Moira Deeming avoids being expelled by Victorian Liberal party room after leader buckles to pressure

·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP</span>
Photograph: Diego Fedele/AAP

The Victorian Liberal leader, John Pesutto, has buckled to pressure and withdrawn his bid to expel controversial MP Moira Deeming from the party room.

Instead, after a two-hour meeting, the Liberal party room on Monday unanimously voted to suspend the upper house MP for nine months, as well as strip her of the position of upper house whip after she belatedly condemned anti-transgender activists.

Pesutto had initially sought to move a motion to expel Deeming from the parliamentary Liberal party, after she attended a rally headlined by British anti-transgender activist Kellie-Jay Keen last weekend that was also attended by neo-Nazis, who were photographed performing the Nazi salute.

He said he had proposed the new outcome after receiving “important concessions” from Deeming at 6.30am on Monday that included a condemnation of comments made by Keen and the rally’s organiser, Angie Jones.

Related: The Moira Deeming question: Victorian Liberals are at war, but leader John Pesutto knows the party must change

“Whilst it took a few days, Moira actually provided the condemnation I’d been seeking all along and that provided an opportunity during today’s meeting for me to propose a slightly different outcome,” Pesutto said.

“And having heard from Moira along with other speakers herself, where she amongst other things – and I won’t go into all of the detail – but certainly called out nazism and also called out any kind of bigotry against the LGBTI community.”

Pesutto said Deeming “specifically” condemned comments made by Keen and Jones that were contained in a 15-page dossier sent by the Liberal leadership to MPs last week.

“That’s what I wanted all along. I wanted it to be condemned, and she’s done that,” he said.

“It would be different if there we no concessions from Moira.”

Deeming had previously said both she and the rally organisers had “done nothing wrong”. In a tweet on Monday evening, she denied condemning Keen and Jones.

In a email distributed to MPs on Sunday night, seen by Guardian Australia, she maintained she was “innocent of these charges”.

“I am a brand new MP and deserve the chance to learn from this, and because guilt by various degrees of association is not a standard that any one of us can avoid transgressing,” the upper house MP said.

“I want you all to know that I have learned many painful lessons from this experience, and that I deeply regret the trouble this has caused my state and federal colleagues and the wider party membership.”

Pesutto said under his leadership the Victorian Liberals were an “inclusive, welcoming and engagement political party for all people”.

Related: Bid to expel Moira Deeming deepens divide in Victorian Liberal party

“No matter what their background, their sexual preference, no matter what their race or ethnicity or political views, we will listen and engage with people right across the board,” he said.

“That’s the Liberal party I want to lead, and today marks a turning point where we are on the road to achieving that in the lead-up to the 2026 election in a few years’ time. This is part of a change in culture that I want to secure for our party.”

The vote had been considered an early test for Pesutto, who took over the leadership following November’s crushing election loss vowing to bring the party back to the centre after years of factional infighting between socially liberal and conservative MPs.

Sources close to the leader had said an alternative punishment for Deeming was “not being remotely entertained” when floated by conservative MPs last week. An attempt to delay a vote also failed last week, in what was declared an early victory for Pesutto.

Pesutto on Monday denied he was making a compromise and said he was always confident he “had the numbers” to pass the expulsion motion.

However, several Liberal MPs speaking on condition on anonymity denied this. One MP, who was willing to vote for the motion, said Pesutto’s position as leader was now untenable.

“JP is done. It’s not a matter of if any more, but when,” they said.

Pesutto denied his leadership was in jeopardy following the vote.

Deeming arrived at the meeting with the Polwarth MP, Richard Riordan, who last week made a failed attempt to delay the vote. They were joined by MPs Chris Crewther, Renee Heath, Ann-Marie Hermans, Bev McArthur and Joe McCracken.

A Liberal MP close to Deeming said she delivered a “powerful speech” defending herself that brought some in the room to tears.

“You could see the visible change in the room after she spoke. Those that felt that they would be voting in favour of the expulsion to support the leader were questioning their approach,” they said.

Pesutto described the meeting as “very emotional”.

Victoria’s minister for equality, Harriet Shing, said the compromise was a “disgrace”.