Former ACT division president Gary Kent has led a push by disaffected party members to have the process overturned. Photo: Elesa Lee
Canberra Liberal Party members attended tense branch meetings en masse on Thursday evening as the bitter battle for the Senate preselection went into a new phase.
However, some senior members of the party were incensed when one of the meetings, to be hosted by the Young Liberals, was cancelled due to lack of a quorum.
The meetings were the last chance for party members to qualify to vote at an extraordinary divisional meeting to be held this month to consider overturning the Senate preselection process.
It is understood former senator Margaret Reid was one of those unable to qualify for the meeting after showing up for the Young Liberals meeting at Menzies House. Other grassroots members without other commitments hurried to Tuggeranong for a meeting at the Southern Cross Club, attended by almost 170 people.
Insiders said it appeared the tide had turned when the preferred candidate of Zed Seselja was not successful in becoming the branch's new chairman.
Many grassroots members were angry they were denied a vote in Saturday's preselection ballot in which Mr Seselja defeated the sitting senator, Gary Humphries, 114-84. Only about 200 of the ACT division's 640 members were allowed to vote.
Although at first saying he had had his ''roll of the dice'', Senator Humphries had now decided to contest a second preselection if the result of Saturday's ballot was overturned.
He wrote to the party's ACT membership on Wednesday saying he would seek the number one nomination for the Senate if a new preselection process was called.
He told ABC radio on Friday morning that he had received an "avalanche of texts, emails and phone calls from party members deeply upset at what happened on the weekend", and he believed people were trying to qualify to be able to vote.
"I have taken stock of what is obviously a deeply concerned party membership and I have changed my mind [about not standing again]. I think it is important for party members to have a chance to review the process that has gone on here, and if I don’t make myself available to be a candidate if there is a fresh election then [there is little point in the special meeting]," he said.
On Thursday evening, Liberals met at the Canberra Raiders Club and in Tuggeranong to be qualified to vote.
It is understood notice of the divisional council meeting must be given by the party president by March 15.
Former ACT division president Gary Kent has led a push by disaffected party members to have the process overturned. Speaking before Thursday night's meetings, he predicted ''very tense'' gatherings.
''The meetings of the party over the next few weeks will determine the future of the ACT Liberal Party and whether we are a party government by law and the constitution or by the factions and the mates,'' he said.
''These meeting provide an opportunity for all the disenfranchised Liberal members to qualify to have their say about the corrupt and unconstitutional preselection that was conducted last weekend.
''I think hundreds of people will attend the meetings tonight to ensure that they have their say at the special meeting [this] month.
''They are full meetings with agendas and business, unlike the shonky meetings held in January.''
Mr Kent said party members insisted the new meetings fully complied with the notice requirements of the party constitution.
''Unlike earlier meetings, members were given at least two weeks' notice plus an agenda, unlike earlier meetings where many members were not even told about them,'' he said.
''I think it will be very tense because on tonight will depend in large part the future of the division.''
In a new development, there appeared to be pressure on members to withdraw the petition that called for the special meeting.
Mr Kent said party president Tio Faulkner was writing to people who had signed the petition that called for the divisional meeting to reconsider the nomination process.
''The people who support the preselection are prevailing on the petitioners to withdraw their signatures,'' he said.
Senator Humphries' change of heart about nominating came after receiving ''many emails, letters and phone calls from party members deeply upset'' at how the preselection was conducted.
''More disturbingly, I have also received news from many party members who were refused the right to vote in the ballot on Saturday,'' he said in an email. ''These were members who had previously been informed by the ACT Division of the Party that they were eligible voting preselectors, but whose right to vote was 'withdrawn' on the day.
''I am aware that an extraordinary meeting of the ACT Party's Divisional Council will be held soon to address a motion that the preselection of 23 February be set aside and a fresh one conducted.
''If this motion is successful, and the preselection of 23 February is set aside, I will offer myself as a Senate candidate at the subsequent preselection.''
Mr Seselja accused Senator Humphries of reneging on his commitment to accept Saturday's result.
Senator Humphries said now both men were in a position where they had once said they would not stand for the position, and had later said they would.