20 July 2022

Review into Canberra Liberals election defeat to tackle independents 'challenge'

| Lottie Twyford
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Zed Seselja

Losing Zed Seselja’s Senate seat meant the Canberra Liberals lost all federal representation for the first time. Photo: File.

A review into the Canberra Liberals’ defeat at the recent federal election will look into the challenge posed by independents and minor parties running in the Territory.

It follows a historic defeat at the May election where the party lost all of its federal representation for the first time and a Senate seat it had held since 1975 to progressive independent Senator David Pocock.

The review will be headed by former leader of the Liberal Party of Western Australia Dr Mike Nahan and former Victorian Liberal Senator Helen Kroger.

According to an email sent to party members and seen by Region, the review will include an examination of the performance of – and lessons for – the parliamentary team and candidates, Coalition Campaign Headquarters, and the ACT Division.

The review will also examine the party’s electoral performance among different voter segments and propose strategies it could use to regain federal representation.

In a joint statement, Dr Nahan and Mrs Kroger said the review would consult widely to examine all aspects of the election campaign.

“As we carry out this important process, we welcome input from all party members and those involved in the campaign.”

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The American-born Dr Nahan was widely criticised throughout his tenure as Liberal Opposition Leader in Western Australia.

He had been state treasurer between 2014 and 2017, but despite clamping down on public sector growth, his tenure was ultimately marred by multi-billion-dollar deficits and downgrades to the state’s credit rating.

Dr Nahan took over as Opposition Leader after the WA Liberals suffered the worst defeat of a sitting government in the state’s history.

He later came under fire for revealing in a press conference in 2018 that he was still a US citizen because of an unresolved tax dispute over a sum of money understood to be thousands of dollars.

Dr Nahan was also embroiled in issues relating to a proposed gold royalty hike and created problems in the Liberal-Nationals relationship by proposing to slash regional spending programs.

He resigned from the party leadership in 2019 and from his seat in 2021 but remains a prominent behind-the-scenes figure in the state party.

Mrs Kroger, ex-wife of former State party president Michael Kroger, became the state party president in 2003. She was later elected to the Senate for Victoria in 2007 before becoming Chief Opposition Whip in the Senate in 2011 and Government Chief Whip in 2013.

She was unsuccessful at the 2013 and 2016 federal elections but remains active in the party as the chair of the women’s council. She’s used her position to push for gender quotas in the party.

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Previously, Canberra Liberals’ president John Cziesla blamed a well-funded ‘vicious’ campaign from the left for the Zed Seselja upset loss and accused the media of supporting it.

“Over the last decade, we have faced an unprecedented campaign in relation to its longevity, scale, funding, and viciousness to unseat a single parliamentary seat. By our preliminary estimates, the left has spent in excess of $12 million over the last decade in their efforts to unseat the ACT Liberal Senator,” Mr Cziesla wrote in an email which was then leaked.

“In this, they have been supported by a media that has never really bothered itself with undertaking any meaningful scrutiny of our opponents, their policies, let alone any of their tactics.”

Mr Seselja received more primary votes at the last election than Mr Pocock but failed to garner enough preferences from the likes of the United Australia Party to get across the line. He repeatedly warned voters against the risks of “extreme” candidates like Mr Pocock.

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Following the election loss, moderates within the party have attempted to wrest control from party power broker Mr Seselja who has steered the party to the right in recent years.

Mr Seselja ousted then-senator Gary Humphries in a bitter coup in 2013 and has since alienated moderates.

A group of moderates known as the Menzies Group, alarmed at the direction of the party in the ACT, recently wrote to Liberal Party supporters to call for a motion demanding the resignation of the entire management committee.

After the 2020 ACT election loss, moderate Elizabeth Lee took control of the Liberals’ Assembly team, but the organisational side and branches remain controlled by the right faction.

Mr Humphries is among other Liberals who believe Ms Lee must now win support within the organisational wing of the party.

“If she cannot back up her moderate position with policy, then she will be undercut,” he told Region earlier this year.

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Like the majority of Canberrans, I am happy for the Senator for the Right Wing of the Federal Liberals to have been replaced by a Senator for the ACT.

HiddenDragon7:12 pm 21 Jul 22

Rather than running a review which focuses overly on the turf wars and machinations within the ACT Liberals, it would be better to look at the loss of the ACT Senate seat in the context of all the other seats lost by the Liberals in May – including, as we are reminded today, with news of the former Treasurer’s new gig, that erstwhile Liberal Holy of Holies – Kooyong.

Unless and until the Liberals dream up plausible policies and strategies for winning back seats like Kooyong, Wentworth, North Sydney and Curtin (to name but four) they will be wasting their time with the second Canberra Senate seat.

Even assuming that the comments around the media are correct, I think the Libs need to realise why that might be so. The ACT broadly leans centre-left, but a moderate Liberal Party that can hold such governments to account and offer better solutions will definitely be considered by most Canberrans who understand the need for the democratic pendulum to swing.

If voters are less inclined to listen to you, you need to ask what they want and talk to it. It will take time, effort and consistency, but will improve your standing.
Sulking that nobody wants what you are selling is a great way to go extinct, regardless of your candidate/s.

I agree with most people who posted here – Mr Seselja did a pretty awful job of representing the interest of the people who elected him. But last time it took several days ( I think it may have been weeks ?) for the electoral commission to confirm that he got the quota of votes required to get a seat in the Senate. So his support was never high to begin with.

I still think that the way that he entered the Senate has a lot to do with his low initial popularity: He quit as a Canberra MLA only months after he was elected to basically displace a highly respected, well liked Liberal Senator who had demonstrably done a wonderful job to represent Canberra in the Senate for many years.

How quickly we forget. Mr Seselja only scraped in last time as well… It took several days ( I think it may have been weeks ?) for the electoral commission to confirm that he got the quota of votes required. So his support was never high to begin with. I still think that the way that he entered the Senate has a lot to do with his low popularity: He quit as a Canberra MLA only months after he was elected to basically displace a highly respected, well liked Liberal Senator who had demonstrably done a wonderful job to represent Canberra in the Senate for many years.

Cause of the loss … ? Zed

Yep. Two irrelavent former ‘somethings’ are to investigate and report on why they are irrelavent. I bet they will report that the public got it wrong….

When you have a hard right religious zealot candidate against a former rugby star with an environmental message the loss is not surprising. The hard right will be the death of the Liberal party. It must regain the centre to ensure we have a valid democracy otherwise the ALP (currently performing very well) will have a free hand and inevitably suffer from hubris.

I agree with bladeau and bj. Never look in the mirror and never commission a report you cannot get the answer you want from.

So, they’re getting someone from WA Libs, who experienced the most monumental defeat in Australian history (only two members of WA parliament, which made them the Junior party in their LNP coalition) to work out what went “wrong” for them here. I would say this would definitely qualify as a case of, “The blind leading the blind”.

Why bother doing a review when Zed and the young liberals have already done a detailed self-review and determined “it’s not us, it’s you the voter and you the media”. Case closed.

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