Former prime minister Tony Abbott has attacked a small group of lobbyists who he says are acting as powerbrokers in the NSW Liberal Party, warning the practice is creating “a potential for corruption”.
In an interview with tonight’s Four Corners, Mr Abbott said the NSW Liberal Party was now a less representative party, “easily controlled” by factional warlords.
“Some of these factional warlords have a commercial interest in dealing with politicians whose pre-selections they can influence. Now this is a potentially corrupt position”, he told the program.
The comments are likely to re-ignite bitter factional warfare in the NSW Liberal Party, between Mr Abbott’s right-wing conservatives and the dominant moderate faction, over how candidates for state and federal parliament are selected.
Mr Abbott signalled on election night he wanted to reopen the debate about pre-selections in the NSW Liberal Party.
NSW Liberal Party president Trent Zimmerman hit back at Mr Abbott’s latest comments, saying some lobbyists were being “demonised” by their opponents in the party.
No-one had demonstrated where any conflict of interest around lobbyists and the party had arisen, he told Four Corners.
“My experience of being involved in politics for a long period of time is that when you do have internal friction, there is a tendency to try and demonise those people that you’re disagreeing with,” Mr Zimmerman, who is also the Federal MP for North Sydney and a member of the moderate faction, said.
Mr Abbott did not make any allegations of corrupt or improper behaviour by individuals.
Mr Zimmerman defended the role of high-profile lobbyist Michael Photios, a leading member of the moderate faction.
Mr Photios sits on the board of two influential lobbying companies, Premier State Consulting and Capital Hill Advisory.
Mr Zimmerman described Mr Photios as “a person who contributes enormously to the party and its strengths”.
Mr Abbott’s conservative-right faction has lost significant power in the NSW Liberal Party to both the moderate and centre-right factions, whose members swung support behind Malcolm Turnbull in last year’s leadership battle.
After his re-election, Mr Turnbull decided not to include Mr Abbott in his new Cabinet.
Now sitting on the Government backbenches, Mr Abbott wants to reopen the debate in the NSW party over the use of plebiscites to preselect MPs and senators.
The party accepted a compromise deal last year for a limited trial of plebiscites but officials warned some of Mr Abbott’s proposals could lead to the return of branch stacking by ethnic or religious groups, which had been a major problem for the party.