GARY Humphries’ safe Senate sinecure is suddenly not so safe; the position of Leader of the Opposition in the ACT Assembly is now up for grabs and there will be a flurry of activity in the party and in the party room as the candidates jostle for the numbers.
The first candidate on the Senate ticket for each of the major parties is virtually unassailable. In the last two elections, the Greens have put up significant candidates with Kerrie Tucker and Lin Hatfield-Dodds running strong campaigns – but with little chance of success.
Humphries has served well in the Senate. This followed a strong performance in the ACT Assembly serving as Chief Minister and as Leader of the Opposition. Since then, he has been a diligent and hard-working Senator, recognised by his peers, promoted to the shadow cabinet and enjoys the support of his leader Tony Abbott. He has been a party member for more than three decades and it is highly likely that he will be in the cabinet if the Liberals come to power in September. And this is part of the problem.
The position has suddenly become much, much more attractive. There is the smell of power amongst the Federal Liberals and the position of Senator-in-government rather than Senator-in-opposition suddenly becomes much more attractive.
No wonder the hawks circle overhead! But that is the democratic process. The decision for pre-selection is made by the party. And it is hard to believe that Zed Seselja would resign as Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly without having made a good assessment of the level of support he has in the party for this tilt at the Senate. He does not put at risk his position as MLA – just his position as party leader.
Seselja has run a good race. He has fought two elections against the odds and has improved the Canberra Liberals’ numbers in the Assembly. His personal profile has built as Opposition Leader, particularly through the campaign for the recent Assembly elections.
Pre-selection for the Senate will be up to the rank and file of the Canberra Liberals. Seselja and Humphries must now summons the numbers and there is no doubt that the phones, emails and other forms of communication are running hot amongst supporters of both.
When Humphries originally won the Senate pre-selection within the party he did so over the much more popular Kate Carnell. And he did so with an effective and ruthless internal political campaign. Internal politics with such a prize is tough and strident. No matter who wins this pre-selection there will be blood on the floor.
THE hole left by Seselja in the Assembly is a battle of different sort. The decision on leadership will be determined not by the Liberal Party but by the Liberal MLAs – the “party room”.
The early contenders must be deputy leader Brendan Smyth and Jeremy Hanson. Hanson has built a strong profile since being elected in 2007. He has barely concealed leadership aspirations and has the leadership experience of being a senior officer in the armed forces. He has made the best of his portfolios and has been a team player. He is likely to build a high profile with a more flamboyant style than Seselja.
Smyth has been an MP in the Federal Parliament and has a wealth of experience since being elected in 1998. He has served as Leader of the Opposition in the past and has certainly done time as an effective and a loyal deputy. He offers a known, steady influence and could be likened to the return of John Howard. His would be a steady and mature hand on the tiller.
There is a wild card. Speaker, Vicki Dunne, could consider trading her newly elected position as Speaker to lead the party.
Winning the Leader of the Opposition requires support from the old hands as well as the two new Liberal MLAs, Andrew Wall and Giulia Jones.
At the same time as the phones are running hot for the Senate seat, the MLAs will be in huddles working out who will have the best chance of overturning the Katy Gallagher machine at the 2015 election. So much for a day being a long time in politics!
The outcome is by no means a foregone conclusion but at this stage it looks to me like Humphries will retain his Senate position and Smyth will be returned as Leader of the Opposition.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.