After a shock resignation last week and rumours of discontent in their ranks, the Canberra Liberals needed to enter the Legislative Assembly’s first sitting week of the year with a strong showing.
But their ranks were thin due to COVID-19-related quarantines and a conspicuously absent former deputy Giulia Jones.
Just six Liberals were sitting on the Opposition benches in the 25-person strong Legislative Assembly on the first sitting day. Usually, the Opposition is a team of nine.
Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee is in quarantine after testing positive to COVID-19 on Tuesday (8 February). According to a post on her Instagram, she will lie low for a few days, but the work in her office and the Assembly will continue.
Peter Cain missed the first day of sitting after being been identified as a close contact of a COVID-positive person last Tuesday (1 February). According to a post on his Twitter account, he was able to return to the chamber today after spending yesterday (8 February) working from home and following Assembly proceedings online.
Former Deputy-Opposition Leader Giulia Jones has taken leave until April after she made a shock departure from the position last Monday.
Opposition Whip Nicole Lawder moved a leave of absence for Mrs Jones until 1 April in the Legislative Assembly yesterday.
Mrs Jones had cited a need to spend more time with her family amid the ongoing pressures of COVID-19 as the reason behind her resignation.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr immediately claimed there had been a “significant relationship breakdown” between the pair, although he did make those comments before Mrs Jones had officially released the reasons for her resignation from the leadership team.
Ms Lee hit back at what she called “very un-ministerial type comments” from the Chief Minister. She accused him of being out of step and unable to understand the toll the pandemic has had on Canberrans.
Mrs Jones and Ms Lee had formed Australia’s first-ever all-female political party leadership team.
After Mrs Jones’ resignation, former Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson – who held the top job from 2013 to 2016 – was elected unopposed in a party room vote.
Both Mr Hanson and Ms Lee belong to the party’s moderate faction, but neither would comment on whether factional differences had played any role in the change at the top of the party.
He was quick to dismiss questions about whether he’d be likely to make a run for the leadership again, but he didn’t explicitly rule it out, instead saying he was happy to contribute to the party in any role.
Mr Hanson led the party to defeat at the 2016 election and contested the 2020 post-election leadership ballot he lost to Ms Lee.
The Canberra Liberals have since had a role reshuffle, with Leanne Castley taking on the health portfolio. Mr Cain also picked up the role of Shadow Attorney-General from Ms Lee who added Energy and Emissions Reduction to her roles.
The Assembly sits again from Tuesday, 22 March to Thursday, 24 March.