Judge raises concern Christian Democrats stoush could bankrupt the party

Justice Rein of the NSW Supreme Court has tossed his hot potato – the faction-ridden Christian Democratic Party (CDP) court case – into the hands of another judge. His brother judge, Justice Black will take over the matter of Robert Charles Bray v Fred Nile, transferred to his Corporations list for a hearing on Monday.

This case, it seems clear, has tried the patience of Justice Rein.

After several unsuccessful rounds of negotiations, the warring parties have not been able to reach agreement on the number of branches in the party. Justice Rein of the NSW Supreme Court told the parties in a hearing last week that they needed to “enter meaningful negotiations”. Eternity has spoken to leaders of the two key groups and it is clear that several attempts at negotiations went nowhere. Both sides regard the other as intransigent.

Justice Rein has figuratively washed his hands of the CDP. He farewelled the litigants expressing concern that “factionalism is an endemic problem in the association,” and that however this matter is resolved, further disputes could break out.

The party’s receiver says the number might be 93 – there were 93 candidates in the lower house when Fred Nile last got elected. The Fred Nile group says 40 are currently credentialled with others dormant. Intervenor Graeme Collins from a dissident group says it is 15.

The bitterly divided factions cannot agree which party branches are legitimate – which need to be sorted out before a board election can go ahead. Accredited branch delegates elect the board.

Eternity has seen the list of branches, which show the two main factions failing to agree on more than 15 or so possible branches. They are at an impasse, refusing to accept the branches the other side possibly controls.

Depending on how you define it there are three factions: a Fred Nile led group that includes Silvana Nero Nile and State Director Annie Wright; a second group of dissidents including Graeme Collins, who has led the court fight about branches; and sitting on the sidelines, not involved in the court case, Lyle Shelton, who was invited by Fred Nile to be his successor but dumped by him in September*.

There is a fourth group of people who have supported the CDP in past years but have become disengaged. This is possibly the largest group of all.

Justice Rein had a further concern, about whether the party is insolvent. Some of the argument in today’s court hearing was about the question of whether the public funding of the party or the donations can actually be spent on this dispute.

The CDP receiver, the Condon Group, originally engaged with the six-week task of organising an Extraordinary General Meeting for $35,000, now has cost over $100,000. Legal costs could be $250,000. This could lead to another court case.

The CDP is an incorporated association. Eternity detected a degree of relief in Justice Rein’s voice as he pointed out that practice note 4 of the NSW Supreme Court puts matters regarding incorporated associations into another Judge’s list.

Today’s proceedings mean that the CDP battle will continue into 2022.

* An earlier version of this story said “late June.”