GEORGE CHRISTENSEN has spoken to The Good Sauce exclusively this morning, further to his blunt criticisms of his own party’s organisational wing last night on Facebook.
The Liberal and National Party branches in every state around Australia and the Liberal National Party (LNP) in Queensland have experienced resurgent growth in membership numbers from more conservative, often Christian people in the wake of the collapse of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservative party. Hope flickered the Coalition wasn’t done and dusted with conservatives after the leadership of Malcolm Turnbull failed and MPs opted instead for a sometimes slightly more conservative Scott Morrison.
But in each state the incumbent party controllers, who George Christensen described as “the faceless men and women who control the organisation,” resisted grassroots democratisation of the party, and either made up rules or arbitrarily applied others with clouds of impenetrable mystery to rob new and even long standing members of their votes in preselections and other votes, or reject them from the party altogether.
The LNP’s parliamentary leader, David Crisafulli, nervously addressed last month’s state council to reflect on the angry mood amongst LNP grassroots members he’d experienced. The seething resentment was based in the self-destructive vandalism of leaked internal polling showing the LNP would struggle to win the now recent election, leaked because the then Opposition Leader wasn’t easily enough controlled by the party controllers.
Crisafulli called for control of the party to return to the grassroots members in the local branches, declaring the elitist control had to end, along with their sanctions against members who dissented with the status quo.
But despite strong support to scrap the LNP President’s Committee completely, yesterday’s Courier Mail reported:
The LNP’s powerful President’s Committee won’t be dismantled like David Crisafulli wants…
“All that’s on the table is a watered-down version of the current model that will be controlled by a few at the top,” [one source said].
The LNP State Convention begins this Friday, and will either be a showdown between dissatisified grassroots members and party controllers, or a series of hollow gestures meant to appease but in effect change very little.
George Christensen published this blistering review of that development at midnight last night.
I don’t do this much but allow me a moment to reflect on my own party: the Liberal National Party. As I’m not contesting the next election, I can now tell some home truths without the worry of being disendorsed.
This morning’s Courier Mail reports that sweeping changes are potentially going to be made to the party’s constitution at the upcoming state convention. Let me tell you, they’re needed. Sadly though, one of the most needed reforms may not actually happen: It has been reported that the totally dictatorial President’s Committee is unlikely to be abolished.
I won’t be attending the state convention of the party this month where these matters will be debated and decided upon. I won’t because I’m tired of hoping against hope that things might change in the party.
I’ve been at state conventions and state councils before where the process was just railroaded from the top to get their desired outcome, even to the point where votes clearly against a particular proposal were ruled in favour by the chairman before quickly moving to a smoko break so that no one could challenge the ruling. At one of the party’s state council meetings, the executive voted to save their own bacon by restricting grassroots members’ eligibility to vote and hold office in the party, under the bogus guise of combating branch stacking. (A note to party bigwigs: conservative-minded Christians joining a conservative party to have a say in the political process is not branch stacking!)
I joined the Queensland Nationals back in 1994. The number one thing that the party prided itself on then was its grassroots democracy. Today, there is a huge disconnect between the grassroots members of the LNP and the faceless men and women who control the organisation.
The red hot anger at the party bosses was evident at state election review meetings the party held across Queensland. Our grassroots members are tired of being cannon fodder, volunteering in the hot sun from dawn to dusk on polling day, manning market stalls, door knocking and the like while the party management reeks of incompetency, notching up state election loss after state election loss.
Some of the faceless men running the LNP were in control before I entered federal parliament 11 years ago and yet, despite those state election losses, they were still in control of the party until this year. (One could point to federal election wins to counterbalance the state losses, but the reality is that most of the federal success over the past decade has been the result of incumbency and MPs’ electorate offices rather than the party machine.)
One key home truth is that the party machine does not listen to its rank and file anymore. The rudeness many grassroots members receive when they phone party headquarters has been reported to me over and over again. These grassroots members are not just paying customers for that office, they are the heart of the party and yet they are treated like dirt.
Rank and file party members want a party organisation and leadership that listens to them, that represents them, that identifies with them. Sadly, that’s not what they’ve had in a long while.
Something strange happened to the Queensland party after the merger between the Liberals and the Nationals. It became very introspective, very dictatorial, very intolerant of any form of criticism. Some of my closest friends in politics have been suspended or barred from the party because of their previous criticism of the party.
In a similar vein, I know that some people have been barred from the party because they are deemed by the bigwigs to be too conservative or too Christian for the party! How bizarre when our rank and file are overwhelmingly conservative and Christian! Perhaps it’s because the bigwigs are scared they won’t be able to control these new people wanting to be part of the LNP because they subscribe to a higher cause than their dictates. To underline this bizarre bent that the bigwigs have against conservative and Christian newcomers, I am aware that a pro-life campaigner was effectively barred from running to be a candidate for the party at the last state election simply because they were known to be pro-life. (News flash, party bigwigs: most of your rank and file members are pro-life!)
Along with all of that, the party became top heavy after the merger, and top down in its approach. The hierarchy effectively became the party and the grassroots members became the cannon fodder.
Rural and regional members of the party have felt particularly alienated. Their views have had to give way to what the party bosses think the city folk will or won’t vote for and, as a result, the party holds two state seats north of Mackay. What a disgrace!
Perhaps more needs to happen than abolishing the President’s Committee. Perhaps we need to revert to the old system: a stand-alone Queensland Liberal Party and a stand-alone Queensland National Party. Just a thought.
Whatever the case, something needs to change, radically and soon. The party needs to give the power back to it’s grassroots members, it needs to embrace conservatives and Christians who want to join its ranks, and it needs to start listening more to its rural and regional membership when forming policies.
The state convention will be a good litmus test as to whether real change can happen within the LNP.
Note to media: I won’t be doing interviews on this topic. I’ve said all I want to direct to the people via Facebook.
Speaking exclusively to The Good Sauce this morning, George confirmed he had no intentions of leaving the LNP but is calling for major reforms within it, in support of the same calls made by David Crisafulli. George Christensen, a Good Sauce contributor, reiterated by saying his call backs up State Opposition leader Crisafulli’s call that “power in the party be returned to the members and the President’s Committee be disbanded.”
An interview with George about this topic as well as developments in his “Born Alive” proposed bill will be featured on tomorrow night’s streamed live episode of Pellowe Talk, and posted Friday morning on this website and podcast.
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Dave Pellowe is a Christian writer & commentator, founder of The Good Sauce, convener of the annual Australian Church And State Summit and host of Good Sauce's weekly The Church And State Show, also syndicated on ADH TV. Since 2016 Dave has undertaken the mission of arming Christians to influence culture through events from Perth to Auckland, videos, podcasts and articles published in multiple journals across Australia and New Zealand. [more]