Prime Minister Scott Morrison has bristled at suggestions an exodus of coalition frontbenchers ahead of the federal election is akin to rats fleeing a sinking ship.
Kelly O’Dwyer, Nigel Scullion and Michael Keenan have announced their retirements ahead of the likely May poll, with the government on track to lose to Labor.
“I think that’s a very offensive way to put it to people who have made deeply personal decisions for family reasons,” Mr Morrison told Nine’s Today Show on Tuesday.
He insisted the departures were not unusual, saying there were fewer resignations than ahead of previous elections.
“It is disappointing the Labor Party, and in particular Bill Shorten, has sought to cast doubt on the genuine personal family reasons why our members have retired,” the prime minister said.
There is speculation former foreign minister Julie Bishop will also abandon her safe Perth seat of Curtin.
Mr Morrison said Ms Bishop had not updated him since she quit her cabinet post following last year’s leadership spill which installed him as prime minister.
“She said she was going to contest the next election and hasn’t told me anything different since then,” Mr Morrison told Seven’s Sunrise.
A slew of government MPs also face challenges from independents, including former prime minister Tony Abbott who will race former world champion skier Zali Steggall in his Sydney seat of Warringah.
Liberal-turned-independent Julia Banks is also weighing up running in Flinders, the Victorian electorate held by Health Minister Greg Hunt.
“You vote for an independent, it won’t give you a stronger economy. If you vote for Labor, it won’t give you a stronger economy,” Mr Morrison said.
Disgruntled former Liberal member Oliver Yates is expected to announce he will challenge Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in the blue-ribbon seat of Kooyong.
“This particular gentleman has not been a Liberal for a very long time,” Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the ABC’s Radio National.
“I’m very confident the people of Kooyong will know Josh Frydenberg is the right representative for them in the parliament in the next term.”