30 May 2022

Lee must be bold for Canberra Liberals to avoid 2024 humiliation

| Ian Bushnell
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Elizabeth Lee

Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee: a lot is riding on her leadership. Photo: Lottie Twyford.

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.

READ ALSO Canberra Liberals all but accept defeat as insiders suggest party’s future in doubt

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.

READ ALSO Canberra Liberals push to release ACT cabinet documents after a month

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.

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HiddenDragon8:08 pm 30 May 22

The highest primary vote result achieved by the ACT Liberals was 40.5% in 1995, when the Carnell government was elected.

The second highest was 38.9% in 2012, when the Liberals (with the soon-to-be-former Senator Seselja as leader), achieved a swing of 7.3% and the Greens were nearly wiped out. The galvanising issue in that election was Labor’s plan to phase out stamp duty on property sales and increase annual rates and land tax to pay for it.

Looking at those results, a fair conclusion may be that Canberrans will vote on “hip pocket” issues, but the majority will not put those issues ahead of strongly held social values. The ACT Liberals should reflect on that and give Canberrans the clearest possible choice on cost of living issues, and minimal diference on social issues, in 2024.

Canberra is turning into a city for just the young and able-bodied. In addition to the below comments, the transport system with the tram has only made it more difficult for the non-able-bodied. Parking is disappearing for tram tracks. It is clear the needs of the people are ignored.

The ACT desperately needs either a strong opposition or enough independents to ensure that government is for the people and not developer driven. A tough issue to resolve is how to free the ACT from dependence on land development for its finances.

She’s got no chance. Canberra has voted straight labor for over twenty years now. No matter what labor does there guaranteed in Canberra

Capital Retro6:15 pm 30 May 22

Correct. The Liberals should not contest any seats from now on. Let the Greens and Labor have the place.

It might be a good chance for the Liberals to take a break, reconnecting with the community, getting in touch with the real important social issues….

Sounds like a good idea. I mean, they’ve only been in opposition for 21 years so let’s give them a break. What about Hawaii?

That picture says it all. Canberra Liberal members and particularly Liberal women are stewing at the party’s lack of direction, its leadership and conservatism. Those hoping to see a bit of clout and strong leadership within the Canberra Liberals won’t get it from Elizabeth Lee and her militant and recycled deputy Jeremy Hanson. Despite the party being taken over comprehensively by the conservatives, she is still sprouting the same lazy, tired and opaque mantra espoused by previous leader and Zed disciple Alistair Coe that the party is a “broad church”. Look at the current Canberra Liberal line-up. All ultra-conservatives pulling the leadership strings. The local party has always shamelessly supported Zed particularly throughout this election campaign. This is despite Zed using his powerful position in the Senate to thumb his nose at Canberrans, denying us equality and territory rights. Despite Elizabeth Lee’s new-found epiphany with climate change, who can forget her and her colleagues attending a Liberal party event last year and gleefully and arrogantly participating in an auction for a lump of coal. Watching Zed moping around at the Liberal event at the Hotel Realm on election night was really too much, while his Young Liberal toadies did his bidding and removed the media from the event. Zed’s speech on the night was all about Zed and those nasty lefty opponents using donations and spending money on their campaigns. This is a senator who uses last minute bribes to induce voters and gladly accepts donations from mining companies, big tobacco, junk food and property developers. On a brighter note though Zed’s out and David’s in. I believe in miracles. How good are Canberrans!

Well said!

All sensible rational thinking people are leaving Canberra. Canberra has turned into a horrible greens dystopia. Highest rates and land tax in the country, highest electricity bills in Australia, worst health system, longest hospital waiting times, terrible education system, awful transport options. Anyone who thinks Canberra has become a better place under the ALP/greens has rocks in their head. You get what you voted for Canberra. Yuck.

A liberal leader with the views of Labor and the Greens, offering no difference in policy. That revolving door is slowly moving around. Next!

As I was reading the comments, I was drawing the same conclusion; that many people think that a Liberal Leader needs to be a clone of the ALP/Greens Leadership.

You don’t get change unless you offer an alternative.

There are plenty of major issues within Canberra, health, transport, rates, land tax, rents etc come to mind and while people complain they are not prepared to vote against the people who caused those problems.

I am not convinced that Ms Lee can lead the Libs out of the wilderness, but sadly, for the sake of our democracy, I don’t see a lot of alternate Leaders with the Canberra Liberals.

Oppositions don’t win government. Governments lose it, but only providing there is a credible alternative.

All the antagonists of this ridiculous and childish culture war need to go. If they truly believe in the Liberal Values they claim to represent, namely accountability and taking self-responsibility, then they will all step down, and resign from the party.

Anything less proves than any claimed commitment to Liberal values was merely a convenient act.

Zed being punted is an advantage to the local Libs. He is a turn off to most swinging voters and without any comments from him over the next few years will help Lee set the agenda, hopefully from the centre.

Still plenty of dead wood in the Libs that it wouldn’t hurt to get rid of. Good to see Guila go, now if only a few others would join her.

Regardless of what you vote, an ineffective opposition and a Government that gets returned by providing mediocrity in power is not a good democracy.

Just like it was time for Labor to get into power federally after 10 years of opposition, it is time for the Libs to have a go locally surely after too long of stale Greens/Labor.

Elizabeth Lee offers only weak platitudes and insipid statements. A good opposition leader needs passion, anger and indignation. Democracy and good governance requires an effective opposition, not a party hiding in the shadows and unsure what it stands for.

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