Libs reject right push for direct election
November 11, 2012
The NSW Energy Minister, Chris Hartcher, faces calls for him to "rethink" his position in the O'Farrell cabinet after the right wing of the Liberal Party failed spectacularly in its bid to force direct election of candidates.
The party locked in behind Barry O'Farrell at Saturday's meeting of the Liberal state executive.
The motion to introduce plebiscites – or direct elections free of control by party powerbrokers – was defeated 315 to 204.
The right needed 60 per cent of votes to carry the motion but mustered less than 40 per cent. Two other motions aimed at weakening the power of the state executive, dominated by the left and centre right factions, were also soundly defeated.
Before the vote, Mr O'Farrell joined the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, in expressing his open-mindedness to the idea of plebiscites but rejected the model being pushed by the right.
A Liberal MP described the right's push – which included getting a Supreme Court order to force a vote – as a "naked grab for power".
But the right said it was about bringing greater democracy to the party.
"When you have more voting rights as a member of the local RSL than in the Liberal Party, you've got a problem," a source from the right said.
If adopted, plebiscites would have scrapped the power of the executive to impose candidates against the wishes of members – as has been the case in two must-win federal seats on the central coast, Robertson and Dobell.
It was a central coast branch member, Denis Pogson, backed by Mr Hartcher, who took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court.
Mr O'Farrell and Mr Abbott are said to be furious the matter ended up in court, costing the party $100,000 to fight itself.
Despite going to those lengths, the right tried to have the plebiscite vote shelved at the last minute at Saturday's meeting. An angry Liberal MP said it was the "most farcical meeting" they had ever witnessed.
"Chris Hartcher got a big bloody nose today and he now needs to think about whether he wants to be a factional leader or a minister," the MP said.
Mr Hartcher has previously taken on Mr O'Farrell in the party room on the issue but yesterday remained silent, with the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, speaking in favour of the motion.
Despite losing the vote, the right source said an agreement to review the party's 200-plus page constitution was a victory.
"You can tell we're a party full of lawyers. The thing is as big as the Encyclopedia Britannica without the pictures."
The president of the NSW Liberals, Arthur Sinodinos, had not returned calls at 6pm.