A little-reported civil war, like a small war in Africa, continues to rage in the thin ranks of the ACT Liberals, with a branch meeting last night ending up in a melee with the attendance records being torn up.

In the latest episode in a protracted struggle between the parliamentary leadership and the administrative wing, a concerted effort was made at the AGM of the Northern Electorate Branch to wrest control of the branch from forces loyal to the administrative wing and division president Gary Kent.

Lobbying was intense, with parliamentary leader Bill Stefaniak hitting the phones and visiting members personally to urge a vote for challenger Don Graham, but all to no avail as he lost to Kent supporter Alastair Coe 38-25.

Before the vote, however, a visiting member from another branch, who had no speaking or voting rights under party rules, insisted on asking questions of candidates, but was stopped by the chair.

On the declaration of the vote, she demanded to see the signed attendance sheets, claiming there were more votes than attendees. As people from both sides sought to seize the sheets they were torn to pieces, effectively leaving no record of who was entitled to vote.

One long-time ACT Liberal member at the meeting said this morning it was hard to imagine the Labor Party at its worst behaving in such a fashion, and such scenes were likely to see an exodus of members — which just might suit one of the contending factions. Another said the meeting had created a public spectacle, as it was held in a licensed club and was observed by curious spectators.

Similar disruptions, though not so dramatic, have been reported from recent AGMs of the ACT Young Liberals and the Central Electoral Branch.

“There’s a fine line between lobbying and intimidation, and we are seeing the same people at meeting after meeting doing these things. It’s not pretty,” said one party member.

The last has not been heard from last night’s fireworks. One woman claimed she suffered a cut finger in the melee and was reporting the incident to police while others said the party’s management committee would be asked to investigate the disturbance.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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