Internal tensions within the Liberal Party that rolled a Prime Minister just last month now seem to have claimed a scalp on the South Coast of NSW, with the Member for Gilmore saying, “enough is enough.”
Ann Sudmalis, whose constituency stretches from Tuross to Kiama rose to speak in Parliament House just before 8 o’clock last night, addressing days of speculation about her future.
She labelled some within her party as bullies and backstabbers and announced she won’t be contesting the next election.
Going out of her way to protect new Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Mrs Sudmalis let rip on others and months of simmering tensions, a conflict she clearly holds the NSW Member for Kiama, Gareth Ward responsible for.
Ann Sudmalis’ full speech from Hansard:
Mrs SUDMALIS (Gilmore) (19:54): I first thank the Minister for Health, the Hon. Greg Hunt, for facilitating the continuing funding for One Door in Ulladulla. This is an essential service in my region, providing a range of mental health support services for women and families in particular. One of their mantras to their clients is: ‘Are you okay?’ Another group which is rarely asked, ‘Are you okay?’ is politicians. I would ask here that those who feel inspired to be spiteful, angry, insulting and gutless, because they’re using their keyboards, to have a think before pressing the send button. How would you feel if you received the email you’re about to send?
Politics is a place where if you do not have great resilience the actions of others can impact on your mental health. Bullying, betrayal and backstabbing have been the hallmarks of one of my state Liberal colleagues Gareth Ward over the past six and a half years. In fact, I have endured the trifecta: a sour grapes defeated preselection candidate Andrew Guile, the plotting and manipulation of both people and numbers by Gareth and the reporting by the local editor of Fairfax—which I see as ‘Biasfax’—John Hanscombe. Between them I have been misrepresented in all manner of media in a continuing barrage of actions from April 2012.
Many people will have heard rumours about my intentions for the election next year. In the first instance, let me make the following claim. Scott Morrison, apart from being the new Prime Minister, is someone I see as a friend. He is a man of integrity and he is absolutely passionate about the long-term progress and vision for Australia. For that reason alone, I endeavoured to hold my decision in private until after the Wentworth by-election. Unfortunately, that is now not possible.
I have asked the Prime Minister to acknowledge the withdrawal of my nomination for the seat of Gilmore. I want to make it abundantly clear that my decision has nothing to do with the leadership of Scott. My decision does, however, has everything to do with the NSW state division and their lack of action, and the combined undermining actions as outlined by the revenge motivated trifecta surrounding me locally. It is the state division level where I have had little or no support during the past six months while waiting for the preselection process, which should have been determined before now.
On the local scene since the day of winning preselection in 2012, the local, self-determined senior Liberal has been leaking damaging material to the media and having publicity stunts that are completely against federal policy initiatives. And more recently he approached friends asking me to nominate my retirement date and then he’d call off his people.
The final straw came when this same state MP, after stacking my branches completely, rolled my supportive FEC committee at the AGM, installing people who have never been part of a federal campaign. The FEC committee is central to winning an election. This is not the first time that Gareth has flexed his vengeance on strong Liberal women. He doesn’t just get even; he annihilates anyone who opposes him.
In 2016 Gareth worked the numbers and denied a priority position for a strong Liberal woman Kellie Marsh, a local and effective councillor. She ran independently and won a place on the Shellharbour council. That same year Gareth, while helping his friend Andrew Guile get back on to the Shoalhaven City Council, worked on the booths handing out for the independent team, knowing their preferences for the mayor would all go to the Greens candidate and not to Jo Gash, also a strong Liberal woman. Despite her winning the primary count she was defeated. Then when nominations were called for the seat of Gilmore, Gareth’s friends Paul Ell and Adam Straney strangely decided to nominate against me while Andrew Guile actively encouraged Grant Schulz to do the same.
Was I doing a lousy job? No. Only if you ask the local Labor member and even some of them think I’m doing an okay job. Was it because they thought I’d lose the last election? Hardly. When I had the confidence of the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, openly stating on national television their support for me. This was all about Gareth’s narcissistic revenge planned and plotted.
I have decided that enough is enough. After seeing the betrayal of amazing and dedicated committee members, who are now being contacted by the new committee members asking for help, the whole scenario is pathetic. Who was this about? Certainly not the people who elected me. It was about ego driven ambition, bullying and betrayal and my local position is completely untenable.
