WA Liberals shift to candidate plebiscite

·3-min read

The WA Liberals have announced changes to its preselection processes following a warning from senior federal Senator Michaelia Cash that the party needs to reform.

State president of the WA Liberals Richard Wilson says the party will adopt plebiscites for the selection of lower house candidates.

"This is a show of unity following the recent elections that we are taking the first step towards reform, and we are taking those steps in the full knowledge the people of WA deserve the best possible candidates," Mr Wilson said.

Senator Cash earlier threw her support behind preselection changes, saying the party must reform or pay the price after opening the WA Liberals' state conference in Perth on Saturday.

Attendees were urged to support a motion for lower house MPs to be preselected through plebiscites of party members in each electorate, a recommendation from a review into its landslide loss at the March 2021 state election.

At last year's state election, the party was reduced to just two lower house MPs amid internal turmoil over alleged branch-stacking and the controlling of preselections by factions.

The Liberals also suffered a 10 per cent swing in WA at the federal election, losing five seats as Labor claimed majority government.

Senator Cash said the election results were proof the party needed to change.

"I think the people of Western Australia have given us a very, very clear message: reform or pay the price," she told reporters.

"We need to give every single member of the Liberal Party in each division the opportunity to have their say."

The motion needed the support of 75 per cent of conference attendees to succeed, and passed with an overwhelming majority of 92 per cent.

Senator Cash said the result was an overwhelming endorsement of Mr Wilson's presidency of the party and credited him for unifying the state's Liberal divisions and branches.

Former state leader Mike Nahan and other party elders moved amendments against the proposed plebiscite model, arguing it should also include upper house preselection and exclude delegates who don't live locally.

Dr Nahan said the president's proposal had flaws but did not rule out supporting it if the proposed amendments failed.

He told AAP it was "ridiculous" the party had more branches now than it did 30 years ago despite a plunge in membership.

"Our major problem is the vast majority of our branches are defunct, non-existent, controlled by a small cadre of people," Dr Nahan said.

Following the vote, Mr Wilson said the introduction of plebiscites was "the first step in a longer reform journey", and the proposed amendments were not successful.

"It was the model as proposed at the beginning of conference that was successful," he said.

The damning review last year found the WA Liberal Party had become a political "wasteland", in part because of the corrosive influence of factions.

Mr Wilson said the changes could attract new members.

"For the first time, there's a value proposition that if you join the Liberal Party, you can choose your candidate," he said.

With federal leader Peter Dutton absent, his deputy Sussan Ley told members she was confident the Liberals could be re-elected in 2025.

She said the party had been written off before "and each time we storm back to government".

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