TONY Abbott has pinned support for his motions on Liberal Party reform as key to keeping the party organisation united or risking a split. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull today opened an historic convention in Sydney to reform the way in which the Liberal Party in the nation’s biggest state selects candidates and develops policy.
Some members have publicly threatened to leave the party if a motion promoted by Mr Abbott’s Warringah federal electoral conference is not passed tomorrow.
Cabinet minister Arthur Sinodinos told reporters outside the convention it was a chance for Liberal “foot soldiers” to chart the future of the party. Asked whether it should be seen as Turnbull-Abbott battle he said: “No. It should be seen as the Liberal Party having a robust discussion about what is the best way to deal with these sorts of issues going forward.” “People can speak robustly, but at the end of the day it’s the people in there (the convention room) who will have the say.”
CANDIDATE PLEBISCITES PROPOSED
A key debate tomorrow will involve Mr Abbott’s conservative wing pushing for all state and federal seats in NSW to be open to grassroots plebiscites for candidate selection.
Members under the so-called Warringah motions would have to be signed up for two years before voting in the plebiscites.
Mr Turnbull is understood to support a modified version of plebiscites, protecting sitting members from the new rules and ensuring only members who are active and have a longer time in the party get to vote or run as candidates.
The prime minister told the convention while there were differences in “detail”, it was essential the party hand more power to grassroots members. “The fundamental principle that I am so proud our party is committed to today is that every member should have a say,” Mr Turnbull told an audience of around 1500 members.
Mr Abbott told reporters he was encouraged by the prime
minister’s speech, which he believed represented “uneq“This is a contest between factionalists who want to keep power and democrats who want to open up our party and I’m very pleased the prime minister and I are on the same side.” Liberal president Nick Greiner told the convention it would be “unfortunate” if the party steered away from it being a “broad church”.
“I do notice ... some lack of that civility, some lack of that mutual respect,” he said, taking aim at factional players.
uivocal support for one member one vote”.
But he warned the convention needed to reject those who were promoting “fake democracy” and embrace the “true democracy” demonstrated in his Warringah motions.
“Reform is coming and it’s obviously coming with the full support of the prime minister,” he said.
‘STAY AND FIGHT’: ABBOTT
“It’s going to be good for the unity of our party and it’s going to be good for the prospects of our party at the next election.”
He said the Liberal Party remained the “principle representative of the conservative side of politics” in Australia and he didn’t believe disgruntled members would leave if reform stalled.
“My very strong message to anyone who has been disappointed by our party is stay and fight.” He rejected suggestions the debate was about his leadership ambitions.
“My plea to you ... is advocate with passion, but to not do it in a tradition of civility and respect is very unfortunate.” Liberal MP Alex Hawke, who is pushing an alternative to Mr Abbott’s motion, said it was important only “genuine members” were involved in party processes. “Nobody wants to see people ... try to get involved in parties they’re not actually in favour of, and we don’t want to see any of that.” The final result of the convention on Sunday will go to the state director and president who will prepare the party’s modernisation plan to go before a future NSW state council meeting for endorsement.
NSW Liberals president Chris Downy said the plan would be implemented “without fear or favour”.
Mr Turnbull earlier said it was essential for the future of the Liberal Party that more power is given to grassroots members.
He said the Liberal Party was the most successful grassroots political movement in Australia’s history.
But as the “party of freedom and the individual” it needed to give every member a say.
“It’s not just politically right, it is right morally,” he said, adding that it was “long overdue”.
“We must ensure that every member of our party has a say in preselections and in every measure, in every step of our party’s processes.”
He acknowledged there were differences across the party in how plebiscites should be run, which would be vigorously debated on Sunday.
“But the fundamental principle that I am so proud our party is committed to today is that every member should have a say,” he said.
About 1500 Liberal members have gathering in Sydney for a special convention to discuss changes to the way candidates are selected and policies are developed.
However, the convention is being seen as a de facto leadership contest between Mr Abbott, who hails from the conservative wing, and Mr Turnbull who is a moderate.
It is understood Mr Turnbull and Mr Abbott earlier in the week spoke on the phone regarding the convention.
Fairfax reported Mr Turnbull indicated in the call he would support the principle of plebiscites to select candidates, which is something Mr Abbott has been promoting as a way to end factionalism in the party and was recommended by a review led by John Howard.
Asked whether it was good the pair had sought to bury the hatchet, Senator Sinodinos told reporters: “I’m always happy when all my colleagues are talking.”
The main point of contention at the convention is around the checks and balances on the candidate plebiscites.
The convention is being billed by supporters of Mr Abbott as “the most important meeting of the NSW Liberal Party since Robert Menzies first addressed our division in 1945”.