8 July 2022

Canberra Liberals at war as petition seeks clean-out of party's management committee

| Ian Bushnell
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Zed Seselja

Toppled senator Zed Seselja. The petition says that party officials need to be held accountable for the election disaster. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Open warfare has broken out in the Canberra Liberals over the Federal election result, with a petition launched calling for the heads of party officials.

The Menzies Group, comprising moderates alarmed at the direction of the party in the ACT, has written to Liberal supporters urging them to back the petition. It calls for a meeting of the Divisional Council to consider a motion demanding the resignation of the five members of the Management Committee elected by the council at the Annual General Meeting on 8 December 2021.

The letter, signed by Cathie Humphries, wife of ousted former senator Gary Humphries, says the election result was the most profound rejection of the Liberal Party in a generation and that the loss of Zed Seselja left the ACT without a Liberal representative in the Parliament for the first time.

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The letter suggests it was a mistake for the party to stick with the staunchly right-wing Seselja, saying his defeat by David Pocock is precisely the result the party was warned of at Senate preselection in November 2020.

It says the result points to deeper problems in the ACT Division.

“The Federal outcome comes on top of an equally shocking result in the 2020 election for the ACT Legislative Assembly. After two decades in opposition, our party went backwards at that election – losing both vote share and seats,” the letter says.

“Enough is enough. We believe that the leadership of our Division, which has overseen these two disasters without taking any responsibility for them, must be held to account.

“As members of this party, we have both the right and the duty to scrutinise the performance of our party leaders, and to take appropriate action if that performance is lacking.

“We believe that only a wholesale cleaning out of the Management Committee will allow for the new direction, which is essential if we are to reverse this spiral into failure.”

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Only voting members of the ACT Division can the sign petition. They must be paid-up ACT members for the last three months and have attended a branch meeting in the last six months.

“The Canberra Liberals are at a crossroad,” the letter says.

“It’s vitally important that the path to reform and renewal is taken, but unless members act, that won’t be the case. Please join us in ensuring the party faces the future.”

The petition accuses party leaders of ignoring the repeated warnings from Division members about the impending failure of the Division’s electorate assumptions and election strategy.

It talks of the grave and unprecedented failure of the Management Committee to fulfil its core duty to ensure the election of a Federal Representative, and that it must be held accountable.

The petition calls for “those bodies which elect members of the Management Committee pursuant to clause 56(1)(i) of the Constitution to consider, in light of this motion, the appropriateness of their representation on Management Committee”.

A meeting of the Menzies Group is expected to be called in coming weeks.

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Canberra Liberal Director Kieran Douglas played down the internal conflict saying all party positions will undergo re-election by the end of the year as per the party’s constitution.

“We don’t comment on internal party matters,” he said.

It is believed a Divisional Council meeting is already planned for August when the motion in the petition could be moved as part of normal party processes.

A review of the federal election result in the ACT is expected to be announced shortly.

The Menzies Group, formed after Mr Seselja rolled then sitting Senator Humphries in a bitter preselection fight in 2013, has been urging reform of the party in the years since.

Mr Seselja has dominated the party branches in recent years, steering it further to the right and alienating moderates.

After the 2020 ACT election loss, moderate Elizabeth Lee took charge of the Assembly team, but the organisational side and branches remain in the hands of the right faction.

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Party President John Cziesla remained unrepentant after the Seselja disaster, blaming the result on a vicious campaign from the left and the media.

Moderates such as the Humphries say the only way Ms Lee can be successful is for the party to reform itself at branch level, welcome back those who have left and move to the centre.

A spokesperson for Ms Lee said she would not comment on internal party matters.

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HiddenDragon7:15 pm 09 Jul 22

The battle between the “Menzies Group” and the incumbents (the “Santamaria & Friends Group”?), and any candidate selection and policy tweaking which comes from that will barely register with the great majority of ACT voters who, by the time of the next ACT election, will be far more focused on the fact that the federal Liberals have (presumably still) Peter Dutton as leader and that another arch-hobgoblin of the right – Donald Trump (or a younger version of him) – may well be heading towards the White House, with much resultant triggering of culture war anxieties, including here in US-obsessed Australia (as we saw with the recent Roe v Wade protests).

Much the same would be the case by the time of the next federal election, with the ACT Liberals suffering greatly from guilt-by-association.

Rather than wasting further time and energy on party turf wars, some of those currently battling each other might want to think seriously about a new party to run candidates in the 2024 ACT election.

