Gary Humphries, Heather Henderson and Tony Abbott at the Lobby Restaurant. Photo: Melissa Adams
ACT Liberals may have snubbed the wishes of their federal leader, but Tony Abbott wants them to turn their focus to beating Labor.
Mr Abbott came out in public support of Gary Humphries during the controversial preselection process, but the incumbent senator was dumped on Saturday from the top of the Liberal Party's ACT Senate ticket.
Some members of the branch are looking to challenge the preselection, insisting the process that denied many members a vote was highly flawed.
Asked on Monday about the push to overturn former ACT opposition leader Zed Seselja's victory, Mr Abbott said: ''Look, I think the important thing is to focus on winning the election.''
But Mr Abbott, who had spoken with Senator Humphries but not Mr Seselja after Saturday's preselection ballot, commiserated with the 10-year incumbent. He promised Senator Humphries he would stay on his front bench until the election.
''There've been some arguments over whether the operation of the rules allowed everyone to vote in the preselection who would've liked to,'' he said. ''Look, I accept the democratic outcome. I've got to say I'm very disappointed for Gary, who's been a terrific contributor to our frontbench.''
Senator Humphries has ruled out running as the No.2 candidate on the Senate ticket and he said it was unlikely that any challenge to Saturday's vote would reinstall him to the top spot. But he admitted he was angry about the preselection process and said he was no longer on friendly terms with Mr Seselja.
''I was angry that I thought there were things very seriously wrong with the preselection process,'' he said.
''On Saturday itself, a large number of people arrived to vote, having been informed that they were preselectors, and were told without any warning that they weren't preselectors.''
Late on Monday, Mr Seselja said Mr Abbott had still not talked to him about his preselection win.
He said he respected the federal Liberal leader's loyalty to Senator Humphries.
''He backed the guy on his team,'' Mr Seselja said. ''My entire parliamentary party backed me.
''In the end, the branch members have made a decision. I know that Tony will respect that.''