Back from holidays, Scott Morrison stirred up some issues in a media blitz this morning and bypassed others. Picture: AAP/Michael Franchi
Back from holidays, Scott Morrison stirred up some issues in a media blitz this morning and bypassed others. Picture: AAP/Michael Franchi

Crossbench MP Cathy McGowan quits politics

INDEPENDENT MP Cathy McGowan will quit politics at the next federal election, declaring today that it's "time to pass on the baton".

The Victorian Member for Indi's announcement comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison was quizzed this morning about how he would fix the Liberal Party's women problem by boosting the number of female MPs in Parliament.

The Prime Minister brushed off the question from new Nine Network Today Show host Deborah Knight by saying the party was already "well down the path" of selecting candidates and that he had "inherited" the situation when he became leader.

He added: "Certainly it is something we will focus our minds on into the future."

Cathy McGowan and PM Scott Morrison talk in Parliament last year. Picture Kym Smith
Cathy McGowan and PM Scott Morrison talk in Parliament last year. Picture Kym Smith

Mr Morrison also said there were "more important" factors than the number of women in the Liberal Party's ranks, including the government's funding for issues such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer or superannuation reforms to help women.

The government will cop criticism for the issue as the 2019 federal election approaches and it faces the possibility of having just six female MPs in the lower house if there's more than a 3 per cent swing to Labor.

Women of the crossbench: Rebecca Sharkie, Julia Banks, Dr Kerryn Phelps and Cathy McGowan after Question Time. Picture Gary Ramage
Women of the crossbench: Rebecca Sharkie, Julia Banks, Dr Kerryn Phelps and Cathy McGowan after Question Time. Picture Gary Ramage

Ms McGowan's chosen successor, midwife and public health researcher Helen Haines, also raised the issue of female representation in her first interview today, saying: "At no other time in history do I think we need intelligent women, we need rural women, we need people from the communities to speak up and say 'Canberra, we want better than what we're seeing."

Ms McGowan retires after six years in Parliament.

She claimed the seat of Indi in 2013 from Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella.

Deputy Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie could potentially be Dr Haines' key competitor for the seat.

She hasn't ruled out making a run for Indi at the election after moving her office to Wodonga, in the electorate, late last year.

If Senator McKenzie does make a run for the lower house seat, it will allow her to potentially run for the National Party leadership at a future date.

The Liberal Party will run Steven Martin, a local engineer, against Dr Haines in Indi, while Labor has again preselected former Wodonga councillor Eric Kerr, who ran in 2016.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has doubled down on his call for an Australia Day dress code. Pictured: AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has doubled down on his call for an Australia Day dress code. Pictured: AAP

AUSTRALIA DAY DRESS CODE

Mr Morrison started his 2019 pitch to voters in earnest this morning by doubling down on his call for an Australia Day dress code and warning of economic "storm clouds" on the horizon.

In a breakfast television blitz, the Prime Minister also declared today he had no intention of calling the federal election for March and refused to weigh in on the issue of pill testing at music festivals after another young woman died from a suspected drug overdose at the FOMO festival in Parramatta at the weekend.

He also denied he was "playing politics" with Australia Day after announcing yesterday all councils must hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26 and revealing a new ban on board shorts and thongs would be launched at ceremonies this year.

The Prime Minister says a dress code at citizenship ceremonies is important to show respect on Australia Day. Picture: iStock
The Prime Minister says a dress code at citizenship ceremonies is important to show respect on Australia Day. Picture: iStock

"What is more Australian, Prime Minister, than thongs and board shorts? If people want to wear that to a citizenship ceremony surely that is up to them?" new Nine Network Today Show host Deborah Knight asked Mr Morrison this morning.

"No, I don't think so. This is a very important institution, citizenship. You wouldn't turn up to your kids graduation or something like that dressed like that," Mr Morrison responded.

"You turn up and show respect for the day and the other participants as well.

"The vast majority of people who do come along to a citizenship ceremony ... they come along and dress appropriately and I think, out of respect for what is being offered, that great responsibility and privilege of citizenship, people should dress accordingly.

"By all means chuck on the shorts and the thongs for later for the barbecue wherever you happen to be, that is the appropriate dress for those occasions.

"But for a very solemn ceremony and positive ceremony like citizenship, I think it is important to have those standards and show respect."

PILL TESTING

Mr Morrison said it was "heartbreaking" that another young life had been lost at a music festival from a drug overdose at the weekend but refused to weigh in to the pill testing debate this morning.

The Prime Minister said he was sure the NSW government was considering "all options" to tackle the issue after a string of deaths but added: "We don't want to create a permissive culture around drugs in this country. We have to remember these are illegal drugs."

Alex Ross-King, 19, who died of a suspected drug overdose at the FOMO music festival in Parramatta on Saturday. Picture: Facebook
Alex Ross-King, 19, who died of a suspected drug overdose at the FOMO music festival in Parramatta on Saturday. Picture: Facebook

"Ultimately you have to get the balance right on this," he said.

"This is a state matter and I am not going to complicate that any by offering commentary on which is the best option because they have to make those judgments, but my heart does go out to those parents, as Gladys's heart goes out to those parents as well.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has rejected a push for pill testing at music festivals. Picture: Monique Harmer
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has rejected a push for pill testing at music festivals. Picture: Monique Harmer

"This is a very difficult issue, there are no simple answers and there are many different opinions.

"We have to try to encourage our kids to make good choices and it is a very difficult issue, I think, for us all to deal with.

"But if you lose your kids, gosh, that is just unthinkable."

'STORM CLOUDS ARE GATHERING'

Despite unveiling the best economic figures since the Howard era last month, and declaring the government would deliver the first budget surplus in more than a decade next year, Mr Morrison today warned voters "economic storm clouds are gathering".

In a pitch to voters to stick with the Coalition for another term at the next election, Mr Morrison told the ABC: "This is not a time to put our economic future at risk."

"The economy we will all live in over the next decade will determine choices for our kids, our future and the funding of services. My focus is on ensuring the economy is strong so we can deliver for all Australians," he said.

The Prime Minister insisted today he would not be calling an election for March but would wait until after the budget in April.

The most likely dates for the election to be held are May 11 or May 18.