Gary Humphries has received strong praise from Heather Henderson and Tony Abbott. Photo: Melissa Adams MLA
Tony Abbott has hit out at ''ambushes'' in preselection contests as he strengthened his support for ACT Liberal Gary Humphries.
The federal Opposition Leader also called for all eligible Liberal Party members to have a say in the looming preselection battle between Senator Humphries and Zed Seselja.
His strong intervention came on Wednesday evening at a party function organised by Senator Humphries' supporters.
A petition was circulated at the function calling for the preselection process to be overturned on the basis that many of Senator Humphries' supporters have been disenfranchised.
Mr Abbott praised Senator Humphries' political skills for becoming ACT Chief Minister before he entered the Senate.
''I want to see those gifts continue to be available to us in the Senate and more widely, so I really want to support Gary's continuation in the Senate as strongly as I possibly can.
''Gary Humphries has done a marvellous job in politics and should have many more years in politics ahead of him. I think people who have worked like that deserve the support and loyalty of their fellow MPs and their fellow party members,'' he said.
Mr Abbott said the Liberal Party believed in competition and its MPs should expect to face challenges for their positions.
''But it's got to be a fair and clean preselection, there should be no dirty tricks, there should be no ambushes, we leave the dirty tricks and the ambushes to the Labor Party,'' he said.
''I hope that every ACT Liberal who wants to participate in this preselection will be given every opportunity to do so.''
Mr Abbott said he hated factions because they meant decisions were not made on the merit of the argument.
''Regardless of the way in which this preselection is ultimately conducted and regardless of who ultimately is entitled to vote, I hope every single one of those preselectors will give it his or her honest, conscientious attention and will make the decision that he or she thinks is best for our party and our country,'' he said. ''No one should be told what to do. No one should be dragooned into voting for one or other candidate simply because some boss says you've got to go this way.''
Zed Seselja said he respected Mr Abbott's views, and said the Liberal party preselection process allowed everyone to have different views.
“This hasn’t been rammed through by the decision of a leader. The leader, federally, of course, is entitled to his views. But he hasn’t chose to go down the Julia Gillard which is to impose those views on branch members, and I think that’s to his credit, and I respect that," Mr Seselja said.
“That is the nature of our democracy. We will have different views about what we can achieve, what’s the best for the future of the party."
Senator Humphries warned the Liberal Party could lose its sole ACT Senate spot if infighting continued.
''The truth is, in the last two weeks, the Canberra Liberals have taken their eye off the ball,'' he said.
''Let's make sure this unfortunate episode in our party's history is put behind us as soon as we can.
''Let's deliver a Senate seat in the ACT to an Abbott government. But to be frank with you I fear whether that is capable of being guaranteed if we don't decisively settle the situation.
''It's not a safe seat, it's not a seat that automatically comes to us without having to fight very hard, it's in reality a marginal seat.''
The daughter of former prime minister Sir Robert Menzies, Heather Henderson, said it was distressing to see the present ruction in the ACT Liberals. ''We don't want to lose a senator, which we might easily so … I know we all support him [Senator Humphries] and certainly I do. I find it very sad we have a fight in public and not behind closed doors.''
Earlier, Liberal MP Alby Schultz said in an email Senator Humphries had an ''absolute lack of political nous'' because his staff sent an invitation to the ''disgraced'' former Liberal Peter Slipper.
with Hamish Boland-Rudder