Liberal leader urged to take ‘clear stand’ against controversial MP Bernie Finn

Victorian Liberal Party members say leader Michael O'Brien's political standing has been damaged by his continued refusal to rebuke upper house MP Bernie Finn after his latest controversial comments about last week's riots at the US Capitol.

Five Liberal party MPs, including both factional allies and opponents of Mr O’Brien speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Age on Tuesday that there was growing discontent within the party that Mr Finn had retained his safe position at the top of the Legislative Council ballot paper in the next election. Two other MPs declined to provide their opinions.

Liberal members are urging their leader to publicly rebuke Bernie Finn. Credit:Jason South

One factional ally of Mr O'Brien said the Coalition risked taking "Team B" to the 2022 election, where it already faces a severe electoral rout, if it continued to support "dead wood" in the party.

"Michael would win a bit more kudos if he made a clear stand against someone who's doing nothing," the Liberal source close to Mr O'Brien said of Mr Finn.

"For Michael to claim ignorance about Bernie's comments, the way he did on Monday, was just stupid, and supporting Bernie doesn't do anything to improve the assessments of his political judgements. And I say that as someone who really likes Michael."

A day before the violence at Capitol Hill in Washington erupted, Mr Finn shared a lengthy post reiterating false claims of election fraud and wrote that US President Donald Trump had "set a wonderful example to every other national leader by putting America first".

And while rioters stormed the building, Mr Finn shared an image of former US president Ronald Reagan and and excerpt of one of his speeches.

"Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction," the excerpt of Mr Reagan's speech began. "It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same."

David Davis, the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council and the third most senior Liberal MP, last week said the party would confront Mr Finn over his pro-Trump social media posts.

Mr O'Brien on Monday dismissed comments about the US Capitol riots as a "fourth order" issue and refused to indicate when he would address Mr Finn's posts.

He said Liberal members had not raised any issues about Mr Finn with him.

"I'm not interested in having a conversation about every single opinion held by every single member of my party," Mr O'Brien said.

The Opposition Leader on Tuesday refused to answer further questions about Mr Finn, would not reveal if he had spoken to his MP and said he did not discuss private conversations with his colleagues. Mr O'Brien last year revealed he had cautioned one of his frontbench MPs against calling the Premier inappropriate names.

Several Liberal Party sources said Mr Finn's status as a factional ally of Mr O'Brien was one of the reasons the Opposition Leader had refused to take an effective stand against the Western Metropolitan MP, who is also the shadow assistant minister for autism and small business.

Liberal MPs were "furious" when Mr Finn recently shared a Photoshopped image of Premier Daniel Andrews with a cross-eye that critics slammed as "ableist".

"Can you imagine if anyone else made the comments about the disabled community the way Bernie had? People would be talking about their preselection. It was f—ing outrageous," one Liberal MP, who is not an ally of Mr O'Brien, told The Age.

"There is no doubt that Bernie Finn is … a protected species.

"Our colleagues want to skin Bernie. We are sick of him."

One Liberal MP, factionally close to Mr O'Brien, said there were "bigger things in the world" than one MP's views, and that Mr Finn was one member of the parliamentary team working to win the next election.

Another Liberal MP said Mr O'Brien should not be held liable for the conduct of Mr Finn and his future in the caucus, warning Mr Clark, a factional ally to Mr O'Brien, and the administrative committee had far greater responsibility to manage the situation.

"Michael deserves the term, Michael deserves a chance and he doesn't need distractions like Bernie," the MP said.

"I think this is an issue for the party president and for the administrative committee – I don't think this is an issue solely for Michael O'Brien … It's the party's problem, I think it's unfair and unreasonable to put it all on Michael."

Liberal state director Sam McQuestin, Mr Clark and Mr Finn have been contacted for comment.

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