11 March 2023

Climate change and women cost Zed's seat but disunity also hurt, Liberal review finds

| Ian Bushnell
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David Pocock and Zed Seselja

David Pocock and Zed Seselja at the Senate candidate debate. Senator Pocock benefited from the Teal movement, the review found. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Former Liberal Senator Zed Seselja and the ACT Division of the Liberal Party have largely been absolved for the disastrous 2022 federal election campaign, with a review of the result attributing the loss to a confused position on climate change and the party being a turn-off for women voters.

The internal review conducted by Helen Kroger and Dr Mike Nahan found that while long-simmering internal divisions played a role, they were not pivotal and that a combination of federal issues including the leadership of former prime minister Scott Morrison meant the campaign was doomed from the start.

But the local party does not get off scot-free, with the review critical of its lack of unity and members prosecuting their differences in the media.

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While the review said the Liberal Party should not abandon its core values to pursue votes in the ACT at the expense of votes elsewhere, it noted several times in the report the need for the Canberra Liberals to engage the community on a more diverse and broad-based level.

It noted submissions praising Mr Seselja for his work ethic and fundraising and organisational record but acknowledged that his stances on issues such as Voluntary Assisted Dying and Territory rights allowed him to be portrayed as not sticking up for the ACT.

“It also led to public disagreement between Liberals in the ACT Legislature and Minister Seselja in the months prior to the election,” the report said.

For the reviewers, this boiled down to a communication issue: “… it is worth considering in the context of the decline in the strong Liberal Party base, the degree of engagement and inclusion that was undertaken locally to explain the decisions made and the necessity for greater effort to proactively engage a broader and more diverse demographic to offset negative responses.”

The review said he was the victim of a trend away from the major parties that manifested itself in the Teal movement, which now-Senator David Pocock benefited from, particularly the ability to harvest references and attract women voters.

It also noted that Mr Seselja endured vicious personal attacks.

The internal divisions meant a loss of campaign manpower and fundraising and, in at least one instance, spilled over into the public arena.

The decision to focus on saving the Senate seat, while correct, also led to disquiet from other candidates.

The review said this disunity was something for the local party to manage if it was to again be successful but also stressed this was a two-way street, calling on members not to ventilate internal issues in public.

“For unity to prevail there must be willingness on the part of all members to move on from the past and to engage with other party members and office bearers in a constructive and positive manner,” the review said.

“There must also be a willingness to accept internal democratic outcomes, move on from disappointments, to fully support all endorsed Liberal candidates regardless of whether their views exactly align with individual philosophical views and to totally reject the use of the media to prosecute internal party matters.”

The review highlighted the difficulty the Liberal Party faced in a left-wing stronghold like the ACT where both public servants and much of the private sector are supportive of larger government.

It also argued that the pandemic spending took the edge off the Liberals’ economic credentials and lessened the role of economic policy in the 2022 campaign, especially with Labor minimising policy differences.

As a result, the Liberals ran on their record and failed to have a clear policy response on crucial issues including climate change, which was the top policy concern among ACT voters and which ranked highly among Liberal voters.

The Morrison Government’s support of a net zero target by 2050 was confusing and divided the party, the review said.

“This is a policy issue that needs to be addressed and settled so that it does not become a policy distraction at the next election,” it said.

The review found that the other big vote shifter was the perception of the Liberal Party as anti-woman, which found particular resonance in the ACT, which has the highest proportion of women – particularly young, professional women – with university education in the country.

The revelations about workplace practices and sexual harassment at Parliament House fed this perception, which was particularly damaging in the ACT.

While the Canberra Liberals could not be accused of a lack of female representation in the Legislative Assembly, the review slammed the low number of female candidates the Liberal Party fielded generally.

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The review said the issue of women and their participation in conservative politics must be addressed head-on.

“It is no accident that whilst our female representation is low, the female vote is low, a fact used against us with the Teal movement supporting female candidates, many who came (or claimed to come) from notionally Liberal backgrounds,” it said.

“The Teal movement, in supporting David Pocock, capitalised upon this narrative.

“This narrative remains a fundamental challenge not only to the Liberal Party but also to the Canberra Liberals and must be addressed head-on.

“It is critical that any incumbent candidate in the ACT reflects the population and engages the electorate in a meaningful way.”

The review recommended that the party identify potential women who would be interested in becoming involved in the party, with a view to becoming a candidate.

It also recommended a tighter and more centralised and disciplined approach to the next campaign, with a recognisable chain of command.

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Sounds like a solid review, if they have no interest in winning the seat back any time soon.

Also, in this context, what does ‘harvest references’ even mean?

wodenresident6:30 am 15 Mar 23

I dont feel Zed represented the conservative base in Canberra, who I think are more moderate and practical than he ever was.

Zed Seselja, his sycophants and the party’s far right leadership hold sole responsibility for the loss of the Canberra Liberals’ only senate seat. These misfits have maintained a grip on the ACT branch of the party for over 20 years. The Canberra Liberals are the most conservative branch of the party in the country. The party is unelectable. A lack of talent and expertise from its local elected representatives as well as laziness will ensure that Canberra voters remain the big losers!

