Two federal Liberal MPs have been accused of leading a factional push to “destroy reform” ahead of a party convention this weekend.
About 1500 NSW Liberal faithful will debate reforms, which would allow more grassroots members to have a say in selecting candidates through local plebiscites, at a special convention in Sydney.
Federal NSW MPs Alex Hawke and Julian Leeser are gathering the numbers for a modest plan to change the way candidates are preselected, heading off an alternative set of broader changes being championed by former prime minister Tony Abbott.
Walter Villatora, who is president of Mr Abbott’s Warringah federal electorate conference, said in an email to “democratic reform” supporters the party’s factions are fighting a rear-guard action.
“The factions plan to see off the plebiscite push by supporting a new set of party rules that contain democratic window dressing, but will ensure what at best appears to be the smallest possible transfer of power from the state executive to the ordinary branch volunteers,” he wrote.
“The Hawke/Leeser reforms will cement-in factional domination for another generation.”
The motions being brought by Mr Hawke and Mr Leeser would exempt sitting MPs from plebiscites, impose an “eligibility test” for candidates, enforce an “activity test” for members seeking to have a vote and put minimum time limits on membership of the party before members could vote in preselections.
Mr Villatora and other democratic reformers argue the changes should go further to ensure “dud” sitting MPs could be replaced and a broader number of members – including those with no time to regularly attend meetings or are new to the party – could have a say in candidate selection.
The convention will be addressed on Saturday by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Liberal federal president Nick Greiner.