ELIZABETH JACKSON: There’s been a big build up to this weekend’s race at Rosehill in Sydney. It’s the venue for the New South Wales Liberal Party Convention, but political commentators say it represents the next chapter in the grudge match between the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Abbott. Around 1,500 party members are expected to attend the gathering over the weekend and they’ll vote on reshaping the machinery around pre-selections in New South Wales. Tony Abbott is leading the push for change with his so-called Warringah motion, which would allow the party to use plebiscites to select candidates. Liberal Senator for New South Wales, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, says the vote’s got nothing to do with the personal feud between Mr Abbott and Mr Turnbull. Senator Fierravanti-Wells, welcome to Saturday AM.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thanks, Liz.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Now you support the Warringah motion, yet I think it’s fair to say that you’re not a fan of Tony Abbott. Why do you want him to win?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, this is the process of party reform has been ongoing, Liz, for a long time and I’ve certainly been a supporter of reform of the New South Wales Division for a long time, and this goes back to the 1990’s. This is really a process that ultimately culminated in the Warringah motion. The Warringah FEC took the initiative and so what we have today is now another stage in a long-standing process.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Senator, how much of this is Tony Abbott taking on Malcolm Turnbull?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well this is not about Tony taking on Malcolm. I mean, reform of the New South Wales Division has been on the books for a long, long time. It’s been talked about for a long, long time. In the many meetings that I’ve attended and participated and know of, there are people that have been participants of this movement that come from both the conservative side of the party and the left of the party.     

ELIZABETH JACKSON: In your view, it’s not an Abbott/Turnbull tussle, but isn’t that how it’s going to be seen more broadly and in that sense, would you agree that the symbolism of the win - either Turnbull or Abbott - is perhaps more important than the win itself?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I don’t agree, Liz. I think that this is… those who have been followers and have watched this process evolve over many years see it for what it is, and that is a grassroots movement in the New South Wales Division who want to have a say.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: What do you say to those who think that the reforms, if successful, could entrench or even encourage branch stacking?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: The important thing is that, yes, there has to be a time limit before people can be afforded a vote. The Warringah motion sets out two years, which is a reasonable time period for people to be a member of the party, but…

ELIZABETH JACKSON: What about an activities test? You’re not in favour of that, members having to provide proof that they’ve been involved in the party, that they’ve actually volunteered and been active?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: But that happens already, Liz. Anyone who has gone through pre-selection, and certainly I’ve gone through a number of pre-selections, Liz, so I do speak from experience. The reality is that happens already.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Is this an attempt by Tony Abbott, do you think, to sure up his position in the Parliament? Would his position, for example, be more secure under the Warringah motion?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, this is a New South Wales issue. I mean, let’s not forget that because of the number of seats in New South Wales, it is important that we have good quality candidates being pre-selected in New South Wales.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: But, would Tony Abbott be safer under this motion?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well I… Tony of course, any Lower House member would have all his members available, if they’ve been in the party, according to passage of the Warringah motion, for two years.

ELIZABETH JACKSON:

Is that why he’s a great supporter of it, do you think?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, I would assume that any member would have tilled the soil in his our backyard, if I can put it that way, and I would assume that Tony would have worked hard in his own conference to ensure that in a plebiscite, he would secure his numbers.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Is he worried, do you think, that without this he might be knocked off?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, that’s a matter for Tony. I mean, or a matter for any other Lower House MP, or as I said any Upper House or Lower House MP.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Senator, just finally, you’ve been publicly critical of Mr Abbott’s former minder and media commentator, Peta Credlin. Are you concerned about the way that she and other conservative critics in the media have been conducting what could be considered a form of guerrilla warfare on the Government?   

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, people are entitled to their opinion. I have been very clear and that is that you can’t rewrite history. The public record says and records what the previous Government said and did. Now I respect people who may change their opinion, but you can’t say that black is white now. You’ve said what you’ve said in the past, you argued for those things, you’ve changed your mind, but you can’t rewrite history

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Is Peta Credlin guilty of that?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, I do believe that Peta has certainly made certain comments, but you know, the record is the record.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Is Mr Abbott trying to re-write history?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Well, I’m just saying that you can’t re-write history. As I’ve said before…

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Is that what he’s trying to do?

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I’m saying, Liz, that Prime Ministers, former Prime Ministers, both Tony and other Prime Ministers in the past will be judged on what they said and what they did in Government. They will not be judged on what they say they should’ve done or could’ve done. So therefore, don’t re-write history and don’t say that you didn’t do a particular thing when the public record clearly shows that you did and the public record says why you argued for a particular situation.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, thank you so much.

CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thanks a lot.    

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