An Australian government senator has accused Prime Minister Scott Morrison of being “an autocrat” and “a bully with no moral compass”.
Concetta Fierravanti-Wells launched the blistering attack on her party leader in a Senate speech late on Wednesday.
It came moments after the government unveiled the federal budget – its key pitch to win re-election in May.
Mr Morrison dismissed the senator’s criticisms, arguing she was disgruntled about her own career.
Ms Fierravanti-Wells, a senator for 17 years, is unlikely to be re-elected after losing a battle for a prominent spot on the Liberal Party’s ticket.
In a lengthy speech to the chamber, she argued the prime minister had “destroyed” their party by eschewing processes and installing his favoured candidates.
“In my public life I have met ruthless people. Morrison tops the list. Morrison is not fit to be prime minister,” she said.
She added she had received “hundreds if not thousands of emails” from party members who “don’t like Morrison and they don’t trust him”.
Ms Fierravanti-Wells also accused Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, an internal powerbroker, of trampling on the party’s constitution.
On Thursday, Mr Morrison blamed the senator’s criticisms on her failed pre-selection efforts.
“I understand that she’s disappointed – and I join a long list of those that she’s said these things about at times like this,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Mr Morrison has said he will soon announce a general election for “mid May”.
The government’s budget on Wednesday revealed high-profile policies aimed at easing the cost of living – seen as a crucial election battleground.
A pivotal time for Morrison
Phil Mercer, BBC News in Melbourne
Friendly fire of this ferocity is uncommon in Australian politics.
Governing parties know the value of public unity, even when there is discord and division in private.
But Concetta Fierravanti-Wells’s castigation of Scott Morrison as “an autocrat” and a “bully” threatens to undermine his leadership at arguably the most pivotal time in his career.
A general election is just weeks away and opinion polls have suggested Mr Morrison is unlikely to repeat his “miracle” win at the 2019 poll.
Ms Fierravanti-Wells is an outspoken right-wing senator. She’s a former minister who has been in federal parliament since 2005 and will know how damaging her remarks could be.
Her critics will dismiss them as the ranting of a sore loser and a political has-been, who has lost vital support within the New South Wales Liberal Party.
Under Australia’s often complex preferential voting system, Ms Fierravanti-Wells has been relegated down the list of its senate candidates to what is widely considered to be an unwinnable position.