Does it strike anyone else as ironic that the push to reform the preselection process of candidates and give grassroots members a greater voice in the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party is being labelled a conservative move?
The Victorian division of the Liberal Party embraced these reforms almost a decade ago and, as a result, the role of factions has significantly diminished and branch stacking for the purpose of winning preselection, I would say, is impossible. In Victoria, it was the moderate group who led the push for reforming and democratising the preselection process in the way that is now being proposed in New South Wales.
Indeed, reforming preselection processes has nothing to do with conservatives versus moderates, although this makes for a compelling narrative, but power and control. Allowing ordinary members to have a say on who candidates will be strips power from those who currently hold it and returns it to the membership. But by empowering the membership, there is less capacity to control or manipulate preselection outcomes. Of course, this is the best outcome for the Liberal Party to ensure that the very best candidates are fielded at elections so that our states, territories and nation have the best possible representation.
The Labor Party allow their membership to have a say in preselections after just one year. The motion being proposed in New South Wales, the so-called “Warringah motion” proposes members only be able to participate in preselections after two years of membership, which would mirror that of the Victorian division. Other divisions require only twelve months or less for length of membership requirements and all other divisions excluding only Western Australia already conduct preselections by plebiscite. Proposals to alter Warringah motion to increase the number of years a member should be involved in the Party to participate in preselections beyond two years are, for want of a better description, odd.
Certainly, things are working well in Victoria with a two-year membership requirement to be a preselector and there seem to be no complaints from other divisions with just a twelve-month membership requirement. So why try and require an even longer period of membership before a Party member can have a say over who their candidate will be? Based on the experiences in other divisions, there is no persuasive reason for this other than holding back member participation.
Reform is a must for the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party to ensure the best possible candidates are being offered to the electorate. Change is long overdue.
Karina Okotel is a federal vice-president of the Liberal Party of Australia and metropolitan vice-president of the Victorian division of the Liberal Party.
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