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  • Writer's pictureHannah Phillips

Liberal Party Futures Convention Backs Tony Abbott

The NSW Liberal party Futures Convention was billed in the media as a contest between the Abbott and Turnbull forces but it turned out to be a moment of consensus.

Tony Abbott’s Warringah resolution, which called for party members to decide issues such as pre-selections, was overwhelmingly supported by the conference, 748 votes to 476, after the Prime Minister addressed the meeting and called for reform.

Mr Abbott said it would end the potential for corruption and branch stacking and create a more democratic Liberal Party.

“It’s a clear road ahead to one member one vote pre-selections, a clear road ahead to a democratic political party which is controlled by its members not by lobbyists, not by factionists, not by string pullers,” he said.

However the resolution is not the end of the matter.

It has yet to be converted into a binding party rule which then has to be endorsed by the Party’s state council which is dominated by the moderate faction who are likely to lose power if the resolution is adopted.

It’s possible that the council will defy supporters of democracy like John Howard, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott.

A senior frontbencher told Inside Canberra that it would be political suicide for the council to defy a resolution supported by members, the Prime Minister and the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, however there may be a refinement to the resolution that protects sitting MP’s from facing a plebiscite of members.

There’s also a chance that the Party will adopt a motion put forward by the leader of the centre right faction, Alex Hawke, who is Assistant Minister for Immigration.

The Hawke proposal recommends tough qualifications for members’ eligibility to vote in a plebiscite.

The argument in favour of the resolution is that it would prevent branch stacking by conservatives but members in favour of reform argue that it would negate the effect of the Warringah resolution.

In another twist to the political narrative Opposition Leader Bill Shorten announced on ABC’s ‘Insiders’ programme on Sunday that he supported four year terms for Members of the House of Representatives and suggested that there should be a bipartisan agreement to hold a referendum on the subject at the next election.

He challenged the Coalition to support his proposal in the interest of economic and political certainty.

Following the programme Malcolm Turnbull called Mr Shorten to suggest that they meet and talk about the proposal.

There are a number of impediments to the implementation of Mr Shorten’s proposal: at the moment Senators are elected for a term that’s twice as long as the term for Members of the House of Representatives which means that elections for both houses are synchronous.

If this were not the case then there would be elections every two years.

Also a referendum at the next election could clash with the referendum on aboriginal recognition.

Without bipartisan support and strong argument from political leaders it’s unlikely that four year terms would gain the support of a majority of Australians in a majority of states.

The public is naturally cynical about the motives of politicians and the fact that state legislatures now have four year terms is unlikely to be persuasive.

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