Allegations have emerged Scott Morrison may have weaponised the race and religion of his pre-selection opponent when the PM first entered politics in 2007. Morrison has denied the claims.
Morrison’s former pre-selection opponent Michael Towke and another Liberal Party insider Scott Chapman have signed statutory declarations which allege Morrison framed his opponent’s Lebanese heritage as potentially hurtful to the Liberal Party’s chances of winning the electorate of Cook. They have also alleged Morrison raised doubts about his Catholic opponent’s religious beliefs, claiming he was actually “a Moslem” (sic).
Scott Morrison denies that during his first preselection campaign for the seat of Cook he said opponent Michael Towke couldn't be trusted because he was a Moslem or because of his Lebanese background. #auspol pic.twitter.com/wkobDGjDd4— David Marler (@Qldaah) April 2, 2022
Earlier in the week, a reported asked the PM if he warned party members they “could lose the seat of Cook because people thought Michael Towke was a Muslim”.
“No,” replied Morrison.
“You never said he couldn’t be trusted because of his Lebanese background?”
“No,” answered Morrison.
In New South Wales the penalty for lying on a statutory declaration can be up to five years imprisonment as per NSW Courts.
The declarations concern the 2007 Liberal Party pre-selection for the blue ribbon (AKA: safe Liberal) electorate of Cook. A pre-selection is where members of the party choose who will represent them when they face off against candidates from other parties in the Federal Election.
Morrison ran against Michael Towke, a Lebanese-Australian Engineer.
In the first pre-selection ballot, Towke won convincingly by 82 votes to Morrison’s 8. An absolute thumpin’ if we do say so ourselves.
Following Morrison’s overwhelming defeat, there was a campaign to overturn the result.
Former Labor Senator Sam Dastyari had previously discussed the campaign on Kyle and Jackie-O in 2018.
During the broadcast Dastyari alleged he was approached by members of the Liberal Party who were looking for ammunition to use against Towke. Towke had previously been involved with the Labor Party several years prior.
“Scott Morrison’s lieutenants and I’m sure with Scott Morrison’s knowledge turned to the Labor Party and asked them to prepare the dirt file on his political opponent (Towke) to be able to get rid of the guy and have him disendorsed (sic) as Liberal Party candidate,” Dastyari told the radio hosts.
“I know this because I was the one who put the file together”.
“The PM only became a member of parliament because he used the Labor Party to knock off his political internal opponent. I’ve never seen that,” concluded Dastyari.
The full interview can be watched from the 3:40 minute mark here. Needless to say, it is incredibly spicy viewing.
Days after Towke’s win, stories titled “Liberal ballot scandal in Howard’s backyard”, “Party split as Liberal candidate faces jail” and “Towke future on hold” were published in the Daily Telegraph as per The Leader.
Towke maintained these stories were false and had ended his political career as per the Sydney Morning Herald.
Towke took News Corp to court which ended in a $50,000 defamation settlement.
It is unclear whether the alleged “dirt file” informed the defamatory Daily Telegraph stories.
Regardless, the court outcome was too little too late for Towke. After the media firestorm, the New South Wales Liberal Party decided to run the pre-selection campaign again.
This time, Scott Morrison copped the win.
The pre-selection ballot was held 18 months after the infamous 2005 Cronulla Race Riots. These riots saw thousands of Anglo-Australians assemble in Cronulla to “reclaim the beach from outsiders” following a fight between lifeguards and a group of young Middle Eastern men as per the National Museum of Australia.
“Scott Morrison informed me that there was a strong rumour about that ‘Michael Towke is actually a Moslem’ [sic],” wrote Chapman.
“He (Morrison) was adamant and explicit that a candidate of Lebanese heritage could not hold the seat of Cook, especially after the Cronulla riots,” Towke said as per the Sydney Morning Herald.
Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells has unloaded on Scott Morrison in an adjournment speech this evening in the senate.— Michael Mazengarb (@MichaelM_ACT) March 29, 2022
Making claims of backstabbing and a racially motivated campaign from Morrison to prevent the preselection of rival Michael Towke. pic.twitter.com/cKmI7xQhPK
“Morrison might profess to be Christian, but there was nothing Christian about what was done to Michael Towke,” Fierravanti-Wells told the senate chamber.
“I am advised that there are several statutory declarations to attest to racial comments made by Morrison at the time that we can’t have a Lebanese person in Cook.”
These allegations have re-emerged just before the federal election, which is expected to be held in May.