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Abbott should stay out of Liberal presidency contest

Date

Peter Reith

Vying for Liberal Party presidency: Danielle Blain and Richard Alston.

Vying for Liberal Party presidency: Danielle Blain and Richard Alston. Photo: Tony Ashby, Jessica Shapiro

News of a conflict between Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott over the Liberal presidency is no surprise. Tony does not seem to realise that sometimes it's best not to meddle in Liberal Party organisational matters. In fact it's healthy that the party makes its own decisions without the decision on the federal presidency always being decided by the parliamentary leader.

It's widely known that Tony Abbott decided, some months ago, that he wanted Richard Alston to be federal president. It is also obvious that Julie Bishop would support her West Australian colleague, Danielle Blain.

Both candidates would make a first-class federal Liberal president.

My former ministerial colleague Richard Alston has a long and distinguished record of service within the organisation as well as within the Parliament. He is chairman of Josh Frydenberg's federal electorate committee.

Danielle Blain's record is similarly par excellence within the party as West Australian state president, long-time member of the federal executive and a first-class fund-raiser. Danielle supported me in the 2011 federal presidency vote.

It's hard to separate two first-class candidates; they both qualify for the job. Richard is well known and former ministers have a certain cache as president. Danielle is a successful businesswoman, politically savvy and a woman president of her calibre would be a bonus for the party.

The fact that Danielle wants to throw her hat in the ring demonstrates that she will not always dance to Tony's tune. Danielle is a proven team player but it's also known that occasionally some within the federal executive have been known to stand up to Tony.

It is essential that the federal executive is sufficiently independent of the parliamentary party that it can reflect the opinions of the rank and file membership.

If the parliamentary party continues to always dictate to the federal presidency, then it weakens the role of the organisation.

The Liberal Party is streets ahead of Labor on party reform but further reform is needed to re-energise the organisation.

For both candidates, a key question will be how much time and effort can you put in to do the job? I think it's time the party had a full-time president.

Obviously the parliamentary leader is clearly the dominant character in the Liberal structure. However, it should be remembered leaders come and go while the party goes on.

The party needs to have some standing of its own and, when it has two quality candidates to choose from, then the party leader should leave the decision of the federal presidency to the good judgment of the rank and file.

Peter Reith was a minister in the Howard government. He lost out to Alan Stockdale in a contest for the Liberal presidency in 2011. Tony Abbott voted for Mr Stockdale.

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