Victorian Liberals claim right faction stacking branches with Mormons and Catholics

Victorian Liberals claim right faction stacking branches with Mormons and Catholics

Victorian Liberals claim right faction stacking branches with Mormons and Catholics

Updated 30 June 2017, 14:50 AEST

Liberals in Victoria claim the party's religious right is "actively recruiting" with Mormons and Catholics, which some fear could eventually lead to more conservative candidates winning pre-selection.

Liberals in Victoria claim the party's religious right is stacking branches with Mormons and Catholic groups in a drive to pre-select more conservative candidates.

It comes amid a heated debate in the New South Wales division over whether to adopt a Victorian-style "plebiscite" model to empower branch members.

Currently, candidates in NSW are chosen by a mix of branch representatives and party officials, a system critics claim is run by "factional warlords".

The Victorian model, introduced in 2008, allows party members of two years standing to vote in Lower House pre-selections in their electorates.

Sources have told the ABC the Victorian system is more open and democratic and has seen talented MPs including Josh Frydenberg, Kelly O'Dwyer and Dan Tehan win pre-selection.

Others claim it has also encouraged rampant branch-stacking.

Members of the party's executive have been accused of "actively recruiting" Mormons and conservative Catholics to branches across Victoria, which some fear could eventually lead to more conservative candidates winning pre-selection.

While the Liberals prides themselves on being a broad church, the ABC has been told the recruits are often motivated by "single issues" like same-sex marriage or euthanasia.

There are concerns this is distorting the values of the Liberal Party, which is shifting towards the right, but others argue it is part of a broad recruitment drive aimed at arresting a serious decline in membership numbers.

Victorian State Executive member Marcus Baastian said the party has been targeting business groups, young professionals and different cultural groups as well as religious organisations.

He hit back at claims the party was "swinging to the right", saying the accusation was designed to undermine efforts to modernise the state division.

"Recruitment in Victoria has delivered fantastic results in lowering our average age, increasing our party membership and ensuring we have campaigners on the ground in our marginal seats to help out candidates at election time," he told the ABC.

The battle over plebiscite pre-selections in NSW will come to a head at next month's "futures convention" where delegates will debate Tony Abbott's push to adopt a plebiscite or "one member, one vote" model.

Mr Bastiaan, who is considered a controversial figure in the party, is firmly behind Mr Abbott's push and has told the NSW division its duty was "to be relevant, forward footed and ensure it is a membership organisation that respects the very people who vote for it".

In a video to members attending a pre-convention event in Sydney tomorrow, he warned: "Without a strong New South Wales, we cannot win and hold Government."

NSW factional fight

Those pushing for change in NSW point to the Liberal's dwindling membership and narrow support base, arguing that giving people a say will revive the party.

But, for many, this is also a battle for control between a divided right faction and a dominant left.

The NSW State Council last year rejected Mr Abbott's motion to change the preselection process and voted in favour of a one put by Mr Turnbull and NSW Premier Mike Baird to debate the issue — and broader party reforms — at this year's futures convention.

Anyone will be able to attend and some party members have told the ABC they fear it will be ambushed by Mr Abbott's hard-right loyalists whose ultimate goal is to damage Malcolm Turnbull.

The Prime Minister supports plebiscites in principle, but the left faction — to which he is aligned — has been campaigning against it, fearing it could open the door to branch stacking in the state.

According to Mr Abbott, change to the NSW Liberal Party is "unstoppable" and most now concede that is the case.

"Nobody wants to leave that conference with the same system we have now"," a NSW Liberal source said.

"There has got to be change."