25 October 2022

Right looks to have sewn up key positions in Canberra Liberals as reform push comes to nought

| Ian Bushnell
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Zed Seselja

Zed Seselja: his faction is set to retain control of the ACT Division of the Liberal Party. Photo: Cassandra Choake

The reform push in the Canberra Liberals appears to have petered out with Management Committee nominations for next week’s Annual General Meeting pointing to the Right retaining most if not all of the positions.

A petition launched by the reform-minded Menzies Group had called 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.

But the nomination list shows only three Menzies Group candidates – Sam Fairall-Lee against former political adviser Liam Develin; accountant James Daniels challenging longstanding Treasurer Jimmy Kiploks, a former defence adviser to Scott Morrison; and Cathie Humphries, the wife of former senator Gary Humphries, who is taking on former president Arthur Potter for the Federal Rural and Regional representative role.

But the Group has failed to furnish a moderate alternative to incumbent and Hard Right President John Cziesla.

Unaligned Michael Keating, who runs the political newsletter Inside Canberra, will oppose Mr Cziesla, but is given little chance.

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It had been thought the so-called Progressive or Pragmatic Right’s Candice Burch, a former MLA most known for her election signs being tampered with by a former Young Liberal member, would take on Mr Cziesla.

But she will stand unopposed for the Vice-President’s position, part of a deal between the Hard or pro-Seselja Right and the Gerry Wheeler led Pragmatic Right faction to sew up most of the positions.

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 it was hailed by some as signs of a new era for the party.

Mr Keating has also thrown his hat in the ring for the Finance Committee chair against another longstanding committee member and former candidate Robert Gunning.

Nominees for the four Policy Committee members are Young Liberal and public servant Darcy Bee-Hickman, another Young Liberal Ramon Bouckaet from the Wheeler faction, Patrick Buchan, and Lilian Law who worked in then Senator Seselja’s office.

Former MLA Candice Burch

Former MLA Candice Burch will stand unopposed as Vice-President. Photo: Region.

Sources say the Menzies Group candidates and Mr Keating have little hope of defeating their Right opponents, many of whom go back to the Seselja coup against Mr Humphries in 2013.

Manoeuvring ahead of Wednesday’s nomination deadline is believed to have been intense, with some party members, including a sitting MLA, allegedly warned off nominating certain candidates or standing.

It is understood Mr Potter was told not to nominate for a senior role.

The AGM will be held next Wednesday evening at the Canberra Deakin Football Club, before the imminent release of a review into the federal campaign and result led by former leader of the Liberal Party of Western Australia Dr Mike Nahan and former Victorian Liberal Senator Helen Kroger.

Some members believe this is to avoid any embarrassment for incumbents, such as Mr Cziesla who blamed the media and the long-term, persistent and well-funded campaign to unseat Mr Sesleja.

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The campaign was a costly one for the Canberra Liberals, who are believed to have overspent by $64,000 in the bid to fend off the successful Pocock challenge.

Despite that defeat, which meant no ACT Liberal representation in the Federal Parliament, and a sixth consecutive loss in the Legislative Assembly elections, it appears the appetite for change has dried up.

Sources say Opposition Leader Elizabeth Lee, a moderate, wants the infighting to stop and a united front with two years to go until the 2024 elections, and even threatened to quit if it didn’t.

There also is believed to be positioning going on for the next Senate pre-selection, with Mr Seselja considering a comeback and others seeking support for a tilt.

But it seems that the Canberra Liberals will go into 2024 with much the same management team as before.

One insider said there was no sign that the party was refreshing itself or was willing to bring in new talent.

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HiddenDragon7:59 pm 22 Oct 22

For all the fear and loathing in this piece, and umpteen other articles and reports in local media over the years about the domination of the ACT Liberals by “hard right” gorgons, observers who are not left wing political obsessives could be forgiven for thinking that the bulk of the ACT Liberals’ policies are, in fact, driven by centrists and the moderate right, with the serious right left to dabble in some social policies.

To take a few examples, there aren’t now and never have been “hard right” fiscal policies, or privatisation policies (just the occasional Labor fear campaign alleging that), or public choice policies such as vouchers for school education.

These are the sorts of things which you might expect if the ACT Liberals were as right wing as they are portrayed and if they had the same attitude as their opponents towards treating the ACT as a laboratory for boutique theories. Instead, what we have seen from the ACT Liberals has, in effect, amounted to a promise to do a better job of managing the status quo created by years of Labor/Green government.

Maybe it’s time to change that, and give voters a real choice.

HiddenDragon, Aside from any other consideration, I am on record here as lending weight to changing a government or leadership after a couple of terms if things are otherwise not too unbalanced. Your post encouraged me to have a look at current Canberra Liberal policies to see whether they met your general portrayal, so could work for me as you suggest. Here they are, in full:

“Our election policies will be published here during the election campaign.”

Unpromising, to say the least.

All good points. These days, there is a strand of “conservative” thinking which is about power, not policy. The “hard right” ideas on public choice have been more written about than implemented by conservative governments. There was an excellent summary of developments in the Guardian in 2019 [https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/28/a-zombie-party-the-deepening-crisis-of-conservatism].

Please no – I thought we had heard the last of Seselja.

Dave Spanksalot1:16 pm 22 Oct 22

Capitulating to Mr Zedenko Seselja is like taking up smoking and drinking after a stroke. I’ve watch Mr Seselja lie through his teeth at Liberal party meetings to his own members of the most trivial of matters. He is purely in it for personal power and a fantasy of what his world should look like. It was a sad day and great loss for all Canberrans when he stabbed Gary Humphries in the back. Gary Humphries genuinely had our best interests at heart, which I posit has never been the case for Mr Seselja.

At the fedreal level Labor was out of office for 23 years, at the ACT level looks like the liberals might beat that record

The Liberal-Country League governed continuously in SA for 32 years, 27 of them under a single Premier.

Long way to go.

From Zed and his mates…. “we had the correct policies at the last election just that the ignorant public were not smart enough to understand them”….The LNP aka IRRELEVANCE!

Was that actually said? If it was then whoever said it should be named and shamed.

Oh good grief. The ACT desperately needs a competent alternative to the worn out ALP government. Ms Lee and some of the Liberal MLAs are doing well but, I wonder for how long when the hard right is still in charge of their party.

There is only one seat difference between the ALP and the Libs, but regardless of who the Libs put up as candidates, the ALP are always going to do a deal with the Greens to secure Government. I can’t see that Ms Lee can lead the Libs out if the wilderness

They learnt nothing. Just have to teach them again I guess.

Someone may have to start a “New Liberals” party…

anthonypesec12:46 pm 21 Oct 22

Wow. The Canberra Libs truly have learned nothing on their path towards political irrelevance. Their time in the wilderness will be long at this pace.

Great article Ian Bushnell! I’m reading between the lines here. Candice Burch has jellied and come to a deal with the hard right Zed faction (yep folks he’s still there) to keep John Cziela as president. All this so she can be elected vice president. How weak. Poor Candice always coming off second best! Always the bridesmaid!!

Who says Zed’s gone? Zed and his clowns are still calling the shots!

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