The Liberals will need to do much more than just change the leadership

Ian Bushnell 29 October 2020 6
Elizabeth Lee

Canberra Liberals leader Elizabeth Lee fronts the media after the party meeting. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Congratulations to Alistair Coe for not standing for the leadership again and putting the Canberra Liberals through even more pain after their disastrous election loss.

Some might say unkindly that at least he can count, but as a young man he still has much to offer and with a strong base in Yerrabi is not going anywhere, unless the Senate is indeed his end game.

The truth is he had to wear the loss and the message was clear from voters: the Liberals have got to change.

New leader Elizabeth Lee gets that. That’s the easy bit.

Executing it will be another matter. It won’t be just a simple step to the left to look acceptable.

In effect, they already tried that during the campaign and came up short. The million trees announcement was not a climate change policy and a few tokenistic gestures to Canberra’s battlers did not suddenly make them the party of compassion.


READ MORE: Stunts and slogans: Coe’s campaign was just a house of corflutes


It’s a start, but like other policy areas the Liberals will need to go back to basics and do the work to develop properly researched and funded initiatives that voters will appreciate as having not just merit but also substance.

Ms Lee will need to develop a deeper approach to policy and avoid adopting every grievance that comes their way as an opportunity to grab a headline or attack the government.

The team will have to muck in and earn their credibility, and that will be a challenge because the Liberals have an ingrained modus operandi that relies on half-cocked press conferences, slogans and stunts.

While Ms Lee will steer the party to the centre, it will still need to forge a new identity that still reflects an organisation based on free enterprise and individual freedom, none of which precludes addressing climate change and the environment, or respecting choices around sexuality or abortion.

Assuming the culture wars are no more, Ms Lee would do well to focus on bread and butter issues and making solid, if sometimes boring, contributions to the Assembly where they could be reduced to irrelevance if they do not change their ways.

Alistair Coe

No more stunts: Alistair Coe delivers a mixed message during the campaign. Photo: Supplied.

She can also make alliances on individual issues with the Greens who, while participating in government, will also be wanting to maintain a distinctive voice.

Housing and planning are areas of great concern to voters across the spectrum and that should offer some common ground and provide avenues to contribute to much-needed reforms.

In education, Ms Lee will have some fences to mend after the Catholic funding debacle during the campaign, which looked like a straight bribe to Catholic school parents and alienated both government and independent sector parents.

She will also have to dial back some of the attacks on the government and the Directorate over alleged violence in schools and lead paint, and find a bit of perspective.

Both issues are not to be ignored but they are not necessarily symptomatic of a dysfunctional system.

A positive vision for improving the ACT’s schools will earn more brownie points with voters, including continuing to press for more teacher librarians and raising curriculum standards, without getting teachers offside.

And it’s time to get on board with light rail and make sure the government gets it right.

But it’s the economy stupid, that really needs attention. The Liberals’ economic approach was flawed from the very beginning and was never sellable to an astute electorate, especially with a Chief Minister who revels in the economic detail.

Whoever is Treasury spokesperson will have to go back to the drawing board and rebuild the party’s economic policy to convince voters that they can not only run the ACT’s economy but accelerate the diversification it needs.

She should also accept that after three elections, the government’s tax reform program is here to stay.


READ ALSO: The ACT housing market is leaving too many behind


The goodwill for Ms Lee will be there, and perhaps the party will start to attract interest again from sections of the community, including business, that has disengaged in recent years.

There will be a campaign analysis to determine what went wrong, but it should go further and examine party membership, the branch structure and its relationships with the community, because it is all very well to change the leadership but if the party cannot also change at ground level and reconnect with broad sections of the community it won’t be able to make the leap into government.

Ms Lee shouldn’t need to be told that those in charge of the campaign got it wrong from the start, stayed on a doomed course and ran out of ideas.

She will also need to shake up the media team because, unfortunately, by the end of the campaign, that relationship was frayed.

The good news is Ms Lee has four years to make a difference and earn the community’s trust. By then it may well and truly be time for change.


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6 Responses to The Liberals will need to do much more than just change the leadership
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Capital Retro Capital Retro 8:06 am 02 Nov 20

Who you vote for in the ACT is very much aligned to where you work. Any increase in employment in the public sector increased the Labor vote commensurately, https://canberraweekly.com.au/100-new-act-public-service-jobs-created/

Any talk or speculation about how the Liberals can ever get over the line is totally academic.

tonyd535 tonyd535 10:38 am 01 Nov 20

Mr Coe kept almost all of Mr Hanson’s staff. And then Team Liberal picked up the guy from the Angus Taylor scandal. Time for a change of staff and not just leader.

Stephen Saunders Stephen Saunders 11:15 am 31 Oct 20

Fair summary, Ian, let’s hope Elizabeth reads it. Given how over-funded the ACT church schools already are, her schools pitch was irksome.

Chewy, time for you and Jon Stanhope to move on. People voted, government delivered, on budget, and it’s what people want.

    chewy14 chewy14 9:03 am 01 Nov 20

    Stephen,
    I have no idea what you think I have to do with Stanhope but why would I move on from poor planning?

    If people voted for a door to door limousine service would you still say it was a good idea because people voted for it?

    Wasteful projects are wasteful projects no matter how people vote.

    The facts are that light rail is not a viable project for the ACT at present. Any future stages would be pure economic vandalism.

    You may like throwing taxpayers money away. I don’t.

chewy14 chewy14 11:30 am 30 Oct 20

“And it’s time to get on board with light rail and make sure the government gets it right….

But it’s the economy stupid, that really needs attention. “

This has got to be the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while. The author could not have possibly written these two sentences next to each other with a straight face.

The light rail is the perfect example of the major economic problems the current government has.

In the current economic climate, future stages of the light rail should be the first things put on ice. It’s pure economic vandalism if the government moves forward with them considering how poor the (already dodgy) cost benefit ratios are.

Sol Sol 10:42 am 30 Oct 20

Zed’s still there so won’t happen.

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