Liberal elders are in open warfare as Victorian branch president Michael Kroger launches an extraordinary attack on former premier Ted Baillieu, accusing him of making "appalling remarks" about the party’s treatment of women.
This latest round of in-fighting comes as cabinet minister Kelly O'Dwyer is dragged into a dispute over a lucrative electoral war chest, raised in her blue-ribbon seat of Higgins.
Victorian party bosses are demanding the "Higgins 200 Club" fundraising vehicle open up its books and allow them to scrutinise its dealings, and have urged Ms O'Dwyer to intervene to persuade the managers of the fund to co-operate.
In 2015 the fund reportedly contained more than $1 million in donations, but a Liberal source said it no longer held that sum.
Tensions soared on Thursday as Mr Kroger and Mr Baillieu exchanged blows over the ex-premier’s scathing critique of the Liberal Party's "problem with women".
“What we don’t want is people like Ted and others constantly bagging the party which did so much for him,” Mr Kroger said.
He demanded that Mr Baillieu “start supporting the party” rather than offering his assessment of its woes.
Mr Baillieu was the last Liberal premier to win an election since Jeff Kennett in 1996.
On Wednesday Mr Baillieu enraged the party president when he told ABC radio there was a “hang-up” about women in some parts of the Liberal Party and its leadership.
He had leapt to the defence of federal Victorian MP Julia Banks, who announced on Wednesday that she was quitting Parliament after being bullied and intimidated by her colleagues amid the chaos of the leadership spill.
Mr Baillieu also accused the party leadership of failing to properly support Ms Banks in her 2016 campaign, although she was ultimately successful.
But Mr Kroger slammed Mr Baillieu’s criticism that Ms Banks did not get the resources she deserved when campaigning to win the federal Chisholm electorate.
He insisted that Ms Banks had received more than $250,000 in cash and staff resources during her 2016 campaign.
“It is appalling that Ted devalues the work of our professional staff, our volunteers and our donors,” Mr Kroger said.
“The party wants its former leaders to support Scott Morrison and Matthew Guy and not attack the party, which only serves the interests of Bill Shorten.”
But on Thursday Mr Baillieu refused to back down in the face of the attack, describing Mr Kroger’s broadsides as “utterly predictable”.
He said Mr Kroger’s characterisation of the 2016 campaign in Chisholm was “totally inconsistent with what everybody in the party knows”.
Another senior Liberal figure also disputed Mr Kroger’s suggestion that Ms Banks’ campaign was adequately resourced.
Mr Baillieu dismissed Mr Kroger’s demand that he be silent.
“Coming from Michael, everyone in the Liberal Party rolls their eyes,” he said. “My comments are precise and they have been very reserved.”
Meanwhile, another faultline within the party emerged, with the Victorian Liberal Party treasurer David Mond understood to have written to Ms O’Dwyer this month urging her to intervene in a dispute about the ownership of the Higgins 200 Club.
He is believed to be seeking a commitment from Higgins 200’s managers that the money held in the fund belongs to the party.
The fund, established by former federal treasurer Peter Costello, is dedicated to supporting the member for Higgins and the Liberal Party more broadly, but Ms O’Dwyer is not one of its directors.
Her spokesman directed comments about the fund to its directors. The Age approached the fund’s managers for comment.