The Victorian Liberal wipeout has heightened fears among Canberra Liberals that Zed Seselja may lose his Senate seat in the forthcoming Federal election. Moderates say many in the party are “distraught” at Senator Seselja’s death grip on internal party politics, in a jurisdiction with strong similarities to the prosperous Melbourne seats conceded by the Liberals on the weekend.
Gary Kent is the former president of the ACT Liberal Party and the longest standing office holder. He says that the ACT is, if anything, more progressive than Victoria and that includes many Liberal voters. “Zed Seselja barely held the seat last time. It’s difficult to see how he would increase the vote. He’s done exactly what the Victorian Liberals did by trying to survive on issues that appeal to this non-existent hard-right based.
“Here we have someone who was intimately involved in the coup that overthrew Malcolm Turnbull, apparently more worried about saving Liberal seats somewhere in Queensland when he has run the Liberal Senate vote down in the ACT,” he said. Mr Kent now belongs to the Victorian Liberal division of Higgins having, by his own admission, left before the local branch could move him on.
“The feedback about Zed’s role in the Turnbull affair and his lack of representation on matters of concern to Canberrans is becoming extremely worrying. I include in this issues like same-sex marriage, the right to die legislation, a whole range of areas where Zed doesn’t represent the people who vote for him in any way.”
Longtime ANU political analyst Dr Norman Abjorensen agrees that the poor fit between Senator Seselja’s beliefs and the local Liberal demographic means that many Liberals “vote for Zed while holding their noses,” but he’s less certain this will presage electoral defeat.
“He is a fish out of water in this electorate, but over the years there’s always been more hope than evidence that the Liberals could lose their Senate seat. The reality is that alternative candidates like the Greens are taking votes from Labor, not the Liberals. The only thing that could dislodge Zed would be an insurrection within the party.”
Dr Abjorensen points to the possibility that a high-profile independent candidate could divide the Liberal vote, but says that would require time, money, expertise and a very clear message about the candidature. And, he says, “ruthless tactics” are likely from the Right faction given Senator Seselja’s effectiveness in dispatching the previous incumbent, Garry Humphries.
“The Liberal vote will never fall below the low 30’s and you only need to get 33 per cent or 34 per cent to get a quota. If we had more senators like the states do, voters could choose from a longer list of names and the results might be different. I think the reality is that Zed will probably get re-elected.”
Gary Kent says there’s been no female candidate for the Senate since Margaret Reid’s time. He believes that there are plenty of women in the ACT division who would potentially fit the bill but describes the hard right as “very blokey” and not female-friendly. Beyond that, he’s looking for “someone with a demonstrated commitment to the values of the Canberra community, someone who is able to speak the language of people in the ACT who don’t want a left-wing Labor government or the Greens, but a good old-fashioned Liberal party that represents Liberalism the way it used to be.
“If you translate the people who voted for Menzies to the current ACT Liberal voters, they are focused on issues like climate change and how to give people equality of opportunity. They are generally interested in the welfare of the ordinary person, they believe climate change is real, and they’re not primarily motivated by divisive issues like law and order or immigration.”
Is there a message in the Victorian election results for the ACT Liberals?