LIBERAL faction bosses in NSW were locked in crisis talks last night to resolve the legal battle that has paralysed the state party since last week.
The meeting, convened at the insistence of NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, was attempting to break a deadlock between the Right and Left factions over the method for selecting parliamentary candidates.
Key players at the meeting included former state minister Michael Photios, from the Left, and NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith on the Right. The meeting — which Mr O’Farrell chose not to attend and which was chaired by NSW senator Arthur Sinodinos — followed an injunction granted in the Supreme Court on Friday by judge William Nicholas, cancelling the annual general meeting of the party’s state council scheduled for the following day.
The action came after months of acrimony, with the Right claiming the Left was abusing its control of the state executive.
Justice Nicholas found the executive did not have the power to prevent Right-sponsored motions, limiting the powers of the executive and proposing preselections by popular vote of local branch members, going to the AGM. The decision leaves the party over a barrel, since a court hearing on the substantive issues is unlikely before next year.
This leaves a variety of matters, including a vote on a replacement for Senator Sinodinos, in limbo.
Senior party sources said a compromise would likely involve reconvening the AGM and putting the motions limiting the “special powers” of the executive, but shelving the preselection issues until next year.
Justice Nicholas’s decision yesterday will strengthen the conviction on the Right it has the executive up against the wall.
The judgment says, “I find that the plaintiff has established a very strong case that it has complied with the procedures for putting its motion . . . before state council at the next AGM, and, in the circumstances, it was not open to those responsible for setting the agenda to prevent that from happening.”
Writing for the ABC yesterday, Peter Reith, a former ministerial colleague of Tony Abbott, said Mr Abbott had only himself to blame: “Last year Tony Abbott voted down a more activist approach to party reform and now he has to face the consequences.”