The state executive of the NSW Liberal Party has started suspension proceedings against a local branch following this week’s cafe brawl at Arncliffe.
Officials have also engaged a private investigator to probe the incident.
Fairfax Media said the state executive voted unanimously on Wednesday to start suspension proceedings against the Bayside Local Government Conference.
The state executive includes Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s representative Paul Fletcher and Premier Gladys Berejiklian’s proxy, minister Matt Kean.
“It will almost certainly be suspended,” a state executive member told Fairfax Media. “There’s not a lot of love to run Liberals in that part of the world if they’re going to act like that.”
Suspension would mean the branch would not be able to run Liberals for election to Bayside Council, hold meetings or raise funds.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian has been called on to “name and shame” those responsible for a brawl that broke out at a Liberal Party branch meeting in an Arncliffe cafe.
The call by Deputy State Opposition Leader Michael Daley came as disturbing vision of the violence emerged.
Arncliffe: The violence that broke out during @LiberalNSW sub-branch meeting has been condemned by the Party. Video obtained by 7 News shows the tensions erupt. Men fighting as women scream, all blamed on a hostile takeover of the branch. #nswpol#7Newspic.twitter.com/obCympIlUq— 7 News Sydney (@7NewsSydney) June 19, 2018
Witnesses said what started as pushing and shoving ended with a brawl in which children and woman were caught up and tables and chairs were used as weapons.
One witness said he thought a man who was bashed “was going to die”.
“They were using tables and chairs to bash him,” he said.
Mr Daley said the meeting did not take place in the sort of venue that might be expected for a political meeting, such as a community or church hall.
Rather, it was held in “a small chicken shop that I am told you can’t swing a cat in.”
Mr Daley said he understood the brawl involved distinct religious groups vying for control of Bayside Council.
Ms Berejiklian was questioned about the brawl by Rockdale MP Steve Kamper in Parliament.
Mr Kamper asked: “Given violent street clashes between Liberal Party factions, will the Premier use the State's anti-consorting laws to crack down on the gangs of thugs who are terrifying law-abiding citizens on the streets of my electorate?”
Ms Berejiklian said she would have thought Mr Kamper would have asked a question about budget funding for his electorate
Mr Kamper took a point of order, saying, “The question was about violence on the streets”.
After speaking further about the budget, Ms Berejiklian said, “The issues he raised are for the party organisation and not for this chamber”.
“Of course, anyone who has broken the law will be dealt with accordingly.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “The Liberal Party strongly condemns the type of behaviour that is alleged to have occurred”.
President of the NSW Liberal Party Philip Ruddock said, “Events of this sort are totally unacceptable”.
“We are a party that draws people with strong views, who want to be engaged in public life and want to discuss and talk about issues,” he said.
“We want to see that occur in a civilised way, respecting that people come with different views and different perspectives.”.
The state branch of the Liberal Party is conducting an investigation as are St George police.
A caller to radio 2GB radio claimed the brawl erupted over branch stacking and “it was a religious war between Christians and Muslims”.
Cafe owner Michael Nagi, a Liberal councillor on Bayside Council," denied the claim.
"This has nothing to do with religion or race," he said.
Fairfax Media’s Jacob Saulwick reported there were at least two conflicting accounts of what happened before and during the brawl, which occurred outside Naji’s chicken and kebabs cafe on Firth Street at about 6.35pm on Monday.
One version was that members not associated with Cr Nagi’s faction attempted to join the meeting, were denied access, and were accosted during a subsequent argument.
The second version of events blamed disgruntled members who arrived with an agenda to disrupt the meeting.
“They were saying call the meeting off,” said one source, a member of the party’s Brighton branch.
This second version of events placed blame for the confrontation on forces aligned with Bayside councillor Paul Sedrak, who arrived at the café just after 6.30pm.
A woman from Cr Sedrak's group loudly confronted a group of men aligned with Cr Nagi, sources told Fairfax Media.
“These guys were not little blokes,” said one person who was at the meeting. “They were like Sherman Tanks.”
When another man – subsequently taken to St George Hospital – attempted to intervene in favour of the woman, “then they defended themselves and it got a bit, shall we say, all in brawl,” he said.
"Everyone was defending each other, shall we say."
The meeting was of the Liberal Party’s Bayside Local Government Committee.
The purpose of the meeting was to vote on the admission of another branch into that committee – the Earlwood-Kingsgrove Young Liberals.
Admission of the Young Liberal branch is said to help the dominant grouping in the area.
This grouping is represented by Cr Nagi, as well as Peter Poulos, a staffer with moderate factional leader Matt Kean.
But the admission of the Young Liberals is opposed by others in the area, including Cr Sedrak, and another Bayside councillor, plastic surgeon Ron Bezic.
The brawl failed to stop the meeting go ahead. The Young Liberals were admitted when the meeting began just after 7pm.
The injured man was taken to St George Hospital with heavy facial bruising.
Crs Sedrak, Bezic and Nagi - who were all present on Monday night - were also scheduled to attend the Local Government Association conference in Canberra this week.
Cr Nagi travelled back from Canberra for the meeting.
A spokesman for Bayside Council said Cr Bezic cancelled his plans to attend the conference 10 days beforehand. Cr Sedrak had agreed to repay council expenses for the trip.
Earlier, the council spokesman said both councillors had agreed to repay council expenses for the trip.