It will be interesting to observe Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee in the Legislative Assembly this week as the local party tries to digest the election wipeout that even managed to oust Zed Seselja from the Senate.
The result, particularly David Pocock’s all but confirmed victory, is obviously sticking in the craw of some Liberals who can’t or won’t admit that the party has lost its way in Canberra.
His feat should not be underestimated and points to deep trouble for the Canberra Liberals come 2024, if they can’t get their house in order.
In October, the ACT will hit the halfway point in the electoral cycle. By that time the Canberra Liberals under Ms Lee’s moderate leadership should have consolidated its repositioning to the centre which her ascension was supposed to achieve, and given voters some policy to chew on and a sense that they could give Labor and the Greens a run for their money.
Unfortunately, her team’s lacklustre performance this year and reports of infighting, not necessarily factional, should have Liberal supporters worried.
The Senate debacle has only highlighted the inertia in the party due to the grip Senator Seselja maintains on the branches at the expense of new talent and the return of former members alienated by a brand of social conservatism out of touch with mainstream Canberra, and a toxic culture.
Party President John Cziesla’s email to members blaming the Senate loss on a vicious, long-term $12 million campaign, the media and an electorate that no longer shares the core values of the Liberal Party did not help.
Basically, it’s not us, it’s them. And harking back to the 50s only reinforced the view that those in charge of the Canberra Liberals really are out of step with decades of social progress.
Ms Lee refuses to be drawn on the party’s obvious issues, and continues to talk in vague terms about a ‘broad church’, but the point is it isn’t.
The dead hand of Zed Seselja means the Canberra Liberals are withering, and the Senate result is a challenge to him to be pragmatic and put the party ahead of his own interests.
While his passing from the Senate should be the message the party needs to reform itself, without a stronger intent from its leader that the community is being heard, as well as the organisational wing opening itself up to revitalise the branches, the 2024 election could be an even worse disaster than 2020.
Community independent Fiona Carrick managed to Garner about 10 per cent of the vote in Murrumbidgee last time around.
If she and/or other strong community based independents decide to emulate David Pocock or the so-called Teals, the Liberals could be reduced to just a few MLAs.
In fact, some of the poorer-performing Labor MLAs could also be under threat. But the Greens could even improve their position.
This week the Liberals need to show they are a united team behind Ms Lee, willing and able to hold the government to account.
Ms Lee, as the face of the modern Canberra Liberals, should also be at the forefront of a membership drive to recover the party’s natural constituency and fortunes, in concert with moderate party figures such as Gary Humphries and Kate Carnell who have been open about the need for change.
She cannot continue to avoid the elephant in the room and expect that come October 2024, voters will turn to or even stick with the Liberals.