larger “root-and-branch review” into the party itself.
New Victorian Liberal Party leader Michael O’Brien has defended his party’s mainstream credentials. (ABC News: Richard Willingham)
Ever since being elected to party treasurer in April, Mr Mond said he faced roadblocks internally, particularly from Mr Kroger, who was party president until the end of November.
Of particular concern to Mr Mond, a forensic accountant with decades of experience, was Mr Kroger’s handling of the dispute with party benefactor the Cormack Foundation.
“I haven’t experienced in the corporate world this kind of infrastructure and this kind of culture,” he said.
Under Mr Kroger’s leadership, the party took the foundation to court over access to more than $70 million it held.
Cormack was established in the 1980s to invest the proceeds of the sale of radio station 3XY and has provided regular revenue to the party.
But following the arrest and imprisonment of state director Damian Mantach for embezzling $1.5 million from party coffers, the foundation was unhappy with internal governance and stopped financially supporting the party.
Central to its concerns were the fact Mr Kroger as president was also on the finance committee.
Mr Mond attempted to examine how $1.1 million was being spent on legal fees for the dispute with the foundation, but said he was told by Mr Kroger: “I don’t need you to review the legal costs of the outstanding invoices. I need you to start raising money. That is your job.”
He also lashed out at Mr Kroger after Mr Mond was told to stop negotiating with Cormack for a settlement.
Documents showed Mr Mond had secured a deal for the Victorian party for more than $4 million, including provisions for significant spends in future years.
The settlement brokered by Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg only reached $2.5 million for the 2018 State Election.
‘Civility would be good right now’
Among the leaked emails were grievances about Mr Kroger’s appearances on Sky News.
One email expresses frustration that vision of Mr Kroger analysing the election result had been used in a political ad for the Victorian Labor Party posted on Twitter.
But amidst a series of terse exchanges, there were also calls for unity.
In one email thread in the days following the election result, Liberal administrative figure Greg Mirabella, the husband of former Member for Indi Sophie Mirabella, said party members “sledging each other” was not helpful.
“I hate to sound like a school teacher, but civility would be good right now. Let’s keep talking.”