23 January 2021

Alistair Coe says it's time to go: former leader will quit Assembly in March

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Alistair Coe

Alistair Coe votes with his family in 2020. Photo: Facebook.

Former leader Alistair Coe has announced that he will quit the Legislative Assembly, just months after a sixth consecutive electoral defeat for the Canberra Liberals. He led the Liberals from 2016 to 2020.

“I will be resigning from the Legislative Assembly in March,” Mr Coe said in a statement released early this morning (23 January).

“It has been an honour to represent Ginninderra and Yerrabi since 2008.

“In the weeks since the 2020 election, I’ve had the opportunity to contemplate my future. I am proud of what I have achieved and my commitment to the ACT over the past 12 years. Whilst I am not sure what the future has in store for me, my passion for Canberra and the Liberals remains strong.”

Mr Coe expressed his gratitude to his family and for the sacrifices they made to support him on his political journey. He says he is optimistic about the Liberals’ future under Elizabeth Lee’s leadership.

He also thanked the Canberra Liberals leadership, including president John Cziesla, and director Josh Manuatu, who helmed the Liberals’ controversial election campaign.

Mr Coe will leave the Assembly following estimates hearings, enabling the casual vacancy to be filled on countback before the next sitting in March. It looks likely on numbers from last year’s poll that former Yerrabi MLA James Milligan will return to the Opposition benches.

It’s believed that the former Liberal leader, who spent 12 years in local politics, was devastated by the Liberals’ 2020 loss. In recent years the party has been dogged by internal division and criticism from former local branch members that its elected members were not representative of mainstream Canberra Liberal voters.

READ ALSO Stunts and slogans: Coe’s campaign was just a house of corflutes

Mr Coe’s conservative values were, initially at least, closely aligned to those of former Liberal leader and now Senator Zed Seselja, who deposed moderate Garry Humphries in a 2013 coup. In recent years the Liberals have been accused of being more focussed on party room numbers battles than winning government.

Under Mr Maunatu’s direction in 2020, the Liberals focussed on a big picture campaign that was heavy on media opportunities but light on detail about how they would fund their election promises while cutting rates and charges. Estimates put the cost of election promises at $1.1 billion.

In the event, Labour easily retained government for a third decade, in coalition with the resurgent Greens. After the election, Mr Coe resigned the leadership, declaring his intention to spend the next four years in the Assembly and work with new leader Elizabeth Lee.

Sources inside the party said that Mr Coe had been gracious and genuine in responding to the change.

However, just three months into Ms Lee’s term, Mr Coe said it’s time for a change for the Party and himself.

READ ALSO How the party room battle defeated Liberals’ chances of winning an “it’s time” election

While never a skilled media campaigner, Mr Coe was assertive in the chamber and had a strong base in Yerrabi where he was well regarded for his engagement with the community and personal warmth. He thanked voters for choosing him as their local member, and his departure will be a blow for the Liberals’ growing Gungahlin voter base.

It’s understood that he does not intend to stand for election again, at least at this time, but will remain an active member of the Canberra Liberals. Mr Coe and his wife Yasmin are parents to Angus, 6, and Annabel, 4.

Mr Coe has spoken in the past about the toll exacted on family life by a career in politics.

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Alistair desperately needs a real job outside the political bubble. The sad thing is that he has left the Canberra Liberals as a smoking ruin. Poor quality MLAs, a factional party executive which badly mismanaged the election campaign and a declining membership. Coe must share much of the blame for losing the unlosable election. Who is left that is worth voting for?

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