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Liberals at opposite ends of pew and ballot

The MLAs vying for the Canberra Liberals leadership sat at opposite ends of two church pews at Monday’s service to mark the start of the Legislative Assembly year.

The controversial service, which is a first for the ACT, was boycotted by more than half of the Legislative Assembly. But all Liberal MLAs attended.

The initially expected to come out of this Monday afternoon's party room ballot as the Liberals new leader, Opposition whip Alistair Coe, sat in the front row at St Paul’s in Manuka with incumbent deputy Brendan Smyth. Speaker Vicki Dunne and new Brindabella MLA Andrew Wall sat on the same pew.

Across the aisle were education spokesman Steve Doszpot, Molonglo MLA Giulia Jones and outgoing opposition leader Zed Seselja. And at the end of the pew sat Mr Seselja's heir apparent as leader, Jeremy Hanson, with his wife, Fleur.

Mr Hanson was elected to take over from Mr Seselja in Monday’s ballot despite party insiders and ACT Senator Gary Humphries saying on Sunday Mr Coe and Mr Smyth would be the party’s new leadership team.

Monday’s controversial service was not attended by the Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, Labor MLAs or Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury.


Representatives for Canberra’s Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Russian Orthodox and Bahai communities entered the service in a procession with Mrs Dunne and Mr Seselja and later offered greetings and prayers for Assembly members.

In a speech to the crowd of mostly Canberra Liberals members, Mr Seselja called for the “separation of church and state”.

“I am one of those who is a big believer in the separation of church and state,” Mr Seselja said.

“I will continue to argue that no one should have religion imposed on them, we should keep the separation of church and state."

But Mr Seselja said there was still “an important role” for religion and faith-based organisations in the public square.


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