23 November 2023

Can the Liberals stay united behind Lee to challenge Labor and the Greens?

| Ian Bushnell
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Elizabeth Lee MLA.

Canberra Liberals Leader Elizabeth Lee is on a roll after this week’s party AGM. She has to translate that into votes. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

“It was a shitshow,” was the colourful description of the Canberra Liberals AGM showdown that may give Leader Elizabeth Lee the full organisational support she needs to mount a viable challenge to what will soon be 23 years of Labor rule in Canberra.

No air conditioning in the room only exacerbated the situation as tempers frayed and exchanges grew heated, particularly as the old guard that had presided over five election defeats and the disastrous loss of a Senate position realised the game was up.

The party now has a new management committee, although the key position of president still needs to be decided after the meeting preferred an empty chair to incumbent John Cziesla after Nick Tyrell had to withdraw on the night due to a family emergency.

But those who forced the changes remain optimistic that although it was a close vote, given the mood of the meeting, the party will have a new president when a new vote is held.

That is no guarantee, and while the AGM signals a shift to the “sensible centre” from an unelectable hard right position, the Empire could easily strike back.

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There are mixed views on whether this means a new beginning for the party.

Some believe that the power of the so-called Seselja forces is waning and that they no longer have the numbers, given it was a coalition of moderate, centre right and right members who could no longer accept political oblivion and the way the party was being run.

They see a much more inclusive, representative party that can regain mainstream support, particularly from the business sector, which in recent years has abandoned the Liberals.

With Ms Lee at the helm and now a party machine in tandem, the united Liberals can present a viable alternative to the Labor-Greens government.

Yet, there are those on the right who may see this as a battle for the soul of the party, that certain values are non-negotiable.

That grouping has been well-organised, disciplined and willing to do what it takes to defend those values and to hang on to control of the organisation.

Giving up that power will not come easily, and there must be questions about whether that new coalition will hold together when the blowtorch is applied.

There has even been talk, incredibly, of a spill against Ms Lee. But that’s all it could be as her deputy and former leader Jeremy Hanson simply doesn’t have the numbers in the small party room.

Any such move would be political suicide for the party.

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Even with the leadership and organisation working together, it will be the calibre of the candidates the Liberals offer to voters that will be the real test.

February’s preselection contests will be crucial. Apparently, there are lots of people willing to put their hands up but it won’t be until the votes are in that the public will know if the Liberals have a potentially winning team.

Unfortunately for the Liberals, the lost years have seen the electorate move to the left and the sheer mathematics of the Labor/Green vote could be insurmountable, at least in 2024.

But there are opportunities if a number of independents, benefiting from discontent with all parties but particularly the governing ones, find themselves as kingmakers in a fractured Assembly.

It is not inconceivable that they would give the reformed Liberals, particularly if they are refreshed with new MLAs, an opportunity to govern.

This is the sort of scenario that Ms Lee and her advisers might be contemplating, despite her assertion that if you are upset with the government, the only real alternative is to vote Liberal.

But before her is building on the party’s internal revolt and continuing to fashion a recognisable Liberal identity that will also appeal to the socially progressive values of Canberra voters.

That shouldn’t include courting animal liberationists with an obviously opportunistic policy to pause kangaroo culls and review the current management scheme, especially when there already is one.

No doubt real policies will come closer to the election, but in a week that has seen a big win for Ms Lee, she should be sending the message that the Liberals will be ready to govern from that sensible centre.

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GrumpyGrandpa8:56 pm 24 Nov 23

Too many Jacks. I’m getting confused. 🤣.

Hi D. Jack and Jack. D

0n this one, I’m firmly supporting the 1st Jack.

I’ve met Taimus Werner-Gibbings when he was door knocking and I was impressed by him. He ranked 3rd ranked for the ALP in the 2020 election. Why would the ALP deselect a candidate like him? He’s a known candidate.

With one of the existing ALP Brindabella members retiring, it sounds pretty stupid to me, to deselect a candidate with a strong profile, if the reason was about gender balancing.

Does gender balancing improve the talent in the Assembly? We could do with some talent!

If Mr Gentleman retires, does that then make then Taimus Werner-Gibbings eligible again?

I’m sorry, 2nd Jack. Talent trumps gender balancing.

I am as disappointed as you are at Taimus not getting up. He is popular and a quality candidate. Quotas were introduced for a reason to overcome Labor’s male dominated and chauvinistic preselection processes. Labor wouldn’t be where it is today without the talented women that have been elected and are in leadership roles without the change.
The women preselected in Brindabella are just as talented and successful within the party as Taimus. If elected let’s see where they are in a few years time!

Capital Retro10:58 am 26 Nov 23

I Taimus was to give Labor the flick and stand as an independent I am sure he would romp home. I would even support him.

Sounds like a good idea! Democracy in action!

The real question is, can Labor and the Greens stay united? The relationship between the two parties is at breaking point.

While Labor appears to be capitulating internally by de-selecting Taimus Werner-Gibbings as a candidate due to gender quotas and union favouritism, while the CPSU may disaffiliate from Labor all together if Members United replace Katy Gallagher’s mates who have sold out public servants time and time again.

I am not sure what you are getting at with this rather cryptic and long-winded comment D. Jack! Labor and the Greens have a governing agreement freely available on the ACT government website. I think both parties will continue to work quite effectively together as they have always done.

What is your problem with gender quotas in the Labor party? Labor is proud of and leads the way in striving for equality and representation of women in parliament. The ALP introduced quotas at its 1994 National conference and this historic event is coming up to its 30th anniversary in 2024. This decision has established many of the reforms and initiatives that continue to drive gender equality to this day and has given us our current outstanding representatives Katy Gallagher and Alicia Payne who sit in the parliament today.

The Liberal party would do well to take note. Women inside the Liberal party continue to be subjected to mockery and ridicule for raising gender equality concerns. Just witness the latest Canberra Liberal AGM when the party’s women, silenced for too long, were shouted down for having the temerity to raise the issue. Not to mention the sexual assault, harrassment and bullying claims made during the term of the last LNP government.

The latest federal election saw the Liberal party record its lowest female representation in parliament since 1993. A record number of women were elected to the House of Representatives but in the Liberal party women have just 9 of its 42 seats. Shameful!!

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