All electorates have similar committees but power actually rests with the conference executive, led in this case by Warringah president and former Woolworths boss Roger Corbett.
Mr Corbett said he had no idea if the committee Mr Villatora referred to actually existed. “If it does, it’s not an official committee of the Liberal Party,” he said. Another Warringah source claimed the committee was “completely made-up”.
Mr Villatora, a conservative and a former Abbott ally, has joined forces with several other Liberal figures to spruik the interests of Mr Morrison’s former staffer Sasha Grebe, who now works for lobbyist David Gazard in his firm DPG Advisory. Mr Gazard is often described as Mr Morrison’s best mate and confidant.
Mr Grebe is one of many Liberals eyeing preselection in Warringah, including state MP Natalie Ward, state executive member Alex Dore and Menzies Research Centre manager Tim James.
Last month Mr Villatora hosted an online event with conservative faction senator Jim Molan as keynote speaker. It was co-hosted by state member Natasha Maclaren-Jones, a member of the centre-right faction, and Collaroy Plateau branch president Frits Mare.
The “exclusive” event was organised under the guise of the so-called Northern Forum Speakers Bureau. Invitees were directed to contact Freshwater branch president Sean Burke for details.
Mr Burke runs a news and commentary web site called Politicom, which among other features has published attacks on progressive Liberals. Party officials are investigating Mr Burke over a now-deleted article titled “The conservatives no-one knew were straight”, which reportedly ridiculed Christopher Pyne, Amanda Vanstone and Alexander Downer.
The investigation is not finalised but Mr Burke will likely be disciplined over the matter.
Several Liberal Party sources made clear there would not be a preselection in Warringah this year. “We’re not holding preselections, there’s no appetite for that,” a state executive member said.
One Liberal who is highly involved in Warringah said choosing a candidate as late as possible could be electorally advantageous. Last year the Liberals picked Fiona Martin in the marginal seat of Reid weeks before polling day and she defeated Labor’s Sam Crosby, who had been campaigning for more than a year.
“The view that you need a candidate in the field for 12 months or 18 months has proven to be not right. All you do is give your opponents ammunition,” the source said.
Mr Corbett said the plan was to start the preselection process this year and choose a candidate early next year. Mr Villatora said he could not comment on the matter due to party rules.
Michael Koziol is deputy editor of The Sun-Herald, based in Sydney.