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Coalition backs Morrison to stay Liberal leader regardless of election outcome

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Simon Birmingham, a cabinet minister and leading moderate Liberal who also served as the party’s campaign spokesman, backed Mr Morrison to remain as leader in any case.

“I hope that Scott leads us for many years into the future,” he said, adding that he hoped Mr Morrison would be the prime minister.

Trent Zimmerman, a prominent force in the powerful moderate faction in NSW and one of Malcolm Turnbull’s keenest allies during last year’s coup, said there was “such strong support” for Mr Morrison to remain at the helm no matter what transpired.

He pointed to the significance of conservative factional leader Peter Dutton backing Mr Morrison to remain leader no matter what during the campaign, which effectively ruled himself out as a leadership contender.

“I think Scott’s position will be one that no one is looking at moving on,” Mr Zimmerman declared on Saturday night. He said Mr Morrison was ideally placed to “bridge the gap” between regional voters and suburban voters in Melbourne.

The disparity in those voting cohorts was clear as results poured in early on Saturday, with Queensland voters swinging towards the Coalition while Victorians abandoned the party.

Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos said colleagues were “hoping for the best but bracing for potential losses” in Victoria and Western Australia. Even so, it was unclear that either side would form a majority government at the time of publication.

Senator Sinodinos, who was in cabinet prior to a period of illness, also told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age Mr Morrison should remain.

“Yes – he has performed well,” Senator Sinodinos said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has conceded in his seat of Warringhah.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has conceded in his seat of Warringhah.Credit:AAP

Mr Morrison also won the endorsement of his Nationals counterpart, Michael McCormack, who does not have a say in who becomes Liberal leader but told the ABC: “Scott Morrison is the future. He has run a flawless campaign, there has not been a misstep.”

And long-serving Liberal prime minister John Howard, who retains legendary status in the party, said on Friday of Mr Morrison: “I certainly think he should remain the leader of the Liberal Party for a very, very long time.”

Mr Morrison cast his vote at Lilli Pilli Public School in his Sydney electorate of Cook on Saturday afternoon and dismissed questions about whether he would try to stay as party leader, declaring the election was “not about my future, it’s about your future”.

In the days before polling day, Mr Morrison noted the Coalition was in a more-competitive position than many commentators had given it credit for three, six or eight months ago.

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Mr Zimmerman echoed that sentiment on Saturday when he said fair observers “would have written off the Coalition” earlier in the year. The party owed its recovery to “a phenomenal effort by Scott Morrison to pull us back to where we are”, he said.

That observation buttressed a wider belief in the Liberal Party that Mr Morrison had been dealt a bad hand when he became Prime Minister but had led a competent and energetic campaign, creating a platform for him to build on even in the event of a loss.

Mr Morrison spent time with his family early on Saturday evening at Kirribilli House before heading to the Liberal Party’s official election night function at Sydney’s Sofitel Wentworth.

Earlier on Saturday evening, a YouGov Galaxy exit poll of 3300 voters showed a 2.4 per cent swing to Labor nationally, which would have been enough to put Mr Shorten into the Lodge.

But results did not adhere to that prediction, and all eyes turned to Western Australia later in the night, which was set to be kingmaker in the extremely-tight race.

The ousting of former prime minister Tony Abbott from his seat of Warringah also removed another potential leadership candidate from the field.

The Liberal Party remained hopeful of stemming losses in Victoria, which if realised would enable it to form a majority government.

Senator Sinodinos pointed to the knife-edge Victorian seat of Corangamite as one that could buck the trend in that state due to popular local member Sarah Henderson and a vast influx of money and attention.

“A lot of resources have gone into the seat, a lot of commitments have been made,” he said.

Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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