Former Howard government minister Gary Hardgrave has labelled Queensland’s Liberal National Party a “cult” that has been pushing around state MPs and shows no tolerance for dissent.
The strongly worded attack from the recently expelled LNP member comes amid signs of tensions between the Queensland LNP and the federal Liberal party.
Acting LNP president Gary Spence sent an email to LNP members on Friday warning them the party constitution required them not to publicly criticise the party, its office bearers, parliamentary representatives or candidates.
Mr Spence told members that “all statements and comments in relation to the affairs of the party must be made through the appropriate party channels, and not publicly”, including remarks about the current preselection processes.
“The success of the LNP to date has hinged in considerable part on the discipline exhibited by members since the party’s formation in adhering to the provisions of the LNP constitution and ensuring that party matters are kept within the party,” Mr Spence wrote.
“On behalf of all party members, the state executive is determined to ensure this remains the case and will use the full force of the constitution to this effect.”
LNP state director Brad Henderson last night said the party had high standards and believed Queenslanders were entitled to expect that of their political parties.
But Mr Hardgrave, a presenter with Radio 4BC (owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of this website), said the letter was indicative of the LNP’s attitude to dissent.
“It’s like a papacy. It really is,” he said.
Mr Hardgrave, who was last month dumped from the LNP amid concern over his public comments, said Liberals in the southern states did not have a flattering view of the merged Queensland party.
“The view from down south is that this is no longer a political party; it’s a cult, because it’s all-controlling, it’s all-demanding, it’s all about your obligations as a member [and] there’s no room for a variety of views,” he said.
“There is no doubt that the LNP see themselves as the centre of the universe and the [federal] Liberal Party have to affiliate with them rather than them being a division of the Liberal Party.”
A federal Liberal source said there was a perception among some former Liberals that the Nationals had emerged on top in the LNP, although this could moderate over time with former Liberal Campbell Newman serving as Premier.
“That patently can cause some tension with the federal Liberals on the basis it’s a funny beast that’s still evolving,” the current federal MP said.
“I think the LNP is an unusual beast because of the way it’s brought together all wings of the conservatives in a way we don’t have in any other state, really.
“It’s quite unusual so the culture of it is still evolving.”
The Liberal source said there was also a view that the LNP, buoyed by the Queensland election landslide, had come along to tell the Liberals how to run things, despite the Liberal party having existed since 1944 and proven very successful over that time.
The LNP unsuccessfully pushed at the federal Liberal council meeting for a ban on lobbyists serving on the national party executive, a move Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer championed as a necessary integrity measure.
LNP president Bruce McIver recentlyconfirmed he had dropped plans to run for the federal Liberal presidency after a request from Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.
Mr Palmer last month also confirmed he had an expletive-laden argument with Mr Abbott over the lobbyist issue.
Meanwhile, he said Mr Abbott had also asked him not to run for LNP preselectionin Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan’s Brisbane seat of Lilley.
Mr Hardgrave said, distressingly, there were fewer people involved in LNP decision making than there had been before.
The former federal MP said that in the recent Moreton preselection “barely 130” people participated, but that when he was endorsed in the same seat in the 1990s about 230 Liberals were involved.
However, Mr Henderson hit back at the claims about decreasing participation.
“Since the formation of the LNP in 2008, the party has increased its membership by more than 4000 and now has more than 14,000 members,” the LNP state director said in a written response last night.
“At the last federal election, the LNP doubled the national average swing to the Coalition and won 21 of the state’s 30 federal seats.
“At the 24 March state election, the party won 78 of the State Parliament’s 89 seats.
“At the Brisbane City Council election, the LNP won three additional wards to take its representation to 19, and its mayoral candidate won 62 per cent of the primary vote.
“The party is currently receiving unprecedented interest from candidates for the next federal election, fielding more than 150 expressions of interest for the 10 seats the party doesn’t currently represent and high if not record numbers of candidates in the federal preselections held so far.”
Queensland University of Technology political scientist Clive Bean said some tension was normal.
“I think there always is some degree of tension both between state and national level and also between the party organisation and the political wing too, and there’s probably a little bit of a sense at the moment that perhaps the organisational wing isn’t as significant as it sometimes is given the big [parliamentary] majority Campbell Newman has,” he said.
Professor Bean said the move to ban lobbyists from the federal executive and install Mr McIver as federal Liberal president could have been seen as the LNP at a Queensland level trying to translate its electoral success onto the federal scene.
“To me what that smacks of is the issue I think was set down after the state election, given how successful the LNP was in winning that election, that the LNP model is now one that will need to be seriously considered at the national level; in other words, the merger of the Liberal and National parties,” he said.
“Presumably if Bruce McIver had been successful that would have well and truly been on the national agenda.”
Mr Hardgrave made clear his criticisms of the LNP were not aimed at the parliamentary wing of the party, which he said was “going well” under Mr Newman’s leadership and was addressing issues that needed to be tackled.
However, he said it was “critical that the party organisation leaves the parliamentary team alone”.
“Right now I know they’re not. They’re ringing people up and pushing them around,” he said, citing “moral issues” the parliamentary team had been dealing with.
“The bottom line here is that the government is going well and it’s doing a good job and it’s reforming and it’s dealing with stuff in a coherent way but it is eventually going to get tarred with this organisational insanity.”
Mr Henderson did not respond specifically to this aspect of Mr Hardgrave’s criticism.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.