NSW upper house MP Lou Amato, whose home was the venue for the meeting. Photo: Simon Bennett Accused of branch stacking: Young Liberal Penny Fischer. Photo: Jeff de Pasquale
It was meant to be a routine meeting of an obscure Young Liberals branch held in November at the Sydney home of NSW upper house MP Lou Amato.
But its shockwaves are still being felt in the party amid claims Penny Fischer – Camden councillor and daughter of cabinet minister Pru Goward – is behind a plot to unseat the state MP for Camden, Chris Patterson.
Supporters of Mr Patterson – a member of the left faction – accuse Ms Fischer, a member of the powerful state executive aligned with the centre right, of branch stacking to secure the Camden mayoralty in 2017 and the state seat in 2019.
In an echo of ongoing tensions over federal Liberal preselections, there are claims Ms Fischer is also trying to protect her factional ally, Hume MP Angus Taylor, from an attack by local powerbroker Jai Rowell.
Mr Rowell has denied he is behind a push to install left wing Macarthur MP Russell Matheson in the seat after a change in electorate boundaries.
According to party sources, the membership of the Camden Young Liberals branch was “in single figures” mid last year, but has swollen to 54.
Curiously, 42 of the members are not from within the Camden area, with addresses as far afield as Potts Point.
Under the party rules, a Young Liberal branch can sign up members who are enrolled to vote in the local or neighbouring federal electorate.
The branch’s November 30 annual general meeting at Mr Amato’s home was designed to dissolve the branch.
Mr Rowell – who is also the state member for Wollondilly – and Mr Patterson planned to claim it had too few members with voting rights.
A source said the meeting was held at Mr Amato’s home near the southern highlands village of Balmoral to deter attendance by Ms Fischer’s supporters and he had joked he wouldn’t feed his dogs for a week to ensure her backers stayed away.
Mr Amato denies this. Either way, supporters of Ms Fischer turned up in droves.
Ms Fischer is understood to have made the 40-minute trip from her Camden home with one of her young daughters and at least one Young Liberal in tow.
Mr Rowell duly chaired the meeting, declared a lack of a quorum due to what he said were too few voting members.
But Ms Fischer challenged this by telephoning Liberal party head office to receive a different ruling via speaker phone after which Mr Rowell and Mr Patterson left in disgust.
Ms Fischer then presided over the election of branch officials.
Sources say that control of the inflated Young Liberals branch means Ms Fischer now has the numbers to unseat Mr Patterson, who is also the NSW government whip.
Supporters of Ms Fischer deny this is the case, and said she was not seeking to challenge Mr Patterson.
Mr Patterson, who declined to comment, is said to be “furious” at the turn of events and intends to appeal the head office ruling.
Ms Fischer and Mr Rowell also declined to comment.
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