High Court rejects PM’s attempt to resolve Liberal preselection feud

The High Court has rejected an attempt by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to seek its urgent intervention to resolve a factional feud engulfing the federal Liberal Party, sending the case back to the NSW Court of Appeal.

Counsel for the Prime Minister and Solicitor-General Stephen Donaghue QC on Thursday sought approval for the High Court to urgently hear an appeal to the federal Liberal party’s intervention into NSW branch preselection process. They argued there was a constitutional question to be resolved over whether courts had the jurisdictional power to determine internal party disputes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

The challenge, which is scheduled to be heard in the NSW Court of Appeal on Friday, has been lodged by NSW Liberal Party state executive member Matthew Camenzuli after federal intervention put a stop to plebiscites in a number of seats in favour of installing candidates.

Barrister Scott Robertson, counsel for Mr Camenzuli, argued the matter should proceed as planned in the NSW Court of Appeal due to the “extraordinary circumstances” of the imminent calling of the federal election, which is widely expected to happen within days. He said if there was a constitutional point, “it was a very weak one” and said parties were ready to argue the case in the lower court.

Guy Reynolds SC, representing the Prime Minister, argued there was a “need for finality” that the Court of Appeal could not deliver, saying it was “extremely likely” the loser would ultimately seek special leave to appeal the matter in the High Court anyway.

“Urgency points to the matter remaining here,” Mr Reynolds said.

Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said the case raised a “very tenuous constitutional question” and the effect of removing the matter from the Court of Appeal directly to the High Court would further delay the issue, noting the NSW court was “prepared to hear the matter tomorrow”.

In simultaneous orders, she ruled that the matter be removed from the Court of Appeal to the High Court, but remitted it back to the lower court for reasons of “urgency, efficiency and utility”.

Labor has raised issue with the involvement of the Solicitor-General in a Liberal Party High Court case, asking three times in Parliament question time about the involvement of the public servant in an internal party dispute.

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