Federal intervention in NSW Liberal party secures future of Coalition ministers and sitting MP

Compromise saves ministers for Scott Morrison but leaves most contentious preselections for NSW division to sort out before end of March

The federal Liberal division has staged a limited intervention in the affairs of its troubled New South Wales division to install candidates in just three seats held by sitting members.

The prime minister, Scott Morrison, the NSW premier, Dominic Perrottet, and the former federal Liberal president, Chris McDiven, have been appointed to a committee that has a limited remit to take over the party for 72 hours and deal with the preselections for the three sitting members.

They are the environment minister, Sussan Ley, in Farrer, the immigration minister, Alex Hawke, in Mitchell and the MP for North Sydney, Trent Zimmerman, a key figure in the moderate faction.

All three had faced uncertain futures if branch votes were held to determine the candidates.

The remaining seats where preselections are yet to be held are being left for the NSW division to determine with the May federal election looming.

There now appears to be a willingness to hold truncated preselections in seats where more than one candidate has nominated before 25 March – the deadline set by the federal executive.

Friday’s compromise gives Morrison the result he wanted – it saves his ministers – but leaves most of the contentious preselections for the NSW division to sort out.

These include Hughes, Dobell, Parramatta, Greenway and, probably, Eden Monaro. Only one person, Lincoln Parker, has nominated as a candidate in Warringah, currently held by independent Zali Steggall.

Sources said the federal executive was reluctant to adopt a plan put on Thursday night – apparently by the prime minister’s office – for the federal executive to dissolve the Liberal party’s largest branch and appoint McDiven as an administrator for two weeks in order to administratively appoint all remaining candidates.

That course of action would almost certainly have led to more legal action in the NSW supreme court.

A plan by the right to parachute former Young Liberal president and nephew of the editor-in-chief of the Australian, Alex Dore, into the seat of Hughes was causing the most angst.

But there was also great discontent in Warringah where factional heavyweights had proposed to overlook the only nominated candidate, Parker, and instead appoint disabilities campaigner David Brady, who is a nominee for Senate.

Those proposals now face an uncertain future.

“I guess it’s a win for the moderates because Trent is now able to get out and campaign in North Sydney, and we are a bit worried about that seat,” said one moderate who was not authorised to speak openly.

“The right have also lost some of their leverage because they had the numbers in Farrer and maybe in Mitchell.”

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The compromise forestalls any legal challenges which could have been launched by disaffected rank and file members, who were furious that the party had tried to avoid new rules aimed at introducing more democracy into the party through branch member plebiscites.

A spokesperson for Perrottet said the NSW premier had already delegated his role on the committee to fellow state Liberal Mark Coure who usually represents the premier on state executive.

“The premier’s full focus is currently on the floods and recovery,” they said.

The far more limited intervention by the federal executive than previously suggested is an acknowledgment of the likely dispiriting effect on depriving the rank and file of their say.

However, the NSW state executive still needs to pass motions aimed at shortening the timetables and introducing televised town halls to preselect the remaining federal candidates. These require 90% support by the 25-member executive which has so far proven difficult to achieve.

Some expressed concern that the federal executive’s decision just “kicked the can down the road”.

The NSW president, Philip Ruddock, said he was now working towards achieving the preselection process by the 25 March deadline set by the federal executive.


Anne Davies

The GuardianTramp

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