12 December 2023

Ruthless Lee shows she means business in takedown of Hanson

| Ian Bushnell
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Elizabeth Lee and Leanne Castley

The new leadership team: Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee and new deputy leader Leanne Castley stand united. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Not many saw it coming, including dumped Liberal deputy leader Jeremy Hanson.

But Leader Elizabeth Lee was always going to have to deal with the right-wing lightning rod who has been a loyal deputy in name only, and yesterday was even relegated to the back bench.

It is well known that Mr Hanson has been working against Ms Lee’s efforts to pull the party into the sensible centre to have any chance of winning power in next October’s election.

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Mr Hanson has also been active in the party organisation to stave off change there, siding with former president John Cziesla who yesterday failed in his appeal against losing to an empty chair at the AGM.

Since returning from maternity leave, during which Mr Hanson led the team, Ms Lee has reasserted her leadership, making an important speech at the National Press Club that, while short on policy, was a statement from her that she is not going to die wondering about her efforts.

She has also managed to build a coalition across the party factions to remove old-guard figures associated with the Seselja era from the management committee.

And this week, on a day when Hanson supporter Elizabeth Kikkert was absent from the party room, Ms Lee rolled her deputy in a display of ruthlessness that shows she will not tolerate backbiting or take on the Barr Government without wholehearted support.

Jeremy Hanson CSC, MLA.

The big loser this week has been Jeremy Hanson, whose political future looks clouded. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The job went to Leanne Castley for an all-female leadership team, which takes the party a long way from its blokey reputation.

Labor has scoffed at Ms Castley being cast as a moderate, but only it has suggested that she is. Surely, the point is that she may be on the right, like others in the party who have had enough of losing elections but backs Ms Lee to steer the Canberra Liberals to more winnable position.

Ms Lee obviously isn’t prepared to be a time server. She may have just one crack at taking down a 23-year-old government and she is going to give it all she can.

That includes making tough decisions like yesterday’s shadow cabinet shuffle, in which Mr Hanson and Ms Kikkert were big losers, casting a pall over their political futures.

Realistically, defeating Labor and the Greens will be a big ask. And the next step for her will be to attract the kind of candidates that will appeal to voters in their particular electorates.

Securing a majority may be beyond her, but if she can position the party so it can secure the support of any independents that may emerge, that may be the Liberals’ best chance of forming a government.

Changing the perception of the party by occupying the centre will not only make it more viable in the eyes of voters but also more appealing to teal or Pocock-style independents.

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It’s been a big few weeks for Ms Lee, and there will be no going back for the Liberals if they really are serious about returning to government.

But it is all very well changing personnel and the tone. Eventually, she will have to start rolling out policies, or at least giving the public a sense of what Liberals will actually do in government that will be different, and in a good way.

Oppositions tend to not want to show their hand until close to the election, which appears to be the name of the game, but Ms Lee should not leave things too late.

In the meantime, she is making all the right moves to put the party in a competitive position.

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With just under 11 months out from the next ACT election, I hope the Canberra Liberals ineptitude and lack of electoral success does not see Labor become too complacent and lose sight of the bigger picture. A seemingly resurgent opposition and a Labor government with years of incumbency widely seen to be on the nose and losing touch with the community. This type of complacency has seen many governments come to grief in the past. Jeff Kennett and Campbell Newman come to mind.

Labor’s management committee will have to pull their fingers out! Some of its elected members have fallen short of expectations and there has been a lack of renewal in the party. Two integrity Commission investigations currently in progress, wastage and cost blowouts, accusations of political interference in a tender process and ministers seen to be focusing too much on fringe issues.

I hope the party does not become too complacent by falling into line with the Canberra Liberals’ decision to use their party’s incumbency and a lack of electoral success to delay its election of candidates until next year.

Labor’s candidates have been preselected. When in the recent past has the announcement of its candidates been this delayed?

GrumpyGrandpa8:01 pm 08 Dec 23

Hi Jack D.
Time and competency are certainly against the government, in my opinion, and their only strength is The Chief.

Currently, the ALP only holds one more seat in the Assembly than the Libs. But even if ALP loses a few, I’m sure the Greens will win enough and stitch up an alliance.

I think that is one of the faults of our electoral system. I’d prefer to see a minority government who had to negotiate, rather than the type of alliance we have where a government holds power “indefinitely” and doesn’t become accountable.

Labor has given us two decades of stable government. I actually think the ACT has benefited from the Labor/Greens alliance Grumpy. We could have had worse! The alliance has seen us lead the nation with taxation reforms, drug reforms, environment and climate change action, marriage equality, social justice, end of life choices, public transport etc etc. I am actually proud of the government we have and their progressive, forward looking approach.
I am also proud that Labor and the Greens unanimously supported the Voice despite the divisive and vindictive campaign that was run by the opposition and their supporters. And the ACT recording the highest vote in the country.
There can always be improvements as with all governments.
I don’t think the Greens will do quite so well next time around. I think the result last election was a bit of a fluke but that is Hare-Clark!

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