5 May 2022

With Zed again pulling the strings, Canberra Liberals risk political gains

| Ian Bushnell
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Elizabeth Lee and Zed Seselja

Canberra Liberals Leader Elizabeth Lee joined Senator Zed Seselja for a recent housing announcement with local candidates Slade Minson and Jane Hiatt. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

It was probably too much to ask of our MLAs to keep the federal election out of the Legislative Assembly this week, but the Canberra Liberals’ attempts to both wedge the Barr Government and fly the flag for what most agree now is the embattled Senator Zed Seselja carries risks for Leader Elizabeth Lee.

No less than three motions from the Liberals related in some way to Senator Seselja’s campaign and federal issues: Labor’s plans for the APS, the Greens’ position on defence and releasing land west of the Murrumbidgee in Tuggeranong for housing.

The energy – and taxpayers’ money – the Senator is throwing at the campaign points to him being in the fight of his life to retain his Senate seat in the face of a three-pronged attack from the Greens’ Tjanara Goreng Goreng, and Independents David Pocock and Kim Rubenstein.

The odds are he will still scrape home, but there appears to be momentum building for change, with the Independents, who are wooing disgruntled Liberals, performing well in this week’s Region Senate debate.

Seselja is not leaving much to chance.

It is hard not to believe that the party power broker deployed his MLA footsoldiers in the Assembly to deliver some key messages about how Labor’s plan to rebalance the public service by cutting back on contractors and consultancies would damage the ACT economy, the federal Greens’ reckless defence policy, and his pet project, housing across the Murrumbidgee.

READ ALSO Canberra Liberals labelled ‘Zed’s puppets’ over public service motion in Assembly

The Canberra Liberals were immediately labelled “Zed’s puppets” in what for Labor frontbencher Mick Gentleman was a stirring call to arms, and accused them of – shock, horror – playing politics.

They recited the Senator’s talking points about the public service and contractors, even to the point of misrepresenting Labor’s numbers and leaving themselves wide open to an attack about Coalition cuts and the gutting of APS capability.

They probably achieved their aims of splitting the usually conjoined Labor and the Greens on the defence issue – hardly a Territory matter.

But they flogged a dead horse with the housing motion, which was immediately amended to one supporting the current housing policies.

Land release for housing is a live issue in the ACT, but there are plenty of other lines of attack than running with Senator Seselja’s constant refrain of ‘across the Murrumbidgee’, an environmentally sensitive area with challenging terrain for development.

Ms Lee missed some of the antics by taking a spot of sick leave, but the blatant electioneering on Senator Seselja’s behalf reflects badly on the party and her as leader.

Since the disastrous 2020 election, she has worked assiduously to reposition the Liberals to the centre, away from the extreme stances that were alienating many conservative voters and business supporters.

Part of that process has been distancing the local party from Senator Seselja and reducing his sway over Liberal branches.

It was working, and the Canberra Liberals had appeared to be breaking through on key issues with renewed credibility, vitality and unity.

READ ALSO Katy v Zed, a field of diverse candidates and a big question over our second Senate seat

But this year the party seemed to lapse, with its MLAs less free to speak their minds, old wars renewed and complaints that the media was against them.

Senator Seselja, for his part, seemed to want to pick a fight with Chief Minister Andrew Barr as part of a strategy to link him to the federal campaign. It also made him sound like the de facto Liberal leader in the ACT.

Mr Barr refuses to engage, pointing out that he is not running for office.

Where this all leaves Ms Lee is anybody’s guess.

While helping out a ‘comrade’ in an election is admirable, tying up precious Assembly hours and the party returning to an orbit around the Senator will only rebound on her leadership and hurt the Liberals’ chances in 2024.

Observers may reasonably deduce that the divisions in the party have only been papered over and it is adrift, again.

Ms Lee needs to reassert her leadership, restart the process she began in 2020 and reset her team.

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Good luck Zed, he’s definitely the most under appreciated politician in Canberra that has the backing of a silent majority

@Oscar Mike Really? Facts please! In the 2019 Senate race, as per AEC official results, Seselja received 2.88% first preferences – and was elected on the back of above the line voting and preferences. His conservative opponent – Anthony Pesic, running as an independent received 3.02% first preferences. So it seems like the silent majority who back Zed are so silent, they didn’t even vote for him. Oh and just for the record, Gallagher received 7.65% first preferences and also relied on above the line voting and preferences to get a quota. By all means offer your support for Zed, but don’t speak for other conservative voters when voicing that support and check your facts before making a statement.

Just Saying,
Don’t talk about checking “facts” whilst spouting misinformation.

Candidate first preferences in the Senate is meaningless when so many people vote above the line.

The Liberals received over 32% on their group ticket, the ALP were around 39%.

It’s not a majority, silent or otherwise, but those people knew they were voting for Zed, he was elected comfortably.


Firstly, please actually read Oscar Mike’s post. I was refuting his claim that Zed “… has the backing of a silent majority …” and to do so used FACTS provided by the AEC to show his personal primary vote was not a majority by any measure. You have even confirmed in your post that he didn’t even get a “… majority, silent or otherwise …” when the group ticket is taken into account. So where is the misinformation? I merely wanted to point out to Oscar Mike that his claim was incorrect – which I did and you subsequently supported.

Secondly, you then come out with the most ludicrous statement I’ve ever heard about above the line voting – that constituents who voted for the group ticket “… knew they were voting for Zed …”. Where are your FACTS to support this assertion? All we know for a FACT, is that people who voted above the line, wanted to vote Liberal – the official AEC data cannot determine whether or not those constituents were/were not voting specifically for a particular candidate. In discussions I have had with family and friends, I have gained the impression, that many who vote above the line do so without any thought of a particular candidate. For example, my wife freely admits she just votes for a party and doesn’t usually worry about who is running – as his her democratic right. So is it you who’s spreading misinformation?

Oh Mr Bushnell is cheerleading for the local ALP and Greens again.

I’m truly shocked.

When Zed wins again, will we see another article apologising for these type of partisan pieces?

It’s not surprising that the ACT ALP/Greens Government are on the attack. Zed’s offering up land for mums and dads to build houses on; something the ACT Government isn’t prepared to do.

Kate Carnell and Gary Humphries wouldn’t have tolerated the likes of Zed Seselja. How things have changed in this party. Once a true Liberal party representing the interests of Canberrans now controlled by the ultra-conservative Zed and his Young Liberal toadies. Kate and Gary would have been condemning Zed not being puppets to him, wasting the assembly’s time by bringing on silly debates like this. What a waste of taxpayer’s money. Good luck in 2024 Elizabeth Lee!!!

Lots of anti-Zed comments. But it’s also RiotACT, singing to Canberra’s lefty choir. I ‘suspect’ RiotACT is a Labour mouthpiece. ?

@bob9000 Seriously bob, your comments show just how out of touch with reality you are. It’s non only the left who are critical of Seselja’s representation (or to be more accurate, lack of representation) of the majority will of Canberrans, there are many moderative conservatives who are also not happy with him. AS for RiotACT being a Labour mouthpiece? Why do you read the articles then? Why don’t you just stick to Sky ‘right at night’ news, then you’ll always hear exactly what you want?

Elizabeth Lee’s only hope of ever winning is to run away as far as she can from the toxic Zed.

The ACT government (run by ALP/Greens for the last 20 years) is responsible for housing and land in the ACT. It is the ACT Government’s fault that the ACT is so bad.

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