I will work right through the term for the people who elected me. This has been and will continue to be the reason I do this job. I will continue to lobby for my dairy farmers. I still have a great deal of work to do. I will not be distracted by boys who should know better, men who know better and do nothing or women who are manipulated by false information.
I’m concerned that the media will interpret my decision as a reflection on the leadership of Scott Morrison. If they do, they will be lying. Scott truly is a good man. In the end I will always ask people, ‘Are you okay?’ and I will mean it. I’ll do everything I can to help them. Some of my friends will ask me if I am okay. Absolutely, yes. I’ve had five years working for others in the capacity of a federal member. It has been a privilege and I thank you.
Speaking to the ABC, Gareth Ward believes Mrs Sudmalis has a case of sour grapes.
“I think sometimes people confuse not getting their way as being bullied,” he told the ABC.
“There are political parties with robust debate, and I don’t think we should use words like bullying — which is a very serious allegation.
“The comments, I think, are more reflective of someone who is bitter towards me than the other way around,” Mr Ward told the ABC.
The NSW Liberal Member for Bega, Andrew Constance wouldn’t be drawn on the internal power play but says Ann Sudmalis has been a tireless and incredibly committed Federal Member for Gilmore.
“She has given 100% to the issues affecting local South Coast communities and people,” he says.
“I have come to know her as a friend and someone who I enjoy working with on local issues. She is a warm and caring MP who cares so much about the people of the South Coast.
“I am honoured to have worked with Ann on delivering projects such as the Nowra Bridge, the upgrade of Moruya airport and further investments in disability services including Muddy Puddles early childhood intervention and the all-inclusive playground at Corrigans Beach reserve.
“I am saddened and disappointed to hear of her decision to retire,” Mr Constance says.
Member for Kiama, Gareth Ward and Member for Bega, Andrew Constance in August with a petition concerning the future of the Berry Station Masters residence. Photo: Gareth Ward Facebook.The federal Labor member for the adjoining seat of Eden – Monaro, Dr Mike Kelly has thanked and applauded Mrs Sudmalis for her service to the community.
“I am sorry that she has been put through this stuff, I wish her all the best for the future, I am reassured that the Labor candidate Fiona Philips is a good person and will do a great job if elected,” Dr Kelly says.
Offering free advice to the Liberal Party, Dr Kelly says internal structures around debate need to be improved.
“People often talk about the factions that exist within the Labor Party but I have come to appreciate that it ensures that with every policy measure that goes forward we have a structured way of contestability,” he says.
“It’s bizarre that the Coalition hasn’t learned the lessons of disunity from us.
“The only reason I stayed in politics is because we went away and got our house in order, I think the Liberal Party needs to go away and spend some time in opposition and look at party reform.
“The problem within the Liberal Party at the moment is that there is a real debate going on about who they are these days,” Dr Kelly says.
Labor’s Fiona Phillips got within 2% per cent of taking the seat from Mrs Sudmalis in 2016. Liberal preselection is unresolved and ongoing.
Eurobodalla Mayor, Liz Innes says she will take the new Member for Gilmore at face value – whoever it is.
“All I can do is treat people how they treat me, I also believe that you have got to give everybody an opportunity, so whoever it is ultimately representing Gilmore, I am prepared to work with them,” she says.
Drawing on her own experiences of poor behaviour within politics, Cr Innes says everyone needs to engage better.
“It’s hard enough as an elected representative to maintain and keep the focus on the really important work we need to get done,” Cr Innes says.
“It’s very distracting when you have these sort of issues that take your attention away.
“What I’d like to see is people refocus on what we are all there to do and that is to represent our communities.”
Cr Innes believes the standard of commentary that follows politicians within the community and the media also needs to change.
“We need to be more careful about the language, no matter what side of politics you come from, most people that I know go into politics with good intentions.
“I urge people to be kinder to one another, don’t attack the person, concentrate on issues, whilst ever we see this continuation of political point scoring it really does take us all away from the main focus.”
Mrs Sudmalis says she will stay on as the Member for Gilmore until the election.
*This story first appeared on About Regional.