The Liberals’ broad church? In NSW it’s getting thinner on a diet of expulsions and desertions. Remove the nave, the principal part of a church that caters for the congregation, and there’s not much left besides the power elite at the altar and the specially selected choir, all of whom sing from the same songbook. In NSW, they’ve added a ‘k’ to nave to provide a justification for getting rid of those knaves who noisily and uncomfortably agitate for a democratic say for those nave-occupying ordinary Liberal members who are expected to put their money in the plate, donate their time and effort for the benefit of the chosen ones (who they did not get to choose) and leave control of the Liberal broad church in the hands of the factional bosses.
Former Parliamentary Secretary to Treasurer Peter Costello, nine-year federal MP and 35-year Liberal Party member, the Honourable Ross Cameron is the latest knave; his appeal against the state executive’s 4.5 year suspension was narrowly confirmed at last weekend’s NSW Liberal state council meeting. His sin was over-enthusiastically seeking a fairer deal for the huge majority of NSW Liberals who are confined to the nave and excluded from the communion cup of meaningful political participation that is reserved for those who bow down before the side-altar of factional loyalty.
As another former parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer (John Howard), I have no desire to join Ross in political limbo. My preference is to stay within the tent to fight for the John Howard anti-faction reform recommendations that have been sidelined by the faction-dominated state executive, rather than enjoy the freedom the party has now foolishly given Cameron, as a TV commentator, to say whatever he likes without the constraint of party membership. As a delegate to this state council meeting, Party rules require my silence on what happened there. So this article has to rely only on media reports for any facts about Cameron’s suspension for (rashly) exercising free speech. He is reported by the SMH to have said ‘I have five minutes to defend 35 years of continuous membership’. Far more significant for a party whose basic mantra is defence of individual freedom, it is reported on radio 2GB that only one speaker in Cameron’s defence was allowed before the debate, effectively on members’ rights to free speech, was gagged.
Cameron’s suspension, according to the ABC, was due to a blast, as a SKY News commentator, directed at the then Premier Mike Baird’s deputy leader, and now Premier Gladys Berejiklian who, he said, opposed, as a leading factional member, the push to introduce plebiscites to give all local branch members a vote in the pre-selection of state and federal Liberal candidates. She was ‘trying to destroy the movement for democratic reform within the Liberal Party’. But then he unwisely ascribed possible motives, saying she either had ‘a personal view favouring retaining an authoritarian party’ or because she could replace Baird ‘with the benefit of factional numbers in a secret backroom deal’. His suspension was officially for a breach of the media code relating to internal party matters.
Cameron’s motives were clearly to end the destructive impact of factionalism and his removal has not been without pain for the faction-dominated state executive. Media leaks indicate only a narrow majority (89 to 86) of state councillors supporting the state executive. In his defence, Cameron warned that rejection of his appeal would show ‘the Liberal Party suppresses and punishes opinion’, that ‘the difference between me and others who routinely leak to the media about internal party affairs is that I put my name on it’ and that the factional boss Michael Photios ‘runs the NSW Liberal Party’. Cameron’s concerns echoed those of federal front-bencher Angus Taylor, who told the Sydney Institute last year that there was excessive influence of factional operators, that the state executive manipulated branches in its power plays and that ‘Unhealthy organisations with rotten cultures only last so long’. Cameron said he was suspended for making the same point and has since tweeted a quote from Menzies: ‘If truth is to emerge and be triumphant, the process of free debate, the untrammelled clash of opinion must go on.’ But not in NSW.
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