Zed Seselja with possible leadership contenders Alistair Coe, Jeremy Hanson and Brendan Smyth. Photo: Karleen Minney
Deputy Liberal leader Brendan Smyth and senior frontbencher Jeremy Hanson have been acknowledged as the lead contenders for the Liberal leadership, as outgoing leader Zed Seslja denies the resignation of two Liberal party heavyweights was to help with lobbying for his tilt at the ACT Senate seat.
The opposition's eight MLAs will gather on Monday to decide who will replace Zed Seselja, who has announced that he is resigning as Liberal leader and making a preselection challenge to ACT Liberal Senator Gary Humphries.
Mr Seselja told ABC radio on Tuesday morning that the ACT Liberals should aim for stability in leadership after his departure, and agreed that Mr Smyth and Mr Hanson are two of the strongest candidates.
He applauded Mr Hanson’s work in the health portfolio and his strong polling at the territory’s last election. He said Mr Smyth had served well as deputy leader.
“We need to consider all of those things, we need to consider the electoral appeal, we need to consider the personal strengths, we need to consider the experience, and I think the party will do that and make a decision,” Mr Seselja said.
“I’ve got the highest regard for both those individuals.”
Mr Seselja said the decision would be made by the party on Monday, and denied he would flex his muscle as the outgoing leader to anoint a successor.
“I’m certainly considering my position and what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m not going to try to impose my will from above on the Liberal Party.”
Likely contenders for the Canberra Liberal leadership went to ground on Monday with none of the party's MLAs willing to declare their hand.
But party whip Alistair Coe, himself a potential contender for the leader or deputy leader's role, said that no one had ruled themselves in or out.
Speaking in his role as whip, the Ginninderra MLA said that he and Mr Seselja will convene the Liberal caucus meeting with the leader declaring his job open.
"I don't think anyone in the party room is ruling themselves in or ruling themselves out,” Mr Coe said.
Heavyweights’ resignations ‘not for lobbying’
Mr Seselja has denied that the decision by two ACT Liberal party heavyweights to leave his office late last year was linked to lobbying for his ACT Senate seat tilt.
Controversial Canberra Liberals powerbroker Tio Faulkner quit his position as director of electorate services in December, but chose to stay on as ACT party president.
A second powerbroker, Stephen Doyle - Mr Seselja's chief-of-staff, brother-in-law and Canberra Liberals campaign manager - also left the ACT Legislative Assembly after he opted out of a contract renewal late last year.
But Mr Seselja said their departures were not related to his decision to challenge Senator Humphries, and said there were no plans for either to join Mr Seselja should he win the Senate seat.
“Both of them came to the end of the term and took the decision that they were going to take some time off and move on and then have a think about where they might go,” he said.
“I think it’s highly unlikely that either of them would come work for me if I was successful.”
Mr Seselja also said he was not concerned about federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s endorsement of Mr Humphries in the preselection battle.
“It’s not unexpected. I think there’s been a pretty strong tradition of leaders of the federal parliamentary Liberal Party generally endorsing incumbents,” he said.
He said he had spoken to Mr Abbott about running, but would not comment on whether or not Mr Abbott supported his decision.
with Noel Towell and Michael Inman