The Canberra Liberals are still feeling the fallout from the 2020 Candice Burch corflutes affair, with a call in the party’s Annual Report for the ACT Division to apologise to the former Kurrajoing MLA for the way the party treated her.
The corflutes affair left a stain on the Liberals’ 2020 election campaign, during which Ms Burch’s posters were destroyed, with one attack captured on video, as part of what appeared to be an internal party dispute.
Last March, two members of the Young Liberals quit the party over the matter, including President Ben Dennehy, who worked for right-wing powerbroker Senator Zed Seselja at the time.
After the election, the Liberals launched an investigation led by vice-president and 2019 campaign manager Arthur Potter, which resulted in the two Young Liberals being suspended for six months and the report handed to the party’s management committee – Senator Seselja, Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee and her deputy Giulia Jones.
But there was still a bad feeling in the Liberals about the affair, including how the investigation was conducted and what some considered to be the inadequate penalty. The pair subsequently left the party.
Now, unusually, Kurrajong Branch chair Gerry Wheeler has resurrected the issue in his branch report in the party’s Annual Report tabled at the Annual General Meeting, indicating that the wound has still not healed.
“This report would be woefully incomplete if it did not mention the review into the treatment of our former Kurrajong MLA Candice Burch during the last election,” Mr Wheeler said.
“To this day there would be party members who would be unaware of the cruel campaign of intimidation that was waged against Candice by two of our own.”
Mr Wheeler said hundreds of Candice Burch campaign corflutes were systematically destroyed under cover of darkness over a period of weeks during the campaign.
He said the party’s investigation into the matter was deeply flawed.
“It was not held at arm’s length, did not properly interview Candice, had little regard to the severe impact on her mental health and proved utterly inadequate in suitably punishing the perpetrators,” he said.
“I implore the Division to apologise to Candice for failing to meet its duty of care to her as a Liberal MLA and for its failed investigation which only served to exacerbate the damaging impact on her.”
In March, Canberra Liberals President John Cziesla confirmed in a party message that two members had resigned after the Management Committee had made a preliminary finding against one of them.
“Given the resignations, the complaints process set out in the Constitution is now concluded,” Mr Cziesla said.
But he also flagged a possible review into the party’s complaints process in the face of concerns about the handling of the matter.
Canberra Liberals Director at the time, Josh Manuatu, insisted the party had taken the matter seriously.
“There is no place and no tolerance for behaviour that undermines our election efforts, or fails to show proper respect for fellow members of the party,” he said in March.
The raising of the Burch affair comes at the end of a year in which new leader Elizabeth Lee has repositioned the party towards the centre and presented a united front, but the issue exposes the rifts that remain.
Mr Wheeler is a former adviser to former prime minister John Howard and was elected to chair the Kurrajong Branch of the Canberra Liberals in July.
He challenged and defeated Senator Seselja’s candidate Brian Weston, a former Deputy Chief of Air Force.
Ms Burch lost her seat in the Assembly to the Greens’ Rebecca Vassarotti. She is now Public Affairs and Communications Manager for the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.