The Right has maintained its grip on the Canberra Liberals organisation, brushing off challenges to key positions from reformed-minded candidates at last night’s (26 October) Annual General Meeting.
Eligible party members returned President John Czielsa convincingly, with challenger Michael Keating losing by about 100 votes.
Mr Cziesla is aligned with the Hard Right or Zed Seselja faction, and has been party president since 2017, overseeing the 2020 ACT and 2022 federal losses.
The reformist Menzies Group-backed candidates for Treasurer and Policy Committee Chair also fell short.
James Daniels came within about 15 votes of ousting longstanding Treasurer Jimmy Kiploks, while Sam Fairall-Lee lost to Liam Develin.
Menzies Group candidates and Mr Keating had been given little hope of defeating their Right opponents, many of whom go back to the Seselja coup against then-senator Gary Humphries in 2013.
Earlier in the year, the Humphries-back Menzies Group launched a petition calling for a clean-out of the positions to put the party back on an electable path after May’s disastrous federal election result in which sitting senator Zed Seselja fell to Independent David Pocock.
The petition attracted sufficient numbers but the group appeared to soften its position in an attempt to negotiate some change with the so-called Pragmatic Right led by Gerry Wheeler, which had fallen out with the Seselja faction.
The Menzies Group supported the Pragmatic Right’s Candice Burch when she defeated the Seselja-backed Arthur Potter by a single vote for the Vice President’s casual vacancy at a branch meeting last month.
At the time, this was interpreted as a turning point for the party towards a more moderate and electable future.
The hope was that the Pragmatic Right would support Menzies Group candidates at the AGM, where Ms Burch stood unopposed as Vice-President.
But it seems Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee will head towards the 2024 Legislative Assembly elections with much the same organisational team that has presided over successive campaign losses and this year’s federal poll, which left the ACT without any Liberal representation in the Federal Parliament.
Ms Lee, a moderate, does not comment on internal party matters, but it is believed she wanted the party united with an election now just two years away.
She has denied saying she would quit if the infighting did not stop.
A review into the federal campaign, led by former leader of the Liberal Party of Western Australia Dr Mike Nahan and former Victorian Liberal Senator Helen Kroger, is due to be released soon.
Mr Cziesla appeared unapologetic about the federal result in a leaked party email to members last May, blaming an uncritical media and a targeted, vicious and heavily funded campaign for the ousting of Mr Seselja.
It remains to be seen whether the party can put aside its differences and get fully behind Ms Lee and her Assembly team to prevent a seventh straight Labor victory in 2024.
By then, Labor will have been in power for 23 years.