Lib anger over guns flashed at meeting
By Damien Murphy and Gerard Noonan
April 18, 2005
Lebanese Catholics recruited to the Liberal Party by the Christian right allegedly flashed pistols to intimidate opponents at a meeting to establish a new branch, according to a complaint lodged with NSW Liberal headquarters.
The recruits were spearheading an attempt by the Christian right to win control of preselections for federal and state seats in several upper North Shore Liberal electorates, including the Berowra seat of the federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock.
Branch stacking and counter-branch stacking has become so rife that the state Liberal Leader, John Brogden, specifically asked delegates at Saturday's Liberal state council at Homebush Bay to stop the factional brawling.
"I ask that you put aside your personal interests when it comes to preselection," Mr Brogden said. "We need to put our best foot forward.
"I don't care whether the candidate is a man or a woman, young or old; we need the best candidates."
The party's disputes panel has received several submissions from members about the inaugural meeting of a proposed Beaumont Hills branch in Kellyville on January 7, during which police were called to break up a melee.
The meeting became unruly when more than 100 right-wing supporters started arguing with several left-wingers, who arrived in buses with the MP for Hawkesbury, Steven Pringle.
One submission said several Lebanese supporters of a local political hopeful, David Baynie, had demonstrated that they had brought pistols, and that this had the effect of intimidating other members.
Mr Baynie, a developer with interests on the upper North Shore and the Central Coast, did not reply to requests by the Herald for an interview yesterday.
The increasingly powerful Christian right, and the Liberals' left faction, known as The Group, are battling for control of preselections in Berowra and Alan Cadman's federal seat of Mitchell, as well as the state seats of Epping, Hawkesbury, The Hills and Baulkham Hills.
Some of the branch stacks would even embarrass the Labor Party. The biggest Liberal stack in Berowra has happened in the Cherrybrook branch, where membership has risen from 18 a year ago to 202.
More than half the new members have been recruited from the Lebanese community.
Membership in the Dural branch has risen from 22 last year to 101 now. The Dural-Oakhill branch has almost doubled in size to 126. Berowra has 12 Liberal branches with a total membership of about 800.
Although the recruitment drive puts the Christian right in a strong position, it is not aimed at unseating Mr Ruddock, once one of the Liberals' leading moderates.
Now 62 years old, Mr Ruddock will be allowed to retire at his own choosing.
However, the Christian right leader and state upper house MP, David Clarke, is recruiting in order to wrest future Berowra preselections from Liberal moderates.
Meanwhile, the Liberals have established a selection process review committee to inquire into preselections and make recommendations for improvements.
The Beaumont Hills meeting and its aftermath is understood to comprise part of the committee's final report that will be submitted to the state council in June.
The conservative right wing recently ousted the left in elections for the Young Liberals and the women's council.
Elections for positions on the powerful state executive begin this week and will provide more insight into just how successful the sustained branch stacking by both sides has actually been.