Former prime minister Tony Abbott has lost an attempt to give his conservative faction of the NSW Liberal Party more control in preselections.
Mr Abbott put forward a proposal known as the Warringah Motion at the branch’s annual general meeting in Sydney today.
The motion is a one-member/one-vote approach and is driven by concerns from those in the right faction that powerbrokers in the dominant centre of the party, of which Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull belongs, wield too much power in picking candidates.
Mr Abbott was triumphant when he presented the motion at an extraordinary meeting at Rosehill last year, winning two-thirds of the votes, but the outcome was not binding.
Ross Cameron, the former federal MP suspended for criticising Premier Gladys Berejiklian, tweeted the result.
An alterative proposal known as the Bennelong Motion was successfully passed – the result of negotiations between the centre and the right factions.
It is seen as a watered-down version of Mr Abbott’s proposal and means members will be able to vote for a candidate in the lower house for both state and federal seats, but around 10 per cent of the preselection vote will still rest with party headquarters.
Mr Abbott said while this motion is “not everything members wanted”, it is still an important reform.
“The Liberal Party is still too much of an insiders’ club, but it’s much less of an insiders club than it was.”
“As far as I’m concerned, and as far all the democratic reform movement is concerned, we stay in and fight.”
‘NSW won’t have a Liberal Party the way it’s going’
One disgruntled member, who said she joined the party almost 20 years ago, believes members will now revolt.
“There were people sitting behind me, they decided they were going to leave the Liberal Party because of it,” she said.
“NSW won’t have a Liberal Party the way it’s going – the NSW division is not acting according to what the Liberal values stand for.”
The member, who said “I’ll probably get the sack” for speaking out, said the motion has some of the elements of democratic reform, but still keeps the power base in control.
Mr Abbott had several vocal supporters among the members at the AGM, with many holding placards saying, “Vote Warringah Motion — no alterations”.
One woman chanted, “good enough to volunteer on polling day, good enough to have my say”.
More female members needed: Turnbull
In his speech to the meeting, Mr Turnbull said reform is necessary to attract more members.
“When I joined the Liberal Party in the 1970s it was much bigger than it is today — six or more times bigger,” he said.
“We have to rebuild our membership so that when we celebrate our 75th [year] and face those elections, our numbers are closer to those historic highs.
“The best way to attract people is to give them a say in how the party is run.”
He also spoke of the need to increase female representation.
“We should not kid ourselves about this issue or push it to one side.
“We need more women preselected in safe and winnable seats.”
Ms Berejiklian, who also belongs to the party’s centre faction, said the reforms are crucial.
“A key to our to our ongoing success in Government is having party members who are empowered, consulted and insider.”