The Liberal plot to humiliate Tony Abbott
EXPLOSIVE emails have exposed how federal and state ministers hatched a secret plan to humiliate Tony Abbott and torpedo his push to give more political power to the people.
The Daily Telegraph can today reveal how Turnbull government minister Alex Hawke and senior state MPs Pru Goward, Ray Williams, Scott Farlow and Natasha Maclaren-Jones discussed co-operating to defeat proposed reforms designed to give rank-and-file Liberal party members a say in how its candidates are be selected.
It is understood Liberal staffers working against Mr Abbott also demanded members hand over signed empty surveys that were later filled out by factional leaders "like a blank cheque".
In the campaign to ensure factional heavyweights maintained control of choosing political candidates, staff members working for Mr Hawke and Ms Maclaren-Jones sent instructions on how to convince party members to "strongly disagree" with plans to give members a vote.
Mr Abbott, the prime minister at the time, had been driving a push to give Liberal members a say in choosing who should stand for parliament after blaming the Coalition's 2010 election loss on bad candidate selection.
The survey resulted in a narrow loss for Mr Abbott, with 51 per cent of respondents supporting the existing preselection system.
One email from a former staffer for Mr Hawke contains a link to the online survey and a blank survey with the instructions "surveys can be bulk posted, you are not limited to one survey per envelope".
Sent during 2014 using private email accounts, Mr Williams, Ms Maclaren-Jones and Mr Farlow each confirmed they had collected a batch of surveys.
Ms Maclaren-Jones' email on February 14 says: "I got an additional 7 tonight and DJ and I will aim for another 30 - 40 over the weekend."
Mr Farlow said on February 3 he would hand over "12 surveys" while the email on February 14 from Mr Williams says "our total count is 54 surveys".
Ms Goward on February 3 said she had discussed it with her branch.
"They were slightly bemused but a few will do it!" she wrote.
In an email to Mr Hawke's parliamentary account, a former staffer for Ms Maclaren-Jones attached two "model emails". "If you can make any edits you think necessary I will leave this with you and (another staffer) to distribute to our people," the staffer wrote on February 5.
Mr Hawke replied: "OK".
Another email shows Mr Hawke's Centre-Right faction collected more than 750 survey responses - more than a quarter of the total returned - which played a key role in slowing down an overhaul of party rules.
Mr Abbott reintroduced his plans to give all members a say - known as the Warringah motion - which was supported at a party convention last year. However, a compromise plan was later agreed to in February. Mr Hawke denied there was any plan to embarrass Mr Abbott and told The Daily Telegraph yesterday that in 2014 he supported party reform that "guaranteed genuine active members a vote".
"I supported the best plebiscite model available which ended up being the Bennelong model," he said. "This had nothing to with Tony Abbott or I personally but was about getting the best model for the party."
Ms Maclaren-Jones said the candidate selection model presented in 2014 was not "fair and equitable for all". "In 2014 some people supported the plebiscite model presented and others did not," she said.
"The reform process took a further four years and I strongly believe the model passed by the NSW Division earlier this year is a good model which I wholeheartedly support."
Ms Goward strongly denied any involvement in influencing survey responses. She said the "insinuation that there is anything untoward in what I did is both ridiculous and juvenile," but conceded she did not support the proposal presented in 2014. "I encouraged all my branch members more than four years ago to fill out their surveys in order to have their say on important Liberal Party reform matters, including plebiscites," she said.
Mr Farlow said he encouraged all members to have their say in the survey. "I was a strong supporter of the Party Reform package that was adopted by the Liberal Party's State Council in February this year," he said.
Mr Williams declined to comment.