Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis feels backlash after joining ALP attack on council mergers

Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on a visit to Sanctuary Point Public School last week. Photo: Robert Peet Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Turnbull government MP Ann Sudmalis is under pressure from angry rank-and-file Liberals in her south coast NSW seat after she publicly supported an ALP-authored motion “condemning the Baird government for its arrogant and ill-considered [council] merger proposal”.

Just days after Liberal Party members in Western Australia rolled sitting MP Dennis Jensen, some Liberals in Gilmore have told the local newspaper, the South Coast Register, that Ms Sudmalis could be disendorsed during a vote in April.

Gilmore Liberals have reached out to senior factional bosses, complaining that Ms Sudmalis has been “increasingly problematic and ineffective” since becoming the hand-picked successor to former Gilmore MP Joanna Gash, now the mayor of Shoalhaven.

But Fairfax Media understands that Ms Sudmalis is safe from disendorsement due to the close proximity to the next election and the likelihood that influential state Liberals in that area, Gareth Ward, the Kiama MP and Transport Minister Andrew Constance are both considering a tilt for Gilmore in 2019.

The South Coast Register quoted a senior local Liberal as saying a move on Ms Sudmalis during a vote to accept her unopposed nomination was “very much a live option” but a senior party source said it would not succeed.

“Even if the federal conference was to do that, in the current circumstances she would be saved by state executive,” said a source.

Ms Sudmalis told Fairfax Media that she stood by her criticism of forced council amalgamations, which would see Kiama and Shoalhaven merged and Shell Harbour and Wollongong merged.

“People here are quite negative about the merger proposal and I have to reflect that in my job as their federal member. It has not been well received at all,” she said.

Any move on Ms Sudmalis would hinge on branches loyal to Mr Ward and NSW Speaker Shelley Hancock, who holds the state seat of South Coast, and that is unlikely to happen.

But Ms Hancock did not hold back in her assessment of Ms Sudmalis’ decision to support the anti-amalgamation motion proposed by former Labor councillor Bob Proudfoot during a weekend protest rally. The motion stated: “This public rally condemns the Baird government for its arrogant and ill-considered merger proposal, and directs Mr Baird to withdraw it forthwith. The rally also calls on local member, Shelley Hancock, and Mayor, Jo Gash, to show greater support for their communities’ desire to reject the amalgamation.”

Ms Hancock said: “She should confine herself to talking about federal issues such as cuts to health funding. She should explain why Malcolm Turnbull appears to be turning his back on public education funding.

“She should perhaps talk about funding for the new bridge over the Shoalhaven and federal funding for highway upgrade. And she could talk to the electors about her position on marriage equality.”

“There was nothing courageous about seconding a vitriolic motion condemning the Baird government. It was a trap and Ann has fallen into it.”

Ms Sudmalis said she had “chatted” to Ms Hancock since the Speaker made those comments.

“All families have discussions and you talk issues over and resolve them. The Liberal family is no different,” she said.

It is understood that the Liberal Party was polling Gilmore residents over the weekend and the ructions have not gone unnoticed by Labor.

A swing of 5.3 per cent would result in the seat changing hands and polling suggests that the ascension of Malcolm Turnbull was not as well received as in urban seats. Ms Sudmalis backed Tony Abbott in September’s spill.

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