Local Liberals are considering withdrawing their voluntary services to the party after the defeat of Tony Abbott’s Warringah motion on preselection issues, at the NSW Liberal Party AGM on Saturday, February 10.
The one member, one vote Warringah motion was defeated after a secret ballot and the issue has infuriated local Liberals from the Sapphire Coast group, who were hoping for a representative voice in the selection of a Liberal candidate for Eden-Monaro.
“The defeat of this reform process is a nail in the coffin of the democratic process,” a local Liberal source said.
“There is a lot of anger at grass roots level. The NSW division is the largest and the least democratic. Every other state gives the ordinary members a vote in a plebiscite for preselection,” the local source said.
There has been a reform push for almost 10 years and last July 1200 members voted at the Liberal Party convention for one member, one vote and 65 per cent voted in favour. The matter was referred to the state council for endorsement but was struck down on Saturday.
Behind the scenes the motion has been a battle between the right and more moderate factions of the party. The right favoured the Warringah motion but the moderates were concerned that it could lead to branch stacking and would undermine attempts to get more women into Parliament. The moderates pushed for a compromise that still gives party officials about 25 per cent of the vote in preselections.
“We’re considering refusing to work on polling booths and do fundraising,” the local Liberal source said.
“It was a secret ballot but normally it’s a show of hands. It’s a very sorry story that a Liberal party in a democracy, can act like this.”
The ballot was a precursor to the candidate preselection process which has been on local Liberal minds for some time.
They have been concerned that Labor’s Eden-Monaro MP Dr Mike Kelly has been “running free” with no Liberal candidate in place represent their views.
Now local Liberals are hoping that preselection of a candidate for the seat of Eden-Monaro could take place within the next month.
Current contenders are Nigel Catchlove, a management consultant, from Yass, and Jerry Nockles, an international relations expert with the United Nations, from Queanbeyan who is currently working as chief of staff to Jim Molan. Mr Molan, a retired senior Army officer, replaced Fiona Nash in the Senate earlier this month.
“May 11, 2019 is the last possible date for the next federal election but it could be as early as the end of this year. In order to give a candidate a chance to introduce themselves around the electorate, preselection needs to take place early, but it’s not early any more. Preselection is long overdue,” the local Liberal source said.
Eden-Monaro is in the top 10 per cent of Australia largest electorates, ranking 15th in size out of the 150 electorates in the House of Representatives. It is about the same size as Switzerland or Holland.
Eden-Monaro was a bellwether seat from 1972 until 2016 when Dr Kelly defeated Liberal MP Peter Hendy last year with a 2.9 per cent margin after attracting 70 per cent of minor party preferences.