ORDINARY members of the Canberra Liberal Party are feeling frustrated, angry and resentful at how their party has been constantly denigrated in the media over the Senate preselection process.
The reality is that the preselection process has been a mess and has left the party and the candidates in a lose-lose situation. And there is still a great deal of water to flow under the bridge.
Take the party first: the Canberra Liberals have been baiting Labor for many years over their factional fights while they have pretended to be factionless.
At the last Federal election Labor’s preselection process in the seat of Canberra was a vigorous fight along factional lines with Gai Brodtmann finally winning the appropriate support. In some ways, the seat of Fraser was even more interesting when the factional wranglings and the threat of national interference finally turned party members off to such an extent that Andrew Leigh emerged as the frontrunner.
The battle between sitting Senator Gary Humphries and former ACT Opposition Leader Zed Seselja has exposed real factions within the Liberal Party. What has been clear is that the profoundly conservative Seselja faction is on the rise, while the moderate side of the party as it was under Kate Carnell and, more recently Humphries, has become weaker. The party really is the Canberra Conservatives.
When Gary Humphries originally won preselection for the Senate seat on the retirement of former Senate President Margaret Reid there was a vigorous, gloves-off fight for the position. Humphries had no hesitation in playing hardball against the other contender, Kate Carnell. The difference between then and now is that the games were played within the party ranks. The dirty laundry was not aired in public and the party was able to retain the façade of being united.
If the general meeting of members manages to overturn the preselection decision at the meeting initiated by former party president Gary Kent, it will simply continue the pain.
Humphries has changed his mind and declared that he will contest the position under these circumstances. But the battle has not been without consequences for the Senator. The general public understands that there is a large factional interest within the party that believes he is not doing a good enough job and ought not to represent the ACT as a Senator. Should things change and he manages to wind up as the lead candidate contesting the Senate seat there is no doubt that Labor and the Greens will milk this for all it is worth.
It is a similar story for Zed Seselja. But there is also the selling out of Tuggeranong factor. The battle has revealed that Seselja will do what it takes to improve his position. He was originally elected to the Assembly by an extraordinary effort of campaigning in Gungahlin when it was largely being ignored by other candidates. He moved to Tuggeranong in order for the Liberals to win three ACT Assembly seats with the promise of commitment to the area. With hardly a blink since the election he has put his hand up for the Senate.
If Seselja remains as the Senate candidate for the Liberals he will have to live down this sell-out. If he does not he will need to return to the Assembly and lick his wounds. Already the government members are mercilessly attacking him on the floor of the Assembly and this does not look like letting up.
There is now a quandary for the Liberal Party members who are considering revisiting the preselection process. Zed has demonstrated how ruthless he can be when he is involved in political games. If he returns to the Assembly without the candidacy for the Senate, how long will it be before he starts manoeuvring to displace Jeremy Hanson as Leader of the Opposition?
And through this process the only potential winner in this affair is Simon Sheikh, the Greens Party Senate candidate and former director of GetUp! The longer the Canberra Liberals continue fighting the more attractive he will become to represent the ACT and the greater his chances of stripping the Senate seat from the Liberals.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.