Liberal MP accuses Scott Morrison of ‘ruthless bullying’ and scheming at the expense of flood victims

Another senior Liberal has taken aim at Scott Morrison, accusing him of “self-serving ruthless bullying” and claiming he has “ruined” the Liberal party.

Catherine Cusack, a New South Wales Liberal who announced two weeks ago she would resign from the Legislative Council over her anger about flood relief, adds her voice to a growing chorus of critics of Morrison from within his own party in an opinion piece for Guardian Australia.

Cusack explicitly endorses the Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’s “character assessment of the prime minister” and reveals she will not vote for his government in the May election.

Morrison has rejected the claim flood funding had been politicised as “untrue” because the government had acted on advice and later extended the payments.

On Tuesday Fierravanti-Wells labelled the prime minister an “autocrat” and a “bully” in an excoriating Senate speech revealing allegations he had made “racial comments” when running for preselection in 2007.

Morrison has vehemently denied the claims, contained in statutory declarations reported in the Saturday Paper and then publicly backed by his preselection opponent, Michael Towke.

Cusack accused Morrison of having “ruined” the Liberal party and said he had “trashed” its values over two decades, as state director, “then as a scheming MP and now as prime minister finding loopholes in our constitution to delay preselections in order to get his way”.

She criticised Morrison for “forcing moderates to vote for [former Liberal and now United Australia party leader MP] Craig Kelly” when his preselection was under threat before the 2019 election.

She has warned she will vote against the prime minister over factional “scheming” and politicised allocation of flood relief.

“But he has outdone himself engineering a federal intervention to jump over the organisation all together.

“He got what he wanted at the expense of destroying our rules-based selection system and disgusting virtually every member of the NSW division.”

Morrison’s immigration minister and proxy in the NSW party, Alex Hawke, has been accused of procedural delays prompting a takeover of federal preselections by a three-person panel, including Morrison and the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet.

The NSW court of appeal is set to rule on Tuesday whether the takeover and resultant preselections complied with Liberal party rules.

Cusack, a longtime critic of the Liberal party’s culture towards women, has spoken out about the exclusion of Ballina, Byron and Tweed from federal disaster payments, a decision reversed in mid-March.

She said: “Scott Morrison’s brazen attempt to fund flood victims in a National party seat and exclude flood victims in a Labor seat that I happen to live in was just too much …

“To see the self-serving ruthless bullying that has increased inside the Liberal party spill over into public policy and the poorest most vulnerable Australians who lost everything in the floods are the targets of this outrageous abuse of morality and power is simply intolerable.”

Cusack said assistance had “extended to all northern rivers victims” after their exclusion became too “embarrassing”, but the prime minister now appeared to be “refusing to engage NSW government on additional measures that are so needed for victims of this incredible disaster”.

“It’s so bad I am moved to endorse Connie’s character assessment of the PM. ‘It’s my way or the highway’. For flood victims. Un-bloody-believable.”

Asked about Cusack’s claim flood victims in the Nationals’ seat of Paige were looked after but those in Labor-held Richmond were not, Morrison responded it was “simply untrue”.

“The $7,000 or thereabouts that households have been receiving in additional disaster payments extend across all seven [local government areas] – including the one she lives in,” he told reporters in South Sydney.

“We listed those first LGAs first because they were the most obvious ones, and that was the advice of our agencies, and then I said we’d be assessing further, which we did, and we extended it to the other four.

“So it’s just wrong in fact.”

Morrison has denied the allegations made by Towke and several Liberal preselectors, that he had warned after the Cronulla riots a Lebanese Australian could not hold Cook, and discussed a false rumour Towke was a Muslim. These are “completely untrue”, he said on Sunday.

“It is outrageous, absolutely outrageous,” the prime minister said. “I’ve dealt with it time and again, and the leaders of the Lebanese community, I think voices have spoken most significantly about this matter – and just what’s behind all this and I think it’s very clear.”

On Monday Towke branded Morrison “a compulsive liar” and declared he did not deserve to be prime minister.

“I think it’s pretty obvious he is – he’s got form on that, just ask Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull, Emmanuel Macron … Barnaby Joyce called him out.”

On Sunday Morrison blamed the allegations on “individuals who haven’t liked the answer they’ve got” from party preselection processes.

“People will throw all sorts of mud at you – particularly when you get up close to an election and they’ll make all sorts of things up because they have other motivations.”

Cusack rejected any suggestions of ulterior motives for her critique. “The truth is, there has been no conspiracy in my decision to speak out about Scott Morrison …

“Nobody puts words into my mouth. I am what they call a ‘problem woman’, plus I live in the regions where we just call it out as deserved.”

Cusack warned Morrison that “punishing our flood victims” or the NSW government for her decision to speak up is “another chapter in the disgrace of the prime minister’s approach to this flood catastrophe”.

She also criticised the federal Liberal party’s handling of climate change, which she said had, “encouraged by the Murdoch press, delayed the urgent need for … action by at least 15 years”.

“The climate change fight has divided and just exhausted many of us in the NSW Liberals.

“Sitting here in the flood-ravaged northern rivers I can only deplore how much time has been lost.”