PETER REITH has disputed Tony Abbott's assertion that the NSW Liberal Party should take the flak for the Coalition's narrow loss at last year's federal election, saying other states must also take the blame.
Briefing the Liberal Party federal executive yesterday on his post-election review, Mr Reith said Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia must also accept responsibility. There were swings away from the Coalition in all three states and a combined net loss of two seats.
''Looking back, it wasn't just NSW's fault,'' a source quoted him as saying yesterday.
After the election, a frustrated Mr Abbott lamented the Coalition making a net gain of just one seat in NSW. He said the party would have won at least three more and he would be prime minister had NSW preselected candidates earlier.
Mr Reith acknowledged the shortcomings in NSW in his report. ''Factionalism has weakened the branches and membership throughout NSW and weakened our campaigning capability,'' he said. ''We certainly can win more seats in NSW at the next election.''
He lists Robertson, which had been held by Belinda Neal, as one of those seats which should have been won last year.
The seat was won by Labor's Deborah O'Neill. Mr Reith said the party should have run the former minister, Jim Lloyd, who lost to Ms Neal in 2007.
Mr Abbott had also criticised strategy in Banks and Lindsay but Mr Reith said the reasons the Opposition Leader gave were not so clear cut.
Mr Reith recommended the state and federal divisions collaborate on preselections but, as a last resort, the federal executive should be given powers to override the state division and finalise a federal preselection.
The Reith review contains 34 recommendations, which the executive referred yesterday to an implementation committee.
Sources said about two-thirds were likely to be adopted without controversy. These included giving higher priority to policy development by reinvigorating the Advisory Committee on Federal Policy and by increasing transparency in the areas of fund-raising and the party's finances.
Mr Reith also proposed measures to enhance the democracy of the party such as allowing for a directly elected president, introducing plebiscites for preselections in those states which do not have them, such as NSW, and introducing a trial system of primary elections for preselections, as NSW Labor is doing.
It is understood that these recommendations were less effusively embraced yesterday and, a source said, would most likely be left to wither before a committee.
''Most state divisions are happy with the way they do their preselections,'' the source said.