Tony Abbott, self-appointed Leader of the Opposition in the Federal Liberal Government and spokesperson for True Conservative Values is on a campaign to introduce grassroots democracy into the New South Wales Liberal party preselection processes.
The reasons for this are manifold. The first is that he sees the process dominated by centralist “factional leaders and lobbyists” which is Abbott-speak for Soviet style apparatchiks. Abbott sees these centralists as taking away preselection control from local party members.
It is an important point, regardless of Abbott’s reason for supporting it (more of this later).
Political parties will always face the dilemma of allowing local branches to select their candidates for Parliament (State or Federal), having them selected by a central committee or some combination of the two.
The first alternative gives the local branches complete autonomy and a large degree of engagement in the political process but it does mean that you get local sons and daughters being selected into the political process.
It also has the other advantage that it does mean that the local member tends to live locally which can often be a sore point for many party members.
I remember my early days a political party when there was a very pleasant lady who came to branch meetings whose only contribution was only ever making the tea. I know this sounds sexist but she never made a single contribution. Never spoke at a meeting.
But she was a member of a faction. And to my surprise several years later she was the Minister for local government. Not, as I remember a particular good one. And it is processes like this that selected Geoff Shaw as the local Liberal member for Frankston. That’s the downside.
The second alternative allows the party to select people who are thought to be good candidates and put them into safe seats, lawyers who will make good attorney-generals, economists will make good treasurers, diplomats will make good foreign ministers et cetera. But this does lead to a lot of dealmaking and horse trading. it also has the disadvantage of dissing franchising local members who feel that these candidates are parachuted into their electorate.
Now, coming back to Tony Abbott’s reasons for championing this cause.
The first reason is that the current system in NSW is dominated by the Malcolm Turnbull’s moderate faction, made up in Tony Abbott’s mind of lobbyists and factional warlords. But they are also out to get room Tony Abbott and replace him in the electorate of Warringah and Abbott probably knows that they have the numbers.
So this could easily be a life-and-death battle for Abbott.
It is also typical of the way that Malcolm Turnbull operates. He doesn’t do interviews on the radio, he doesn’t shout and yell and grandstand. He just does deals and gets the numbers.