‘He is not incompetent’:Dutton backs Taylor,hopes dumped senator finds new seat

Peter Dutton has defended the performance of his shadow treasurer,Angus Taylor,over claims of political incompetence in a spiteful feud with a frontbench colleague.

The opposition leader said on Wednesday he hoped dumped senator Hollie Hughes would find another seat in parliament aftershe lost a candidate selection contest for the NSW Senate ticket.

Hollie Hughes is the shadow assistant spokeswoman for mental health and the NDIS.

Hollie Hughes is the shadow assistant spokeswoman for mental health and the NDIS.Janie Barrett

Hughes unloaded on Taylor in aninterview with this masthead on Monday,exposing divisions in the opposition’s frontbench as an election nears and Labor hones its political attacks.

Hughes claimed that in backing a successful challenger to her position,Taylor broke the convention of MPs supporting sitting colleagues,allegedly undermining Dutton – who backed Hughes – to boost support in Canberra for a future leadership tilt.

Liberal sources questioned whether Hughes asked Taylor for an endorsement.

In a rare show of disunity in the Coalition,Hughes criticised Taylor’s performance as the opposition’s chief economic salesman and urged him to start showing maturity and “get across the detail”.

Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.

Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton.Alex Ellinghausen

Asked about the row on Wednesday,Dutton said:“Well,Angus is not incompetent.”

“He’s a very capable shadow minister and obviously a very significant contributor to our team.”

Asked if Taylor had undermined the Coalition leadership by backing a challenger,Dutton said “I’ll leave it at that” before moving on to other questions from reporters.

On Hughes,Dutton said it was sad a close friend had been de-selected from a winnable position on the Senate ticket.

“I hope that we can find the pathway back into the party somewhere else for Hollie Hughes because she’s been a great contributor,” he said.

“These internal matters are always difficult and I understand the emotion attached to that.

“It’s a democratic process where the preselection body has its say – they’ve determined the outcome of the preselection and I’ll leave it at that.”

How much Taylor’s support for conservative faction ally Jess Collins shifted votes is unclear,as the shadow treasurer has backed both winning and losing candidates previously.

Collins,who spruiked Taylor’s written endorsement to Liberal members before last month’s vote,won more votes than Hughes,191-167. This allowed Collins to join Andrew Bragg in the winnable positions and effectively boots Hughes from parliament after the next election,which is expected to be held no later than next May.

“Peter Dutton has run a completely unified team,” Hughes said on Monday.

“It beggars belief a senior member would go against the leadership in a successful attempt to disrupt the shadow ministerial team.

“This is a message to colleagues that some people’s ambition is more focused on themselves rather than the betterment of the team.”

Hughes was herself the beneficiary of the Liberal Party’s open preselection process in 2018 when she bumped sitting senator Jim Molan into an unwinnable spot.

The Coalition’s effectiveness in prosecuting Labor’s economic management has been questioned this term,including by Scott Morrison’s former media chief,Andrew Carswell,who said in April that the opposition needed sharper messaging on the cost of living.

However,thismasthead’s Resolve Political Monitor survey in May shows Labor has lost its lead over the Coalition from last year when voters are asked which party they think is better at managing the economy,keeping living costs down and handling national finances.

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Paul Sakkal is federal political correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald who previously covered Victorian politics and has won two Walkley awards.

Natassia Chrysanthos is the federal health reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age,based at Parliament House in Canberra.

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