In the maelstrom that followed the axing of Malcolm Turnbull, we heard that Aged Care Minister Ken Wyatt was considering a defection to Labor. It’s something he has strenuously denied:
At no stage would I contemplate swapping from a Coalition party, the Liberal Party. I would not cross over for any political expediency or for personal gain or benefit.
But if, as those who broke the story insist, it’s true — who could blame him? Crikey struggles to recall an Australian politician (aside from the last four prime ministers, of course) more consistently dicked about by their own party than Wyatt.
Of course, Joe Aston’s initial story of Wyatt’s “secret talks” with senior Labor figures didn’t come from Wyatt himself, and when Aston doubled down on the story of Wyatt’s apparent flirtation with permanently crossing the floor, it was the act of someone fairly sure of their source. We at Crikey had our suspicions about where that leak may have come from (more later). Regardless, this was not the last damaging leak to target Wyatt.
Over the weekend it was reported that an experienced female staffer resigned from her job in Wyatt’s office after a protracted bullying dispute. There was no indication that Wyatt himself was involved in the bullying, but the report made a note that the claims included “a failure of such behaviour to be dealt with properly”.
We in the bunker are just glad all the Liberal women coming forward to discuss their experiences of bullying during the ousting of Turnbull led to a real reckoning within parliament about the toxic workplace culture that … oh wait, silly us. No, now it’s just been weaponised against moderate conservatives.
Ms Tips’ humble theory is that this round of damaging leaks may stem from Wyatt’s reaction to the possibility of Peter Dutton as Liberal Party leader, as well as his decidedly lukewarm response to the reality of Tony Abbott as special envoy for Indigenous Affairs. “Look, Tony has been offered something by the prime minister, whether I agree or disagree doesn’t matter,” Wyatt said last month.
Wyatt is the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, and the first to be appointed to the frontbench. In his maiden address, wearing a kangaroo skin coat adorned with cockatoo feathers (signifying leadership), he fought back tears as he described the experience of his mother — who was taken to Roelands Mission near Bunbury in south Western Australia — and describing what Kevin Rudd’s 2008 Apology meant to him.
One can imagine then, that Wyatt was not thrilled by a large cohort of the Liberal Party attempting to install as leader the one remaining MP who walked out of parliament during the Apology. Wyatt was clear that, if Dutton became leader, he would “consider his position”.
Speaking of MPs who boycotted the apology — Sophie Mirabella’s bizarre defamation case against the Benalla Ensign earlier this year revealed more than shoddy journalism. In the course of the trial, it became clear just what kind of co-worker Mirabella had been to Wyatt.
The trial centred on a story claiming Mirabella had pushed Cathy McGowan at the opening of a new wing of a retirement home in the lead-up to the 2016 election — an event Wyatt was present for in his then-capacity as assistant aged care minister. While it was established that the push hadn’t happened, Mirabella did lay her hands on Wyatt preventing him from moving to pose with McGowan for a photo.