Prominent Liberal insiders have taken a swing at leader Alistair Coe and the party’s conservative wing, saying that the party “ran the campaign that Alistair wanted” and are “blaming everyone but themselves” for the election loss.
Mr Coe fronted the Canberra media this morning (20 October), three days after the election to defend the party’s performance.
“As leader of the Liberals I take full responsibility for the result on Saturday night,” Mr Coe said.
“It is tough. It is very tough. I and many other people in Canberra were devastated by the results.”
Party president John Cziesla wrote to the ACT division this week, citing “vitriol abuse and unionist intimidation” on the campaign trail and describing Mr Coe as the hardest-working leader in the Party’s history.
But several Liberal insiders have told Region Media they suspect candidates were given selective information about polling during the campaign’s last weeks. It’s understood that some frontbenchers were also not shown actual numbers, but were told everything was going well.
One internal poll is believed to have put the Liberal primary vote at 47 per cent in Brindabella. The party is currently sitting on just over 38 per cent in that electorate.
“Mid-way through last week, many in the Party believed they were a shoo-in. You’d have to ask whether candidates were shown accurate polling or whether it was manipulated to make them believe they were winning,” one source said.
“[Josh] Manuatu executed the campaign but it was exactly what Alistair wanted. Alistair has a very high regard for his own campaigning ability.
“They are essentially living in their own world.”
Mr Coe raised more questions than he answered in his first press conference since the party’s sixth straight election loss, refusing to say whether he would step down as leader.
He continuously repeated that “I will do everything I possibly can to support the Liberal Party be in the best possible position over the weeks, months and years ahead”.
He congratulated Josh Manuatu for running “a very professional and slick campaign”.
“By all accounts, it was the best campaign that the Canberra Liberals have ever run. I think it is the benchmark of professionalism. We will, of course, do an analysis of the campaign, of policies, of every aspect.
“After you have lost an election, changes are required. That is very obvious and those changes will happen. We also have to make sure we make the right chances and do not throw the baby out with the bathwater.”
He would not confirm whether he would step aside from the leadership when asked if he should be held to the same standard he put in place when rolling Jeremy Hanson after the 2016 election loss.
“It is clear that with one or two minor parties, we have been disproportionately hit hard. There are still a number of seats in play,” he said.
“Let’s put this into perspective: it is a 3 per cent swing at this stage and I have no doubt that this will narrow considerably in the coming days.”
An internal party email sent to members from President John Cziesla said that “abuse, intimidation from unionists and, sadly … several cases of cars being vandalised” also influenced the result.
“I would also like to thank and acknowledge Alistair for his leadership and hard work over the course of the campaign and the last four years,” the email said.
“I don’t think we have ever had an assembly parliamentary leader who has worked so tirelessly over the course of a campaign, nor one against whom so much vitriol was directed.”
A post-election survey of voters is underway and the party’s management committee is meeting today to finalise the details of an independent review.
Mr Coe rejected criticism from former party leader Gary Humphries that the party was controlled by its conservative faction.
“I am not sure where his expertise on this subject really comes from. He, of course, unfortunately, lost the election in 2001, 41 to 31,” Mr Coe said.
He also rejected allegations that campaign resources had been diverted to conservative candidates like Leanne Castley in Yerrabi in the final weeks to shore up his position as leader.
Depending on final results, the party room is likely to include three moderates (Mark Parton, Elizabeth Lee and Nicole Lawder), three conservatives (Mr Coe, Elizabeth Kikkert and Leanne Castley) and two potentially undecided votes (Giulia Jones and Jeremy Hanson).
Mr Coe ended the press conference when he was asked whether he had plans to challenge ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja for pre-selection ahead of the next federal election.