Federal Politics

Eric Abetz attacks 'schemers' and 'hacks' in NSW Liberal Party

Liberal senator Eric Abetz has savaged "schemers" and "hacks" in the NSW branch of his party for leading an anti-democratic culture and threatening the parliamentary futures of sitting MPs.

The Tasmanian senator and right-wing powerbroker said in an opinion piece for The Australian that NSW Liberals had succumbed to "Sussex Street-style operations", referring to the common name for NSW Labor's Sydney headquarters, a hotbed of factional activity. 

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Mr Abetz also said that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's reported intervention late last week was the right call but was not a permanent fix for entrenched problems.

"The Liberal Party was founded on fundamentally democratic principles designed to give the forgotten people a voice. It continues to largely reflect this foundation principle," Senator Abetz wrote.

"Regrettably though, recent backroom manouevres in NSW have exposed a long-running issue in the state which continues to go unresolved where schemers, professional political hacks and lobbyists wield a disproportionate amount of power, including over preselections."

Last week, factional battles erupted inside the party as the powerful moderate camp, inspired by the ascension of Mr Turnbull, have moved to unseat conservative MPs.

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Angus Taylor, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Bronwyn Bishop, John Alexander and Craig Kelly have all been mentioned as vulnerable incumbents.

One senior NSW Liberal said the situation is "threatening to put to the Game of Thrones' Red Wedding scene in the shade".

Senator Abetz said that this culture cost them the 2010 election, in which the Coalition fell only two seats short of forming government.

He singled out Mr Taylor, member for Hume, and Senator Fierravanti-Wells as the best example of a sitting MP with strong credentials who is under threat.

He said that Mr Taylor is intelligent and destined for a big future and that Senator Fierravant-Wells is an outstanding and respected parliamentarian doing important work.

"Any talk of of disendorsing such proven performers should be laughable. Yet the threats are sadly serious," Senator Abetz wrote.

He also said the Prime Minister's intervention - adopting a policy of supporting sitting MPs and charging federal director Tony Nutt with taking this message to factional leaders - was not enough.

"Malcolm Turnbull is therefore right to have intervened to protect performing sitting members from cynical and manipulative power plays by unrepresentative elites.

"But this is only a temporary solution. The NSW Liberal Party needs to jettison its Sussex Street-style operations in favour of giving the membership a say," he argued.

Empowering rank and file members would benefit the right-wing as the party's base is more conservative than the dominant moderate leadership.

In his opinion piece, Senator Abetz said it would see elected representatives "more in tune with the party base" and accused the elites of fearing the rank and file because they "know they do not enjoy their support".

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