Scott Morrison critics consumed by personal grievances, says John Howard

“Both were probably consumed with personal disappointment and frustration when they made those comments,” said Mr Howard in an interview on the sidelines of a Property Council conference in Hobart.

“I have not seen any evidence that” [Mr Morrison] being a bully, being arrogant or something like that. Powerful? Well, anyone who becomes the leader of a political party is powerful.”

But Mr Howard said he strongly believed that party members should elect candidates for seats in the lower and upper house through plebiscites – rather than installing candidates through factions at headquarters, as happens in several key NSW- seats.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells denounced this practice in her speech, saying that Mr Morrison and his ally Alex Hawke have “ruined the Liberal Party in NSW by trampling its constitution” and members’ rights.

A legal challenge to this trial by an ally of Senator Fierravanti-Wells, NSW Liberal Party executive Matthew Camenzuli, is going to court just days before Mr Morrison is expected to call the election.

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Mr Howard declined to comment on Mr Hawke or the specific circumstances, but said: “It is highly desirable to have selections take place with as little delay as possible. As a general principle, I am a very strong supporter of plebiscites and a very strong supporter of the members of the department who elect candidates.

“The jury is not yet sure whether the correct selections have been made in the chairs. You don’t really know that until you’ve had the election.”

Mr. Howard noted that Senator Fierravanti-Wells lost her position as a result of the Democratic plebiscites she is advocating. “Connie had a good run. She lost and was unhappy. What happened to her pre-selection made for a predictable reaction,” he said.

Mr Howard said he spoke to Mr Morrison from time to time but would not be on the agenda of a fourth-term coalition government if he were re-elected. However, he told the Property Council event that tax reform was not yet complete and the country was still over-reliant on income taxes.

Former Prime Minister John Howard would not be on the agenda of a coalition government for a fourth term if re-elected.Credit:Getty

“That’s an issue that needs to be addressed at some point in the future,” he said. “You won’t find an alternative [GST] speed over my lips. The changes made to the package that the public voted for in 1998 weakened it — taking away food and other services.

“Tax reforms remain unfinished business in this country, there’s nothing else you can do, and I just hope that somehow the government in power comes back on its feet.”

Dealing with China and improving bilateral relations would remain a high priority for those elected, he said, warning: “The idea of ​​a potential Chinese base in the Solomon Islands… is bad news. We must do everything we can to neutralize it.”

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Howard, who oversaw 12 budgets as prime minister until 2007, said Tuesday’s treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s efforts were a good marriage between politics and economics ahead of an election that would be difficult for the coalition.

He said the government had a good story to tell, especially regarding low unemployment, but “the longer you’re in power, the harder it is to win”.

Jacqueline Maley breaks through the hubbub of the federal election campaign with news, views and expert analysis. Sign up here for our Australia Votes 2022 newsletter.

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