Former prime minister Tony Abbott has emerged victorious from a NSW Liberal Party convention after his motion to give party members a greater say in selecting candidates was overwhelmingly passed.
The so-called Warringah motion will allow plebiscites to select candidates for state and federal seats in NSW.
It was passed 748 votes to 476 at a party convention in Sydney on Sunday.
Mr Abbott said the motion passed despite clear resistance from people who want the party to be an insider’s club.
He said it would end the potential for corruption and branch stacking and create a more democratic Liberal Party.
“It’s a clear road ahead to one member one vote pre-selections, a clear road ahead to a democratic political party which is controlled by its members not by lobbyists, not by factionists, not by strong pullers,” he said.
“I think this is a great day for the NSW Liberal Party. And because it’s been a great day for the NSW Liberal Party, I think it will be good for our Government in Canberra and I think it will be very good for Australia.”
The Warringah motion stated that people have to be members for two years before voting in preselection contests.
Delegates also passed another motion demanding members be allowed to decide positions on internal bodies, such as the state executive.
A defeated motion from Sydney-based federal MP Alex Hawke wanted members to wait longer before taking part.
‘A unifying moment in history’
The results are viewed as a triumph for conservative party members over the moderate faction, of which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is a member.
On Saturday Mr Turnbull told delegates that he supported the principle of giving members a say in preselections, which is at the heart of Mr Abbott’s concerns.
The outcomes do not bind the NSW Liberal Party but bring significant pressure for it to overhaul its processes.
The member for Mackellar, Jason Falinksi, said he voted in support of the Warringah motions, which he believes will help the party address future challenges.
He denied the motion had caused further division between the conservatives and moderates in the Liberal Party, and denied it signalled a shift to the right.
“No, I think this conference today will be a unifying moment in the history of the Liberal Party in New South Wales and we can move past these discussions and move forward with other reforms and other actions that will improve the Liberal Party and our ability to win elections in New South Wales and across Australia,” he said.
“We face a very strong union movement … we face third party organisations like Get Up! and we need to enthuse as many people who support liberal causes to get involved, whether as members or just generally in the political process.
“These votes today are critically important.”
Branch stacking fears
Opponents of the Warringah proposals claim they would encourage branch stacking by conservatives.
Before the conference, they argued an activity test should be imposed to ensure members were actively participating.
Asked whether it would allow branch stacking as a consequence, Mr Falinksi said “everyone’s worried about branch stacking” but denied the motion that was passed would result in that.
“But you’ve always got to be consistently on guard that branch stacking does not become part of the culture of a political party or else you end up like the New South Wales Labor Party,” he added.
Members are still debating alternative motions, which it is understood could modify the meeting’s outcome.
Former federal MP Ross Cameron, speaking about the changes suggested by Mr Hawke, warned modifications could “destroy democracy and destroy the Warringah motion”.
“These two motions are oil and water. Today’s not over because the Hawke motion will destroy the Warringah motion,” he said.
“That is their purpose and if they pass, that’s what they’ll do.”