The Canberra Liberals are fending off accusations they have been avoiding public scrutiny during the election campaign by missing at least seven multi-candidate forums.
A senior Liberals campaign spokeswoman rejected the suggestion by Greens Senate candidate Simon Sheikh that the party was hiding its candidates.
Mr Sheikh’s Liberal rival in the senate race, Zed Seselja, indicated last week he would be unavailable for the Smith’s Alternative Story Time event on Tuesday night, the bookstore and cabaret venue’s co-owner Jorian Gardner said.
Mr Gardner said Senator Kate Lundy, Mr Sheikh, Voluntary Euthanasia Party candidate Philip Nitschke and Katter's Australian Party representative Steven Bailey told their personal stories to a “full house” of 77 people at the non-political event.
“Our audience was quite disappointed [by Mr Seselja’s absence],” he said. “There’s a pattern that’s involved here, which is keep your head down, don’t answer any questions and just cruise to the line.”
Mr Gardner said candidates with other bookings had left after their interviews and stories.
Mr Seselja was forced to withdraw from a Tuesday morning forum hosted by the ACT Council of Social Service after the birth of his fifth child on Monday night.
Council director Susan Helyar said she was surprised the Liberals had not sent a replacement to the forum, attended by 20 people plus Labor MP Gai Brodtmann and Mr Sheikh.
‘‘I don’t think it’s a problem at all that Mr Seselja wanted to be with his wife after she’s had her baby, but I’m surprised they didn’t want to have another Canberra Liberal there to bring their perspective and answer questions,” Ms Helyar said.
The Liberals’ campaign spokeswoman said Mr Seselja was at an Australian Christian Lobby event on Monday night before he was called away to be with his wife.
None of the party’s other three ACT candidates were available at short notice to fill in at Tuesday’s 8am council forum. “They had other campaign commitments,’’ the spokeswoman said. “We try and get our candidates to as many forums as we can, but the number of forums we get invited to is incredible, we can’t be everywhere.”
The campaign made no apologies for declining an invitation to a GetUp Senate candidates’ forum last Wednesday, but all other absences were due to clashing commitments.
Mr Seselja and the Sex Party’s lead Senate candidate Deborah Avery – who said she was unable to attend because of family commitments – were no-shows at the GetUp forum, attended by about 400 people.
Mr Sheikh was director of social issues for the activist lobby group before being drafted to run for the Greens in the ACT.
“I think that would be the only one – the only one I didn’t feel was an independent forum – I think every other one was a just a diary issue," the Liberals spokeswoman said.
Mr Sheikh said the ACT Greens chose in May not to attend Monday’s Christian Lobby forum after the lobby’s managing director Lyle Shelton said marriage equality would create a new stolen generation.