Rebels with a cause rattle Abbott’s plans
The Supreme Court today backed a grassroots rebellion against the organisational chiefs of the NSW Liberal Party and rattled Tony Abbott’s election planning in the state.
The judgement has the potential to delay the selection of candidates in eight seats, including the marginal western Sydney seat of Greenway now held by Labor.
And the election of a new state Liberal president could be put off for as much as six weeks, further disrupting poll preparation, should talks tomorrow not reach agreement..
The rebels want a plebescite of local members in seats to decide who will stand for the Liberals at the election scheduled for late next year. They are fighting the imposition of candidates by the organisation.
But the party executive would not even put the plebescite proposition on the agenda of the branch’s annual general meeting on Saturday. So the rebels, from the central coast seat of Robertson and backed by the right wing of the party, went to court.
And in what right faction observers see as a rebuke, Supreme Court Judge William Nicholas told the party’s state executive it was not the gatekeeper blocking matters for discussion.
“The state executive is not empowered to act as what has been referred to as a gatekeeper in exercising a discretion as to whether or not the proposition should be put to the state council,” Justice Nicholas said.
This is being interpreted as part of the judge’s appeal for the parties to discuss the matter and sort it out themselves.
There are Liberal fears that the factional fight over preselection powers will repeat the shambles of 2010.
A factional brawl delayed selections of candidates before the election that year and some were only approved a few weeks before the election itself.
And the intensity of the factional fight should not be underestimated.
In mid-August a senior NSW Liberal figure telephoned Mr Abbott and warned that if he backed the reform bid “there will be World War III”. And the Opposition Leader made clear to colleagues he did not want any disruption.
The court decision effectively calls on the party executive to put three plebescite-related propositions on the state council’s AGM set for Saturday.
The AGM is expected to go ahead.
Earlier this week before the judgement Liberal NSW director Mark Neeham said the AGM, where the new branch president was to be selected, will go ahead.
“As many of you would know, the party has been sued in the NSW Supreme Court,” Mr Neeham said in an email to party members.
“The plaintiff is seeking, amongst other orders, an order that the state council set down for this weekend not proceed.
“The purpose of this Libmail is to assure members that these proceedings will be strongly opposed by the party and that, unless you hear otherwise from LCHQ, all state council delegates must therefore assume that this weekend’s state council AGM will go ahead as planned.”
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