The Liberal Party is moving towards plebiscites to choose candidates, and it’s a big win for Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott. Photo: Dave Rowland/ Getty.

A plan by former prime minister Tony Abbott to change the way the Liberal Party chooses its election candidates received overwhelming majority support from party members at a special convention on the weekend.

More than 1200 Liberal members met at an extraordinary party convention in Sydney to vote on a series of reforms to the preselection process for election candidates.

The so-called Warringah motion, named after Abbott’s federal seat, proposes letting grassroots party members select state and federal candidates via plebescites, as well as major positions within the party executive.

Currently candidates are selected by branch representatives and party officials.

The plan was backed 748 votes to 476 at the Party Futures Convention in what some view as a victory for the right of the party over the moderates.

Retired major general Jim Molan was a key backer of the change, which the former PM has been pushing for more than three years after it was recommended by a panel chaired by another former PM John Howard.

Prime minister Malcolm Turnbull also supported the change, addressing the opening of the conference saying he was a long-time supporter of plebiscites and the plan was was not just “politically right, it is right morally”.

The proposal now needs further approvals, including at the state council level, before the party’s Constitution can be changed.

Tony Abbott hailed the vote as a win for “true democracy” over people “who want the Liberal party to be an insider’s club”.

“It’s a clear road ahead to a democratic political party which is controlled by its members, not by lobbyists, not by factionalists, not by string-pullers, but by ordinary decent Australians,” he said.

But Fairfax Media reports that there were concerns about branch-stacking ahead of the vote, after a key supporter of the Abbott plan offered to pay the conference $150 registration fee for members to attend.

Fairfax reported “one person spent up to $13,500 funding the registration of as many as 90 Liberal members to attend the convention”.

Concerns remain about the potential to stack the pre-selection plebiscites, which may result in amendments to the current proposal to include anti-stacking measures.

Fairfax Media has more on the weekend’s convention here.