internal strife worsens inside liberal party

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    ABC Online...
    Former Liberal minister Peter Reith has hit out at Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for urging him to run for the Liberal Party presidency, then voting against him.

    Mr Reith is furious that he was asked to run for the presidency by Mr Abbott, who then publicly showed his ballot paper to Mr Reith's opponent, the incumbent Alan Stockdale, indicating that Mr Stockdale had secured his vote.

    And in revenge he has vowed to push for industrial relations reform, against the wishes of Mr Abbott, who has sought to avoid debate on the issue to avoid a Labor campaign on the divisive Workchoices policy.

    Mr Reith said he had "suspended his interest" in commenting about industrial relations policy since February because of a promise to Tony Abbott.

    "The suspension, by his own hand, is lifted," Mr Reith told ABC radio this morning.

    But Mr Reith denied he was bitter about Mr Abbott's about face.

    "Tony and I have always got on very well, and so it's certainly not personal."

    He said he promised Mr Abbott he would avoid talking publicly about policy to avoid a difficult industrial relations debate if he was elected to the presidency.

    "He did ask me to run for the top job and we had quite a chat about it and I said 'Tony, you know my views on workplace relations'," Mr Reith said.

    "I said 'look, I'll give up talking about policy because the job of a federal president is to talk on behalf of the organisation'. So that was the deal. So obviously I was disappointed with what happened."

    He said he had rung Mr Abbott a couple of times and still had no explanation about why he changed his mind.

    "Beats me Fran. I honestly don't know. I really don't. But he certainly asked me and he didn't only ask me, he asked people around him to join in my campaign," he told Fran Kelly on Radio National.

    "I honestly can't tell you what happened, I just don't understand it."

    And asked if Mr Abbott had "set him up to fail", Mr Reith said: "Well, you never know about politics".

    "There's so many bits and pieces running around, it's all very complex. The good news is we're ahead in the polls, this is just a bit of a bubble for a couple of days."

    Mr Reith was also angered that a report he had been asked to write on the administration of the Liberal Party had been "buried".

    "First of all he [Mr Abbott] asked me to do the report on the Liberal Party and he actually said to me, 'Peter it would be great mate if you could do this because I just want someone to tell it as it is and we all know you're the sort of guy who speaks his mind'.

    "I didn't realise then there would be some people wanting to bury the report, which I don't agree with."

    True to his word, Mr Reith has begun his campaign for workplace relations reform, saying Workchoices was not necessarily the reason for the election loss in 2007.

    "The Workchoices thing has been made - even by our own side - into this sort of huge bogie man. You know, 'we lost the election because of Workchoices'," he said.

    "Even if they got back to the legislation we had in '96 which worked really well, which the Democrats all went along with at the time, Australia would be a lot better instead of going backwards which is where we've gone under Julia Gillard."

    Mr Abbott has refused to answer questions about his promise to Mr Reith, why he changed his mind, or why he showed Mr Stockdale his vote.

    "I'm not going to get into whom said what to whom and when they said it. I'm just not going to get into the ins and outs and the rights and wrongs of it all," he told commercial radio in Perth.

    "I just think what we had at the meeting was two terrific people both running for the presidency. Unfortunately only one of them could win."

    Neither would he reply to the suggestion he was "running scared" of a debate on workplace relations.

    But he distanced himself from Workchoices, saying the policy he takes to the election won't be "ideological".

    "In good time before the next election we'll have a strong and effective workplace relations policy, but it will be a problem-solving policy, it won't be an ideological policy."

    Dave R.
 
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