Federal Liberal MP Ann Sudmalis publicly accused a state-level Liberal MP, Gareth Ward, of "bullying" and "betrayal".
NSW Liberal MP Gareth Ward has challenged outgoing federal MP Anne Sudmalis to repeat her accusations of “bullying” outside the protection of parliamentary privilege.
The extraordinary public spat between a state and a federal Liberal comes in the wake of Ms Sudmalis’ decision to leave the parliament, citing bullying within the Coalition.
But this week Ms Sudmalis went further, naming Mr Ward specifically and accusing him of “bullying, betrayal and backstabbing”, and of working against her in the preselection contest for her seat of Gilmore.
"This is an outrageous use of parliamentary privilege," Mr Ward told Fairfax Media.
"If Ms Sudmalis believes the comments she's made tonight, she should make them outside of Parliament and provide evidence.”
Parliamentary privilege gives politicians the right to say whatever they want in parliament without fear of any legal repercussions. As long as they are speaking in parliament they cannot be sued, in a defamation case for instance, or face a criminal prosecution for breaching secrecy laws.
If Ms Sudmalis repeated the comments on the street, she would be outside the parliament's protection.
Prime minister Scott Morrison said he was confident there was no bullying problem in the federal parliamentary Liberal party. Some complaints, like those from Senator Lucy Gichuhi, related to the state branches of the party, Mr Morrison said.
"Politics is a rough business, we all know that," he told reporters outside an aged care home in Canberra.
He said local party politics could get "caught up in these little skirmishes in branches" and lose sight of the real issues, but said it was just as much a problem for Labor.
The prime minister was a public supporter of Ms Sudmalis' hold on the Liberal ticket, travelling to her electorate months ago as treasurer in a bid to shore up support, and offered some feedback for local party members who had undermined their MP.
"It's important party members, like parliamentary members, always remember why they're involved in politics," Mr Morrison said.
"That's to serve the Australian people. Not to carry on with stupid games."
Ms Sudmalis has already announced will not contest the next election, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Scott Morrison's attempts to get more women into parliament.
Under privilege, she said Gareth Ward was determined to dump her as the Liberal candidate in an act of "narcissistic revenge".
"I have decided that enough is enough," Ms Sudmalis told the Lower House.
"It was about ego-driven ambition, bullying and betrayal, and my local position is completely untenable."
Ms Sudmalis says she has received little or no support from the NSW state division while waiting for the preselection process during the past six months.
She also named editor of the Milton-Ulladulla Times John Hanscombe for working with Mr Ward to "misrepresent" her in the media since 2012.
"This is not the first time Gareth has flexed his vengeance on strong Liberal women," the NSW MP said.
"He doesn't just get even, he annihilates anyone who opposes him."
She insisted her decision was not about Mr Morrison's new leadership, pledging to work hard until the end of her term.
"I will not be distracted by boys who should know better, men who know better and who do nothing, or women who are manipulated by false information."
Ms Sudmalis holds the southern NSW coastal seat of Gilmore with a margin of just 0.7 per cent and has faced a preselection challenge from local real estate agent Grant Schultz.
Her decision to exit parliament comes after Victorian Liberal Julia Banks also announced she will quit at the election, while Queensland Liberal Jane Prentice is going after losing her own preselection.
Ms Sudmalis said the final straw came when her local electorate committee was rolled and replaced with inexperienced people who were hostile to her. She had originally planned to keep her decision quiet until after the Wentworth by-election on October 20.
The MP's exit comes as the Liberal Party faces a backlash over its lack of commitment to preselecting women.
A short time after her resignation, the Prime Minister paid tribute to Ms Sudmalis.
“Ann raised a number of genuine concerns with me regarding her treatment in her local Federal Electoral Conference within the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party of Australia,” Scott Morrison said in a statement.
He said he had asked the party's federal executive to come up with a “rigorous and confidential process” to deal with complaints, and for ways attract more male and female candidates.
“It is the party’s job to uphold and protect those standards from the grassroots up, to ensure that MPs and candidates are treated with respect and are well supported,” Mr Morrison said.
- with AAP