In his first interview since being ousted by independent Senator David Pocock, former ACT senator Zed Seselja has revealed he felt a “deep sense of dread” in the lead-up to the Federal Election.
Mr Seselja’s primary vote in the May election plummeted to less than 25 per cent, well below what he needed to push back against Mr Pocock’s vote and the preferences flowing to him from other progressive minor parties and independents.
That loss ended an 18-year run in both federal and local politics for the former Minister for International Development and the Pacific.
Mr Seselja entered federal politics in 2013 after serving as the Leader of the Opposition in the Territory’s Legislative Assembly.
The loss of the seat marked the first time the ACT has had no Liberal Party representation at a federal level.
He told Sky News that voters had largely formed their view of the Coalition government before the election and that he had been hurt by the election loss and felt a “level of rejection”.
“I certainly had a deep sense of dread going in,” he said.
Mr Seselja conceded this feeling may have been shared by other members of his party.
He said one of the contributing factors to the negative perception of the Morrison government was a belief the vaccine roll-out – or stroll-out as the Opposition labelled it – had been too slow.
“There was a feeling, and certainly a narrative that took hold, that we weren’t getting it done quickly enough,” he said.
Mr Seselja went on to question if it had been a good idea for the government to have listened to its medical advisory body when it limited AstraZeneca to older age groups due to the risk of rare but deadly blood clots.
“I think that really set things back considerably at the time. I think there’s a question mark over whether we should have accepted that advice because I think AstraZeneca is a safe vaccine. I think it’s proven to be a very effective vaccine, but you’re in a difficult spot,” he said.
He defended National Cabinet but said it became a burden for the government at the time.
“The national cabinet was a correct and heroic response at the time for the country. I think it then became a bit of an albatross,” Mr Seselja said.
“There was a feeling perhaps among some of our people that we didn’t stand up to the premiers.”
Mr Seselja also agreed that an “impression was created” that then-Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not listen to women and their concerns.
“The issues that emerged in [Parliament House] were very distressing, very concerning and of public interest,” he said.
The former Senator said replacing the Prime Minister had not been contemplated in the lead-up to the election.
Since the election loss, infighting has broken out in the ranks of the Canberra Liberals.
The moderate Menzies Group has urged a clean-out of the party’s powerful Management Committee, while other insiders have suggested to Region that the party must steer itself to the centre if it is to have any future success in the electorate.
But many have warned the conservative shadows of Mr Seselja and his allies loom large within the Liberals, despite the election of moderate Elizabeth Lee to the leadership role.
The last Liberal Chief Minister of the ACT, Gary Humphries, told Region in May that Ms Lee had done well to publicly portray the party as more moderate since her appointment to the leadership in 2020, but he said she must now win support within the organisational wing of the party or she risked being undercut.