23 April 2017
Amy Remeikis and Judith Ireland
Eight days into Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer’s maternity leave, vexed Victorian Liberals have moved to replace her.
Fairfax Media has confirmed Tony Abbott’s former chief-of-staff turned political commentator Peta Credlin has been encouraged to run against Ms O’Dwyer in the blue ribbon seat of Higgins, as a rebuke to the minister for the government’s soon-to-be enacted changes to superannuation.
It is understood that a number of branches within Ms O’Dwyer’s electorate, which takes in Toorak, one of Australia’s wealthiest suburbs, have chosen to meet when federal parliament is sitting, ensuring Ms O’Dwyer cannot attend.
“It’s not factional at all,” said one senior Victorian Liberal.
“I don’t think anyone thinks it’s fair that this report [on the challenge] has come just eight days after Kelly went on maternity leave. That’s not a good look at all. The fact is there are some internal issues in Higgins that need addressing.”
Those issues, Fairfax Media has been told, include anger within some branches over the superannuation issue, and some unhappy long-time supporters of Peter Costello, the former member for Higgins, who feel they have been sidelined as Ms O’Dwyer looks to promote younger members of the party.
In the midst of the 2016 federal election campaign a group, called called Save Our Super, established by Melbourne QC Jack Hammond, held a rally at the Malvern Town Hall, in the midst of Ms O’Dwyer’s seat.
That meeting attracted 200 people, mostly traditional Liberal voters. Institute of Public Affairs CEO John Roskam was among the notable attendees. A seat was, symbolically, left vacant at the meeting for Ms O’Dwyer, who did not attend.
That meeting called on the government to “grandfather” the impact of proposed changes on existing superannuation accounts.
According to reports at the time, the mood among attendees at that meeting was “white-hot rage”. That rage among a wealthy and influential group of Higgins Liberal party members has not subsided.
The approach to Ms Credlin was seen as a shot across the bow to Ms O’Dwyer, amid reports the pair did not get along during Ms Credlin’s tenure in Mr Abbott’s office.
News Ltd, which first reported the story, quoted Ms Credlin as saying she had not been “formally approached” to run for Higgins.
A spokesman for Ms O’Dwyer said the minister was “on maternity leave with an eight-day-old son and is not commenting on this story”.
The government has faced fierce opposition for its changes to superannuation, which include increased taxes on contributions for those earning over $250,000 and an annual $100,000 non-concessional cap on contributions.
The changes come into effect on July 1.
Speaking from her office on Friday ahead of the reported challenge Ms O’Dwyer wanted to send a message that it was possible to balance having a family with a career in politics.
“You can have a family and you can pursue a life of public service and you can do so at the highest levels,” she told Fairfax Media.
“It is absolutely possible.”
She also praised the support Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had given her, as she became the first woman to give birth while in Cabinet, describing him as “incredibly enlightened and understanding” when it came to working parents.
“I couldn’t ask for a better boss,” she said.
Ms O’Dwyer worked right up until the birth of her second child, Edward, on April 13, phoning in to Expenditure Review Committee meetings when she could no longer fly.
She is officially planning six weeks of leave with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann acting in her portfolio.
Ms O’Dwyer faced a strong challenge to hold her seat during the 2016 election, particularly from Greens candidate Jason Ball, but held on to win with a 9.9 per cent margin.