A couple of party moderates are lining up for the Liberals’ preselection contest on 22 November, but sitting Senator Zed Seselja is not likely to be troubled, especially with the Right dominating the dwindling number of members eligible to vote.
Former naval officer and current Department of Defence employee Sam Fairall-Lee will nominate for the No 1 position, taking on Senator Seselja, and recent Gininnderra candidate Kacey Lam will pursue the No 2 position on the Senate ballot paper.
Senator Seselja’s right-wing followers have dominated the party since he ousted moderate Gary Humphries in a bitter preselection battle in 2013, and some see this as a rushed contest so the Senator can secure his position before any serious challenge can be organised.
It is believed Mr Fairall-Lee has the backing of Mr Humphries, who has been outspoken about the election loss, while Ms Lam is a strong supporter of new ACT leader Elizabeth Lee.
A combination of COVID-19 and falling membership means that there are few people actually qualified to vote in the preselection.
Under Liberal preselection rules, a ‘Voting Member’ must be a financial member of the Party, have been a member for at least three months prior to Thursday, 12 November when nominations close, and must have attended a branch meeting between 2 February and 12 November, and signed an attendance sheet.
The last chance to qualify will be the Kurrajong branch, with the rolls closing on Friday when nominations close.
The number of party members has been falling steadily over the years. In 2002, about 750 members voted in Mr Humphries’ preselection, and by the time Senator Seselja launched his controversial bid to replace him, the number of qualified preselectors was just 198 in the first vote and 306 in the re-run.
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The coming vote is still expected to involve fewer than that, although Mr Fairall-Lee’s candidacy is expected to attract more members than would have previously bothered.
It is believed many party members have since drifted away, part of a malaise that has contributed to the Liberals’ recent poor showing in local outings.
The party’s AGM will immediately follow the preselection contest on Sunday and offers a chance to change office bearers.
It is believed that James Daniels, who ran in Brindabella, will challenge current division president John Cziesla, and it will be a test of whether there is any appetite for change in the party after the disastrous election defeat.
There is party anger directed at campaign architect Josh Manuatu, whose efforts have been defended by former leader Alistair Coe, but the Right controls the numbers.
There are also reports that a devastated Mr Coe, who was once touted as coveting senator Seselja’s Senate spot, may leave politics in the next 12 months.
There is no word on when the review into the ACT election performance will be handed down, with some saying it may not be until the New Year.
There are questions around whether it will get to the bottom of the loss, with suggestions that it will pursue a narrow path without apportioning blame, except to argue the pandemic made it difficult to challenge Labor’s incumbency.
Some do not believe that former John Howard adviser Grahame Morris and retired MLA Vicki Dunne are the right people to sit in judgment on the party’s performance.