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Western Australia: factional fighting intensifies in the Liberal Party as voting begins for a new party president

TONY EASTLEY: Well, it's winter in Perth and today the city is expecting a mild 18 degrees, but the political climate is red hot, and into the furnace today goes Federal Opposition Leader John Howard, guest of honour at the WA Liberal Party annual conference. And it's expected to be quite an affair, the tension increased by some extraordinary developments over night. Federal Liberal backbencher, Eoin Cameron, says yesterday's Federal Police raid on his Perth electoral office was the result of a complaint lodged by fellow Liberal, Senator Noel Crichton-Browne. It is hardly a welcome mat for John Howard who remembers his last ill-fated trip to the Wild West. Ross Solley has more.

ROSS SOLLEY: It's crunch time for the West Australian Liberal Party. After months of internal squabbling which has cost at least two people their careers, the party will meet this weekend for the last time before the next Federal election. While most of the conference will be taken up with the usual motions from the various branches, behind the scenes a lot of effort will be going towards smoothing troubled waters. The issue likely to bring to the surface the tensions within the party will be the vote for party president. David Honey is seeking re-election. His opponents claim he's a puppet of the powerful Crichton-Browne faction. He's being opposed by former Fraser Government Minister, Reg Withers. He's been portraying himself as a man without faction, a trouble shooter.

John Howard knows how important Western Australia is to his re-election chances. Four of the State's 14 seats are extremely marginal and two of those are held by Liberals. A fifth seat, Moore, can now also be called marginal following the decision of sitting member, Paul Filing, to contest the next election as an Independent. Mr Filing is a victim of the factional warfare within the Liberal Party. The party dumped him earlier this year.

Yesterday's Federal Police raid on the office of Liberal backbencher Eoin Cameron means, once again, Mr Howard is flying in to Western Australia to deal with a party at war with itself, a fact Eoin Cameron conceded to ABC radio's Peter Kennedy, last night.

EOIN CAMERON: I had thought that the internal civil war, as some have described it, in the Liberal Party in Western Australia was over. In fact, there were signs that it was over, we were getting back on an even keel. All I care about is getting John Howard in as the Prime Minister at the next election, and the real enemy is the Labor Party and Paul Keating. We don't need this kind of crap.

PETER KENNEDY: And yet John Howard arrives tomorrow and the newspapers, the media, the television and radio are going to be full of this matter, today.

EOIN CAMERON: Well, John is enormously popular, as you know in Western Australia, but he must wonder to himself, you know, what on earth has he done to deserve this because it seems each time he comes across here we are brawling amongst ourselves. And it's something I can do without.

PETER KENNEDY: When can peace be restored in the party and how can it be restored?

EOIN CAMERON: I thought it was restored with the Senator announcing that he was going, but he's clear .. it's obviously clear that he's going to take no prisoners and he's going to leave a charred trail behind him on his way out.

ROSS SOLLEY: Paul Filing's no longer a member of the Liberal Party and denies it's in his best interest to fuel the flames. He has enough friends within the party to know what's going on. Those friends are telling him the events of yesterday places even greater importance on the need to get rid of David Honey as president this weekend.

PAUL FILING: Well, I think David Honey, as I've said before, is one of the most divisive and disastrous presidents that the Liberal Party's had in Western Australia and I would have thought that it's completely within the Liberal Party's interests to make sure that he is not returned on Sunday.

UNIDENTIFIED:If he is returned, do you think there will be ongoing problems within the Party?

PAUL FILING: Yes, I do, yes. If you see a return of David Honey as the Liberal Party State President then, clearly, that'll be a message that nothing's changed, business as usual. And that means, effectively that the Crichton-Browne faction will have complete control of the Liberal Party.

TONY EASTLEY:Formal Liberal and now Independent Member for Moore, Paul Filing.