18th October 2012, Story by Lisa Cox , Canberra Times Photograph by, Colleen Petch, (l to r ) Gary Humphries and Zed Seselja in the Senate courtyard at Parliament House to front the media. Photo: Colleen Petch
The Canberra Liberal Party was accused on Tuesday evening of manipulating the pre-selection process to the advantage of Senate challenger Zed Seselja.
And the party's powerful management committee will hold a hastily convened meeting on Wednesday evening in response to the claims and consider re-writing the timetable for this month's Senate pre-selection vote.
Party insiders say the pre-selection process has been rushed in an attempt to minimise the amount of support sitting Senator Gary Humphries can mobilise before the pre-selectors vote on February 23.
ACT Liberals Leader, Zed Seselja. Photo: Rohan Thomson
But Fairfax understands that after a fiery meeting of the Central Electorate Branch in Canberra's inner-south on Tuesday night, Division President Tio Faulkner agreed to a meeting of the 13 members of the management committee.
Among those who confronted Mr Faulkner about the process at last night's meeting at the Minter Ellison building in Barton were Senator Humphries and former branch president Gary Kent. Mr Humphries declined to discuss the process with Fairfax on Tuesday.
But Mr Kent claims that the number of pre-selectors had been ''artificially limited'' and that some members had been ''in the dark'' about the vote until the 11th hour.
But Mr Seselja, who will resign as ACT party leader to pursue his challenge of Senator Humphries, dismissed the claims, saying the Senator himself was on the management committee and he and his supporters had plenty of time to get organised for the pre-selection.
The rolls for the poll have closed and any party member who has not registered as pre-selector before the deadline is now ineligible to vote.
Mr Kent said before the meeting that he had written to Mr Faulkner expressing ''deep concern'' about the pre-selection. 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.
But Mr Kent, a long time internal opponent of Mr Seselja, told Fairfax that in his view there had been a deliberate attempt to limit opportunities to attend ''qualifying meetings''. Mr Kent claimed that this was ''completely contrary to the party's democratic ideals''. ''The pre-selection dates were decided … on 10 December yet party members were not notified until 21 January, 2013. This attempt to keep members in the dark about this important vote is totally unprecedented.''
Mr Kent said he believed that fewer than 240 of the city's Liberals, out of a total local membership believed to be about 640, would vote in the contest between Mr Seselja and Senator Humphries.
''I have been told that approximately only one third of ACT Liberal Party members will be able to vote in the pre-selection on 23 February,'' he said. But Mr Seselja, who also sits on the management committee, was unfazed. ''All I would say is the processes are very open and transparent in the party,'' Mr Seselja said.
''As far as I can tell they would have been determined by a management committee, of which Gary [Humphries] is a part, and I think they would have been presented to the annual general meeting as well.
''So, all of the membership has had a chance and I think it's a pretty long - I think you get six months in our party, if you attend a meeting six months prior to pre-selection you're eligible.