There would be much to be said for something that might be called the Ratepayers Party, which would have as its absolute priority efficient and effective service delivery and keeping government spending and taxing as low as reasonably necessary – with dogged pursuit of waste, rorts and mismanagement. Such a party would make few, if any promises requiring new spending and would allow its representatives a free vote on all non-fiscal issues – so there would be room for a range of views except on the need for fiscal prudence, and the usual wedges and red herrings which are revved up by ACT Labor in the lead-up to an ACT election could thus be brushed aside.

Sounds great, a party with no idea what it might do except in the name of efficiency it’s gonna cut!
I think the Libs have already tried those two options. No cigar so far.

The average tiktok voter has no idea who is who and will just roll with the identity politics of whoever not to vote for. As a populous we’re more into personal attack that we are to policies and out track record of delivering those policies.

Labor heavily criticized the rights handling of sports rorts. However openly admitted that ACT minister handing down the budget would put Canberra in a better decision.

Any concept that takes longer than 30 seconds to grasp is a waste of time.
Libs are struggling to understand their voter.
The more we go on, it always seems like mandatory voting is the worst of both worlds.

I demur, gooterz. The rusty voters on each side largely cancel each other out at present. The middle is always in play. Non-compulsory voting tends to increase the weight of the dedicated rust at the expense of the middle because sometimes decisions are difficult (for the rust-free) so some middles abstain where a decision needs to be made.

Once again the media fabricating a ‘rightward shift’ into existence when the Liberals have been steady or shifted leftward on most major policy issues (like climate change, the Abbbott era would never have nominally adopted net zero). They bled about 10% of their vote to Palmer and Hanson.

The success of leftward shifts in the Liberal party can be seen by their annihilations in the last (and probably next) Victorian and WA elections.

Wha they actually need in the ACT and elsewhere is a leader with charisma and determination, compared to the anonymous cyphers you see in Victoria. That said it’s hard when the main newspaper is a cheerleader for the other side.

knight37, is it your proposition that Liberals have not won government here in 20 years because they are too far left?

“a leader with charisma and determination”
Who is your role model there? Julius Caesar? Ghengis Khan? Donald Trump??

What? You reckon the Herald Sun and the West Australian are cheerleaders for labor?

All I can say is wow! One is a Murdoch rag that absolutely hates Labor and the other owned by Kerry Stokes who leans more right than left. The paper actually takes pride in being centre right aligned. Though of course they have supported Labor governments.

And here locally in the ACT the Canberra times is hardly a left leaning paper these days either. Prior to being purchased by Fairfax yes, but under Fairfax and since being sold to ACM it is more neutral and possibly slightly to the right.

Though guess all depends on where one draws the distinction between left and right doesn’t it?

swaggieswaggie6:24 pm 08 Jul 22

It says a lot that the Canberra Liberals own web site still shows Morrrison, Zed and locally G Jones on the “team”. You guys have to lift your game

They certainly do!!!

They’re kidding themselves if they think anything other than moderates will be successful in CANBERRA. He was too far to the right and unelectable for most swinging voters.

C’mon Libs, for goodness sake make yourselves electable so we can get rid of the other bunch of clowns. If even for only 4 years.

‘Other bunch’ of ‘clowns’?Should imagine the LNP are the only clowns in the circus @ present.What a f@#$&d up job they managed to do.

I’ve gained the impression that Canberrans would love to be rid of the Labor / Labor-Greens Alliance governments we’ve had for the past 20 years, but have never felt the alternative was up to the job.

The maxim “oppostions don’t win elections, governments lose them” seems to apply everywhere but ACT, where the alternative government has serially delivered a losing leader.

And it seems until there is a change in the ‘backroom masters of the Liberal’ along with a change of attitude (“Party President John Cziesla remained unrepentant after the Seselja disaster, blaming the result on a vicious campaign from the left and the media”) the electoral losses will continue.

Let’s hope The Menzies Group can prevail and deliver an alternative government that may actually appeal to the predominantly moderate ACT electorate.

Agree JS. Two or three terms and governments tend to become self-absorbed, intellectually lazy, in my view.

The despair for me is that after two or three losses (let alone 5 (6?) and counting) an opposition cannot figure out how to offer a viable alternative. Trenchantly conservative candidates with merely backward-looking policies won’t cut it any time soon in this town. That is not a fault of the electors, Mr Cziesla.

I think Elizabeth Lee is viable as an alternative CM, phydeaux, but she has to be able to rid herself of the “Trenchantly conservative” baggage you mention. She is definitely a step in the right direction, but will she be allowed to continue that direction?

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