Liberal Party federal director Tony Nutt has announced his resignation, ahead of the party’s federal executive reviewing the lessons from the 2016 election campaign.
Nutt took up the post soon after Malcolm Turnbull became leader, replacing Brian Loughnane, who is married to Peta Credlin, chief of staff to former prime minister Tony Abbott.
In a statement on Wednesday night Nutt said “it is time” to move on.
He had served the Liberal Party for more than 35 years, and in the last six years had been campaign director for the 2016 federal election and two state elections – Victoria in 2010 and NSW in 2015.
When John Howard was prime minister Nutt was his principal private secretary and later his chief of staff. Among his many roles, he did the prime ministerial “transitions” for both Abbott and Turnbull.
In his statement Nutt acknowledged, without going into specifics, that criticism was made of the last campaign.
While Nutt came under fire, a lot of the unhappiness from within the party was directed at Turnbull, who refused to allow a heavily negative attack to be run against Bill Shorten. Nutt subsequently defended the strategy by arguing that it was based on the party’s research, saying to have gone more negative would have only boosted the vote for minor parties and independents.
“Invariably a close result has been the subject of criticism,” Nutt said in his statement. He said the federal executive would meet later this week and receive the election post-mortem prepared by former minister Andrew Robb and his committee.
“I am sure that Andrew Robb’s committee will have a number of important recommendations. This is as it should be because all parties must continually refine and improve their activities to remain competitive in a robust democratic system like Australia’s.”
Turnbull said Nutt was “the consummate political professional and the Liberal Party has no more loyal or dedicated servant.
"Tony has been a dear friend and very wise counsel to me and Lucy for many years. His advice has been invaluable, always carefully considered and invariably delivered with a full historical context both modern and ancient. Tony is in every respect a scholar and a gentleman,” Turnbull said.
“It is customary nowadays to deprecate politics, politicians and above all political professionals. But the truth is they, and the parties they run, make our democracy work.”
Sources said Turnbull and Nutt had been in discussion for some months about his departure. He will stay on while a successor is chosen. Party sources expect that the federal president, former Howard government minister Richard Alston, will also stand down soon.
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra