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Tony Abbott hits out at Liberal Party’s ‘factional warlords’

“This is a potentially corrupt position”: Tony Abbott criticises lobbyists in the Liberal Party. Former state MP turned lobbyist Michael Photios. Photo: Daniel Munoz
Nanjing Night Net

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen



Former prime minister Tony Abbott has hit out at lobbyists and backroom powerbrokers in the NSW Liberal Party, branding their interactions with elected representatives “potentially corrupt”.

Mr Abbott called for a renewed debate about using plebiscites of the party membership to preselect MPs.

The Liberal Party was now smaller and less representative and therefore “easily controlled by factional warlords”, Mr Abbott told the ABC.

“Some of these factional warlords have a commercial interest in dealing with politicians whose preselections they can influence,” he said.

“Now, this is a potentially corrupt position and the best way to see off the factionalists is to open up the party.

“The more members we’ve got, the harder it will be for the factional warlords to control.”

Mr Abbott made the comments in a clip from Four Corners about Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s future that is to be aired in full on Monday night.

It comes as Mr Abbott’s conservative-right faction struggles with increasing irrelevance in NSW, where the moderate faction has become dominant, led by key figures such as party president Trent Zimmerman and lobbyist Michael Photios.

Mr Abbott appeared to take aim at Mr Photios but did not identify him by name.

“There is absolutely no doubt that there is a dominant faction, there is a dominant individual within that faction, and that individual is a lobbyist,” he said.

“There’s no doubt that there are people not on state executive, who caucus regularly on the phone and face-to-face with people who are on the state executive to try to get pre-cooked outcomes.”

One of Mr Abbott’s first acts as prime minister was to rule that party officials could not lobby his government, a move mirrored by then-NSW premier Barry O’Farrell.

Mr Photios, who runs the PremierState and CapitalHill lobbying outfits, promptly resigned from the Liberal Party’s state executive, alongside fellow party powerbroker Joe Tannous. At the time, Mr Abbott said he was “determined to ensure that you can either be a powerbroker or a lobbyist, but you can’t be both”.

Mr Zimmerman, who is also a federal MP in Joe Hockey’s old seat of North Sydney, said Mr Abbott’s continued criticism reflected a tendency for Liberals to “demonise” factional enemies during times of difficulty.

“There’s a tendency when there’s internal rivalry within the party to demonise your internal opponents. I’ve seen that happen a lot in my time and I think we’re seeing a lot of that happen at the moment,” he told Fairfax Media.

He said some of the people Mr Abbott appeared to target had worked for the party “since they were in their teenage years”, including service in Parliament.

“We don’t have second-class membership,” Mr Zimmerman said. “The party works best when it’s a broad church and there’s respect for everyone’s involvement in the party. We shouldn’t disparage people who are actually working hard for the party.”

Mr Photios has been approached for comment.

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