Another review into a devastating Liberal Party loss. The headline says it all! “Climate change and women cost Zed his job”. Yep it’s us girls again! Not to mention those nasty lefties!! The report was prepared by party conservative insiders Helen Kruger and Dr Mike “Ned Flanders” Nahan. The party just doesn’t get it! The report provides an insight into the party’s myopia and absolves Zed of any wrongdoing.
The party lost its only senate seat because Zed refused to stick up for Canberrans. Zed supported the very worst of the LNP’s right wing and ultra-conservative policies. The party was a cesspit of scandal and sleaze. Before becoming senator, Zed spent many years trying to become ACT Chief Minister. But he did not believe in Territory rights! As senator, Zed used his religious and bigoted beliefs as an excuse to interfere and undermine the Territory’s democratic processes. These included same sex marriage, end-of-life decisions and drug law reforms. He supported the government’s politicising of the public service, Robodebt and the cruel and inhumane policies towards asylum seekers.
Zed and his sycophants have destroyed the party. Party members despair and wonder whether the party can ever come back. The party’s far right leadership guarantees it remains in opposition for years, or forever.
There is deep sadness and resentment.
You don’t see what you’re seeing until you see it but when you do see it, it lets you see many other things. (William Thurston).

The 2020 loss was everybody’s fault except poor, innocent, aways doing his very best for all Canberrans, Zed. Just keep telling your selves that. I’m sure voter’s will come back to the Libs and even win the next ACT election if Zed stays around.

“… his (Seselja’s) stances on issues such as Voluntary Assisted Dying and Territory rights allowed him to be portrayed as not sticking up for the ACT.”
Allowed him to be portrayed? As dsact says below – the report is a blue wash.
His stance, on these and other issues like Same Sex Marriage, showed he did not represent the majority of ACT citizens and that’s why Seselja was not able to command a majority, even with preferences, at the ballot box on election day.

Absolutely spot on !

Bob the impala9:43 pm 11 Mar 23

“attributing the loss to a confused position on climate change”
Whoever wrote that is still confused. Their problem was that their position was all too clear.

HiddenDragon7:20 pm 11 Mar 23

“The review highlighted the difficulty the Liberal Party faced in a left-wing stronghold like the ACT where both public servants and much of the private sector are supportive of larger government.”

The ACT Liberals have been very clumsy and timind in their handling of this issue.

It is one thing for a federal Liberal representative (when they have one) or candidates from the ACT to argue our case for federal funding in its various forms and guises, and not just in relation to public sector job numbers.

It is quite another thing for ACT Liberals to assume, or at least pretend to assume, that ACT government spending is sacrosanct and that the only question is making better use of the available number of dollars – rather than constraining or (horror of horrors) reducing the level of spending.

People (and others close to them) who derive their income from the ACT government as employees or contractors etc. will only want to see ACT government spending go in one direction – that is a given, and it’s probably fairly safe to assume that not too many of their votes are swayable.

Similarly, local businesses which have no direct commercial relationship with the ACT government, but which benefit from having more potential customers with more dollars in their pockets, will favour a big-spending ACT government. Regardless of what they may say in polite company, the truth is that this group don’t want to (and some can barely afford to) pay the level of rates and taxes necessary to fund that big spending. If they are given no real choice, and allowed to believe that the money to keep the ACT government spending machine rolling along will magically appear from thin air, why would they vote Liberal?

The other large voting group being overlooked by the ACT Liberals in this regard is those who derive their incomes from the federal government. The fact that they are on the public payroll, and will generally be in favour of a good level of public services, does not mean that they benevolently and unquestioningly support the spending trajectory and priorities of the ACT government. Again, a real, reasoned choice could be appealing to many in this group.

This report is a blue wash. Zed was a key to the defeat. He holds repellent social views, and he is also a hard right Catholic whose time has been and gone. Until the Liberal party genuinely embraces the centre and sheds its hard right scales it will never hold government in the ACT and is unlikely to regain a Senate seat any time soon.

Absolutely too true! Zed lost his seat through arrogant disregard for the electorate he should be representing.

It’s interesting that the report in the Canberra Times does talk about the review making a reference to Zed’s ultra conservative views being out of step with the electorate. I wonder why Bushnell has skimmed over that.

Bushnell’s article is about the report on the Liberal party’s internal review of its “disastrous 2022 federal election campaign”, and Zed’s ultra conservative views were glossed over in the report.

Capital Retro8:19 am 13 Mar 23

“a hard right Catholic”

Is that worse than being a “white supremist”?

You people should embrace some of the Catholic’s key values beginning with loving, not hating.

Capital Retro, how does those Catholic church’s “loving” values fit with their policy of brain washing children from a very early age to believe that if they don’t toe the Catholic line, they face an eternity of damnation?

I agree Capital Retro, the world needs people to show a little more love and respect!
Zed Seselja, during his parliamentary career, liked to pontificate his Christian values. Many of his actions were anything but Christian. Zed supported the very worst in human nature. He has strong links to the far right Advance Australia fringe group. As senator and minister in the LNP government, he supported the inhumane and cruel policies of his party. He backed his government’s politicisation of the public service.
As Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs Zed assisted the minister in the implementation of the illegal Robodebt scheme. He also supported the government’s inhumane asylum seeker policies. He used his influence and his staff to stack, bully and intimidate candidates in local Liberal branch and university campus elections. He interfered and undermined the Territory’s democratic processes.
The damage caused to Liberal party corflutes in the lead up to the last local election was traced back to his office. Zed’s latent abilities are renowned! Any sculduggery within the party you could be sure that Zed was there, but not there!

Capital Retro2:16 pm 13 Mar 23

That sounds a lot like current early age teachings on climate change which is no doubt OK with you?

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