Liberals convene to confront the future
Australia v West Indies at Manuka Oval, Canberra. Zed Seselja watches the cricket. Photo: Melissa Adams
The Canberra Liberals have confirmed they will choose their new leader on Monday afternoon amid a flurry of backroom negotiations involving the three most likely candidates.
And the party’s powerful management committee has met to confront tensions about the pre-selection process after claims it had been manipulated to the advantage of Senate challenger Zed Seselja.
Fairfax understands that a meeting of the committee on Wednesday night decided not to re-write the timetable for this month’s pre-selection vote, despite accusations that the process had been rushed to limit the amount of support ACT Senator Gary Humphries could mobilise before February 23.
Jeremy Hanson has emerged as a front-runner to take over the Canberra Liberals leadership. Photo: Karleen Minney
The party was accused by former branch president Gary Kent on Tuesday of deliberately limiting the number of “qualifying meetings” members could attend to be eligible to register as pre-selectors, and of keeping members in the dark about the vote until the 11th hour.
Party rules state that only members who have attended a properly constituted internal meeting in the previous six months are eligible to vote as pre-selectors and Fairfax understands that Wednesday’s hastily convened meeting opted not to extend that timetable.
Meanwhile, Canberra Liberals health spokesman Jeremy Hanson emerged on Wednesday as the frontrunner for the Opposition Leader’s job, but is facing stiff competition from deputy leader Brendan Smyth. Assembly insiders say young talent Alistair Coe, while not being ruled out as Mr Seselja’s successor, is emerging as a likely contender for the deputy’s job.
Mr Hanson, Mr Smyth and party whip Mr Coe were keeping tight-lipped on Wednesday about their prospects, with none prepared to declare their hand.
Mr Seselja will resign from the leadership on Monday to challenge Mr Humphries for his upper house seat.
Online bookmaker Sportsbet opened its market on Wednesday for the ACT opposition leadership ballot and predicted a close race between Mr Hanson and Mr Smyth.
The agency originally listed Mr Hanson as favourite at $1.80, with Mr Smyth at $2.10 and Mr Coe an outside chance at $5.50.
But by Wednesday afternoon, the odds on a Hanson victory had shortened to $1.50, while Mr Smyth’s price had blown out to $2.80 and Mr Coe’s to $12.
Mr Coe, who will convene Monday’s meeting with Mr Seselja, said no MLAs had been ruled in or out of contention for either the leader or deputy’s roles.
The party whip confirmed the eight-strong Canberra Liberals caucus would gather early on Monday afternoon, after Liberals Speaker Vicki Dunne’s controversial church service to mark the start of the new Legislative Assembly year.
Mr Coe has spent much of the week meeting individually with MLAs, including Mr Hanson and Mrs Dunne on Wednesday. ‘‘There’s still very civilised conversations taking place. It’s all very pleasant, all very consultative,’’ he said.