Liberal boss warns of need for unity

Paul Osborne, AAP Senior Political Writer

New Liberal president Nick Greiner says ensuring trust and co-operation in the party is a challenge and the coalition will enter the next election as underdogs.

Mr Greiner, who replaces outgoing president Richard Alston, didn't attend the Liberal Party federal council in Sydney starting on Friday due to overseas commitments.

But in a video recorded for the event, the former NSW premier said the federal coalition were "slight underdogs at the moment but are certainly highly competitive".

"There are also challenges in ensuring a culture of trust, openness and co-operation between all Liberal stakeholders, federal and state parliamentary and organisational," he said.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott has warned of too much power being wielded by factions within the party and wants rules changed to give more power to grassroots members.

Mr Greiner said he was conscious of the challenges in "strengthening the financial and continuous campaigning capacity" of the party's federal secretariat.

The party's financial struggles were highlighted by the fact the prime minister chipped in $1.75 million of his own money to keep last year's campaign going.

However its coffers were bolstered by a $10,000 a table dinner on Friday night featuring guest speaker, former US CIA director David Petraeus.

General Petraeus told the council he believed Australia should assert itself in the South China Sea, along with the US.

He said this included carrying out freedom of navigation operations in the disputed area.

Mr Greiner said his aim was to assist the coalition to victory at the next federal election and four state elections over the next two years.

"We all know that progress towards this goal, towards winning, can only be achieved by a united full count press of all Liberals."

As part of the reset, the Liberal Party is set to appoint Andrew Hirst as its new federal director, replacing veteran Tony Nutt.

Mr Hirst is a former adviser to Liberal leaders John Howard, Brendan Nelson, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott.

He's considered one of Canberra's most highly experienced political professionals having worked in federal politics for the past 15 years.

The Liberal-Nationals coalition has trailed Labor since just after the tight double-dissolution election in July last year, which delivered Mr Turnbull a one-seat majority and difficult Senate.

Acting Liberal Party director Andrew Bragg is expected to remain in the position until August.

It is understood some senior party members were agitating for Mr Bragg to remain in the role, arguing Mr Hirst was too closely linked to Mr Abbott who Mr Turnbull ousted in 2015.

Mr Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop addressed members, speaking on global security and Australia's "deep and heartfelt family tie" with the US.

"The bedrock of our safety in the world has been our alliance with the United States," Mr Turnbull said.

Saturday's council session will focus on economic management with another speech by Mr Turnbull and Ms Bishop as well as addresses by Treasurer Scott Morrison and Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman.