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The Sydney Morning Herald

Court thwarts deputy and anoints backbencher

Author: David Reardon in Perth
Date: 22/02/2001
Words: 378
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News And Features
Page: 4
West Australian Liberal leader Richard Court yesterday unveiled a plot to shaft his long-term deputy in favour of a woman who is not even a member of State Parliament.

Mr Court (pictured), whose party was bundled out of power two weeks ago, said he would stay on as Opposition leader until later this year when the federal member for Curtin, Ms Julie Bishop, would take over both his seat in Parliament and his hold on the leadership.

After a four-hour party meeting to discuss Mr Court's plan yesterday, Liberal MPs sided with the former premier, rejecting the challenge of his deputy, Mr Colin Barnett, for the leadership.

An angry Mr Barnett described Mr Court's scheme as an``act of treachery".

``It's not a big day for my self-esteem being beaten by someone who is not even in Parliament," Mr Barnett said.

He rejected suggestions that he had agreed to stand aside for Ms Bishop and then enter Federal Parliament by running for her seat of Curtin.

He said nobody had contacted him to discuss anything to do with such a plan: ``I think it is bizarre. It has been the craziest, most ill-thought-out scam I've come across in politics."

But Mr Court said the Liberals desperately needed fresh leadership and Ms Bishop, a former lawyer from Perth's wealthy western suburbs, would bring a common touch to the party.

Mr Court said Ms Bishop planned to stay in Federal Parliament until the election, due later this year.

He will then retire from the seat of Nedlands and Ms Bishop, elected in 1998, will contest a by-election.

Mr Court denied he would be ``lame duck" Opposition leader, saying he would work closely with Ms Bishop and his newly elected deputy Dan Sullivan.

Ms Bishop said Mr Court had first approached her about taking over the leadership on Monday last week and the Prime Minister supported her decision.

She denied that Liberal powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne had played a role in the deal, and said she was surprised by the offer.

Many Liberal MPs said they were shocked by the deal, which was kept quiet until yesterday. Ms Barbara Scott said Mr Court had been `` been fooled by people behind the scenes".

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