Commentators’ tips that ACT Liberal Senator Zed Seselja would score a junior ministry in progressive Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s post-election reshuffle – apparently to appease angry conservative elements in the Federal Coalition – have proven correct.
The prime minister this afternoon promoted Senator Seselja to his front bench, appointing him assistant minister for social services and multicultural affairs.
Senator Seselja’s successor as ACT Opposition Leader, Jeremy Hanson, was quick to congratulate his former boss this afternoon.
“Zed’s appointment means for the first time the Canberra Liberals will be represented in the Federal Ministry. It’s great news for Canberrans and I look forward to working with Zed, as I have over many years, in delivering for Canberra,” Mr Hanson said.
“Having been leader of the Canberra Liberals for two local elections before entering the Senate, Zed is well acquainted with Canberra’s needs and he’ll be well placed to lobby for the ACT as part of the Federal Ministry.”
But when RiotACT asked ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr earlier this month what he thought of the news that Senator Seselja was tipped for promotion he was vehement in his response.
“Amongst the hard right conservative element of the Liberal Party, he would be one of the more coherent people for that philosophy,” Mr Barr said.
“I fundamentally disagree with that philosophy and the fact that that part of the Liberal Party has such a vice-like grip over Malcolm Turnbull, and certainly over the Canberra Liberals themselves.”
Labor has reacted swiftly to Senator Seselja’s appointment at a Federal level, with Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multiculturalism Michelle Rowland issuing a statement tonight expressing concern that the Prime Minister would appoint an “anti-18C campaigner” to the Assistant Multicultural Affairs portfolio.
“Senator Seselja’s views on the Racial Discrimination Act are out of step with community views,” she said.
“Section 18C of the Act has served the nation well for 20 years and should not be changed.
“It is extremely alarming that one of the few people who wants to water down these protections against racist hate speech has been appointed to this portfolio.”
Senator Seselja was widely tipped to land an assistant ministry, with commentators and colleagues describing him as a rising star and indicating that the conservatives in Federal Coalition had been pushing for his promotion since the election.
The ACT Senator openly supported former prime minister Tony Abbott on the way into and out of the Liberal leadership ballot last September, and his promotion is expected to appease supporters of Mr Abbott.
The former ACT Opposition Leader left that role and his Legislative Assembly seat of Brindabella after the last ACT election to controversially oust then Senator Gary Humphries as the Liberals’ number one Senate candidate.
While it is true that Senator Seselja is the first Federal Liberal representative for the ACT to sit on the front bench on the Government side of the chamber, he has a way to go to match the success of former ACT Labor representatives Ros Kelly and Bob McMullan, who each served as cabinet rather than junior ministers under two prime ministers (Hawke and Keating and Keating and Rudd respectively).
All three of Senator Seselja’s current fellow ACT representatives, Labor Senator Katy Gallagher, and MPs Gai Brodtmann and Andrew Leigh, currently serve on the Opposition front bench.
It’s been a big day for conservative reshuffles in Canberra, with next generation representatives also landing promotions in the ACT Legislative Assembly earlier in the day.