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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.