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Turnbull calls for early federal election

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Malcolm Turnbull says Prime Minister Scott Morrison should go to an early federal election to help save NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian from defeat in a state poll.

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The ousted prime minister made the case for holding an early federal election to save the NSW Liberal government from defeat, pointing to the “brand damage” inflicted by his dumping as prime minister.

He has revealed he planned to hold a March 2 federal poll ahead of the NSW state election later that month.

“My view is that it would be manifestly in the best interests and prospects of the Morrison government to go to the polls as soon as it can after the summer break,” he said.

Turnbull noted the government was in a worse polling position than when he was prime minister, describing the coup against him as “a destructive, mad and pointless exercise” which had appalled Australians.

Anxious NSW Liberals remain concerned their federal colleagues could cost them the state election.

“The feds are poisoning us,” one senior state Liberal told The Sydney Morning Herald.

Deep divisions within the party have been compounded by a disastrous Victorian election, the defection of former federal Liberal MP Julia Banks and the resignation of Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger.

Divisions are also apparent in the NSW branch of the party, with Turnbull saying that saving Sydney Liberal MP Craig Kelly from a preselection battle after he threatened to defect to the crossbench would be “the antithesis of good government”.

Turnbull denied his intervention to stop a plan hatched by the NSW Liberal Party state executive to save Kelly was borne of retribution.

He said party members in the seat of Hughes should be given the chance to have their say.

“Mr Kelly has threatened to go to the crossbench and bring down the government,” he told ABC radio today.

“Assuming he has made that threat, then that is the worst and the weakest reason not to have a preselection.”

Turnbull did not deny telling state executive members that Mr Morrison was “just trying to keep his arse in (Commonwealth car) C1”.

“Plainly, the prime minister’s determination is to stay in government for as long as he possibly can,” he said.

Turnbull denied he was trying to stir trouble.

“The proposition that I am responsible for the government’s electorate woes is absurd,” he said.

“I’m an Australian citizen, I’m a member of the Liberal Party, and I’m entitled to express my views.”

Federal Cabinet Minister Simon Birmingham is not impressed the internal Liberal Party ructions have spilled into the public arena.

“I’m not aware of any threats that have been made and ultimately Craig Kelly’s preselection, who the Liberal candidate is in Hughes, is a matter for the NSW division of the party,” he told Sky News.

“I’d rather all of these matters by all members were conducted in private where they can be.”

– with AAP

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