Alistair Coe to lead Canberra Liberals after election drubbing

Alistair Coe to lead Canberra Liberals after election drubbing

Alistair Coe and Nicole Lawder have taken over the leadership of the Canberra Liberals, with former leader Jeremy Hanson taking the fall for the party's election loss.

Mr Coe, who becomes leader, is just 32. He is from the conservative end of the party, and Ms Lawder, his deputy, from the moderate end, describing herself "far on the left" of the party.

Alistair Coe and Nicole Lawder, the Canberra Liberals' new leader and deputy.

Alistair Coe and Nicole Lawder, the Canberra Liberals' new leader and deputy.Credit:Karleen Minney

Mr Coe said the positions were uncontested in the Liberal Party room on Tuesday and he and Ms Lawder had been elected unanimously.

Mr Hanson did not comment beyond a statement on Facebook indicating he will stay in the ACT parliament for the term.

Liberal leader Alistair Coe: Launching a new way of making contact with Canberrans.

Liberal leader Alistair Coe: Launching a new way of making contact with Canberrans.Credit:Kirsten Lawson

The Liberals have not held government in Canberra since 2001 and were hit by a 2.2 per cent swing against them in this month's election, despite a series of factors playing against the incumbent Labor government.

The swing was worst in Tuggeranong, the seat represented by Ms Lawder, although the Liberals still polled much higher there than Labor, at 41.8 per cent, compared with Labor's 33.6 per cent.

Mr Coe said the citywide result was close, Labor winning 92,000 votes and the Liberals 88,000, but he pointed to failings in the campaign. The Liberals had run a "Canberra wide campaign", whereas Labor had been much more targeted, communicating directly with specific individuals and households. The Liberals needed to learn from that,he said.

"There were clearly things that worked for the Labor Party that either we did not do in the Liberal Party or things that we did not do as well as we could have," he said.

The party took strong set of policies to the election, he said, but he conceded the government's mandate for the light rail from Gungahlin to the city - although not for the Woden line, beyond preparation of a business case.

"We will do exactly what the government is going to do, and that is review the business case and make an evidence-based decision," he said on the proposed extension, calling for proper analysis of staging for the roll-out.

"There's no way in the world we can just give a blank cheque to Labor to go ahead and spend billions of dollars. We accept their mandate for stage 1 and we will analyse the business case for stage 2. It's still got to be the best use of money, we cannot be in a situation whereby we're compounding the folly."

Mr Coe is opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion, but insists he will raise neither issue in the parliament.

"If they come up, I'm going to be true to myself, but this is not a barrow I'm pushing," he said.

He has previously said that his conservatism shapes him as a person, but is not what motivates him as a politician.

Mr Coe, who was born in Canberra, is the third of three boys. One brother is a teacher in Canberra, the other an analyst for a freight company in Brisbane.

He studied commerce before and entered the ACT parliament in 2008, aged just 24. He had stints as federal vice-president of the Young Liberals and ACT president.

He is now married with his second child born this year and lives in Gungahlin. He is a regular at St John's Church in Reid.

A key focus for his leadership would be the growing divide between sectors of Canberra, with many people struggling to pay rent or buy a house, and with expenses such as school excursions and the inflation even in simple things such as kids' birthday parties.

"We simply cannot have a situation whereby there are so many people that are priced out of living here. That is wrong on so many levels and I am determined to do absolutely everything I can to make sure that this is an affordable place for all Canberrans."

Asked why a change of leadership had been considered necessary, Mr Coe had effusive praise for Mr Hanson's leadership but said the Liberals would modernise their approach to campaigning.