Rank and file ACT Liberal Party members are growing incredibly frustrated at an internal investigation into ACT Young Liberal president Ben Dennehy who allegedly slashed the corflutes of Canberra Liberals candidate Candice Burch during last year’s ACT election.
An investigation into the vandalism of Ms Burch’s campaign material was launched in November last year following the ACT election in which Ms Burch lost her Kurrajong seat.
A video allegedly shows Mr Dennehy getting out of his car and slashing Ms Burch’s corflutes. Other Liberal party campaign material in the vicinity – only metres away in some instances – was not tampered with, Region Media was told.
Director of the Canberra Liberals Josh Manuatu said the investigation was still ongoing, but sources inside the party have told Region Media that the management committee chose to preliminarily suspend Mr Dennehy from the party last week for six months.
Mr Dennehy has 21 days to respond to the finding.
The investigation into the incident was helmed by Canberra Liberals vice president and 2019 campaign manager Arthur Potter, and the report was handed to the party’s management committee, which includes ACT Senator Zed Seselja, ACT opposition leader Elizabeth Lee and her deputy Giulia Jones.
Mr Dennehy worked for ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja at the time.
When asked if Mr Seselja excused himself from the investigation into one of his staff members due to a conflict of interest, his office referred the matter to the party.
Mr Seselja’s office also refused to confirm whether Mr Dennehy was still employed or had been stood down during the investigation, with a spokesperson saying that it would not be appropriate to comment on staffing matters.
While the decision has not been officially disclosed to Liberal Party branches in the ACT, members of the Kurrajong branch are calling for Mr Dennehy’s expulsion from the party if the verdict is upheld.
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One member said party members needed to be held accountable for their actions.
“These blokes are not high and mighty and if they try this sort of sh-t people are going to call it out,” they said.
ACT President John Cziesla was heavily criticised at a fiery Kurrajong branch meeting in early February by both moderate and conservative members of the party for playing down the investigation and not answering questions clearly.
The amount of time the investigation has taken was also criticised by some party members.
While the destruction of opposition corflutes and campaign material is commonplace in politics and elections, it is rare for a member to target their own party’s material.
The saga has further exposed rifts and factional infighting within the ACT branch of the Liberal Party, with one member calling the branch “a sorry state of affairs”.
It also highlights internal ructions that affected the Liberals’ 2020 election campaign. There were reports that funds were re-allocated to more conservative candidates in the final days of the ACT election campaign, senior sources told Region Media in October.
Region Media understands the Mr Seselja and Ms Burch’s relationship became icy in the lead up to the ACT election.
Both hail from the party’s conservative faction, but Mr Seselja’s views are generally seen as being further to the right by party members.
There is no suggestion that Mr Seselja instructed anyone to destroy or tamper with Canberra Liberals’ campaign material.
According to the Constitution of the Liberal Party of Australia, ACT Division, a member can be expelled from the Canberra Liberals if they have been disruptive to a Liberal Party election campaign, brought the Liberal Party into disrepute or acted in a manner disloyal to the Liberal Party.
Mr Dennnehy did not respond to requests for comments from Region Media.