PM calls for party reform, more women

Tom Rabe
Malcolm Turnbull says Liberal Party members must have a bigger say in how the organisation is run

Malcolm Turnbull says it is "morally right" to give Liberal Party members a greater say in how the party is run, despite supporting a motion that could torpedo significant populist reform championed by his predecessor.

As NSW state delegates prepare to vote on reform at the Liberal AGM on Saturday, the prime minister says the party must empower its grassroots.

"The best way to attract people is to give them a say in how the party is run," Mr Turnbull said to applause at Sydney's Town Hall.

"Everything that we do to ensure that we are successful, to ensure that we grow, must give members a say."

Currently, preselection is left to branch delegates, and supporters of the so-called Warringah Motion argue that nurtures factionalism.

The Warringah Motion - a plan by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to give all party members preselection votes in their respective seats - is likely to get shot down at the AGM. However, a more moderate compromise may be agreed on.

That so-called Bennelong Motion, which Mr Abbott has described as a "watered down" version of his plan, would still leave about 10 per cent of the preselection vote to the state council and executive.

It would also not allow party members to vote on candidates for the NSW upper house or the Senate. Further, it would only be implemented in two years, after the next state and federal elections.

Outside the AGM, Mr Abbott told reporters the Bennelong Motion was a "rearguard action by factional warlords" that would delay reform and "put off real democracy".

"A party that doesn't trust its own members is hardly going to win the trust of the Australian people," Mr Abbott said.

Mr Turnbull and NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian are understood to support the Bennelong alternative.

"Any change we make to our party structure must address that imbalance and ensure that our party is democratic," Mr Turnbull said.

During his speech to the AGM, Mr Turnbull also said the party must preselect more women into safe and winnable seats.

"We must increase the number of women in our parliamentary teams," Mr Turnbull said.

"We are not a party of quotas, but we should not kid ourselves about this issue or push it to one side."

Meanwhile Ms Berejiklian, who received a rapturous applause upon her introduction to the AGM, also argued for an empowered party base.

"We need you to feel more engaged and more empowered in all aspects of our party's activities," Ms Berejiklian said.

"There is absolutely no doubt that as a party we need to be more democratic and more inclusive."