Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is urging his successor, Scott Morrison, to call an election for March 2, in order to save the state Liberal government in New South Wales.
Turnbull, who lost the top job in August, had been planning an election for March, he told ABC's Radio National Breakfast on Monday.
"My view is it would be manifestly in the interests and the prospects of the Morrison government to go to the polls as soon as it can after the summer break," he said.
Last week, Morrison announced that the budget would be called a month early on April 2, indicating that the election would likely be held on May 11 or 18.
It was reported that Turnbull had said to Liberal Party colleagues that Morrison did not want to go to an early election because "all he's about is keeping his arse on C1", in reference to the prime minister's car.
Turnbull didn't deny saying this on Monday, and said Liberals were concerned that his ousting in August was damaging the Liberal brand across the board.
"There is a legitimate discussion ... and concern about the way in which the brand damage arising from the federal leadership change in August has impacted on the NSW state government in the Wagga by-election and the Victorian state election," he said.
Turnbull said many Liberals believed the federal government should go to an election before the NSW state election is locked in for March 23 to ensure the state Liberal government is not hit by the "brand damage" of the "destructive, pointless, shameful" leadership spill that cost Turnbull his job.
Fairfax reported on Sunday that Turnbull had intervened in a factional fight in the NSW branch of the Liberal Party and had worked to blow up a deal between the factions that would have saved conservative MP and Sky News regular Craig Kelly from a preselection challenge from the moderate Kent Johns.
The deal would have allowed the state executive to invoke emergency powers and automatically endorse all sitting MPs, meaning Kelly would not have had to face preselectors.
Kelly has not ruled out sitting out the remainder of his term as an independent MP if he loses the preselection for the seat of Hughes.
Turnbull confirmed on Twitter on Sunday that he had intervened.
He told Radio National Breakfast that Liberal Party members in Hughes should be able to have their say.
"In my view, the party should allow the preselection process to take its course," he said.
When it was pointed out Turnbull had intervened to save Kelly at the 2016 election, Turnbull admitted it was contentious then, but now if Kelly had made a threat to go to the crossbench, then that was the "worst and weakest reason" to intervene in the preselection process.
"It is the antithesis of good government giving into threats of that kind," he said.
Turnbull's efforts appeared to have backfired, after the state executive voted to save Kelly from preselection, with Liberal moderates reportedly abstaining from the vote.
Josh Taylor is a Senior Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Josh Taylor at email@example.com.
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