Abbott and Turnbull likely to square off on NSW party reform


Old allies and foes are gathering on either side of the next flashpoint over reforming the NSW Liberal party ahead of a potentially fiery annual general meeting at Sydney’s Town Hall on Saturday.

Liberal heavyweights such as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former leaders Tony Abbott and John Howard are expected to be on opposite sides of a debate about how the NSW party manages to reform its preselection processes.

Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott are likely to square off again over the question of party reform.
Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott are likely to square off again over the question of party reform.  Photo: Andrew Meares

Prominent Liberals from each faction, including the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and the Prime Minister, appeared on the front of a brochure backing compromise on Thursday.

The brochure for the ticket, whose presidential candidate is former minister and current Hornsby Mayor Philip Ruddock, extols a message of “unity and purpose” and says winning a third term of government in NSW would be a “historic feat”.

But a rival message, jointly signed by new NSW Senator Jim Molan and Mr Abbott’s confidant Walter Villatora described the alternate proposal as: “Very good for lobbyists, power brokers and MPs that want to preserve their position indefinitely”.

Former prime minister John Howard, who led a review that gave rise to the idea of plebiscite reform, also spoke out in favour of immediate reform: “We had a meeting and over 60 per cent of members agreed. In the end, isn’t this part of the problem … why don’t we just reflect what party members voted for?”

But opponents such as former state minister and federal MP have warned that immediately moving to a model of plebiscites would lead to rule by branch stacking.

Prominent members of the party’s right-wing including NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Planning Minister Anthony Roberts are also joining the push for compromise.

A party insider said that although the right wing has had its influence reduced and has become increasingly vocal about the influence of lobbyists in the party’s dominant moderate and centre-right wings, it had agreed to compromise because it was facing defeat otherwise.

“The reality is [compromise] or nothing; that’s the way the party’s state council works,” said a source. “And if the brawling continues people are not going to vote for a party that can’t govern itself”.

A rash of reported challenges preceded the 2016 election with factional powerbrokers considering challenging a number of sitting MPs including Hume’s Angus Taylor, which was called off after the intervention of Prime Minister Turnbull.

Spokesmen for Mr Turnbull and Ms Berejiklian did not respond to a request for comment.


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