Readers of this masthead were recently invited to believe that Zed Seselja's loss in the Senate had nothing to with his unpopularity and wasn't a reflection of his firebrand conservatism. An opening salvo against party moderates by one of the ACT's junior archconservatives, any hope of contrition and self-reflection by those that run the Canberra Liberals appears already lost.
One-in-six Pocock voters awarded a second preference to the Liberals, being nearly 10,000 of them. This would have given room for Seselja to scrape by and achieve a quota once more. But at this election, he attracted fewer voters across the territory than each of the lesser-known Canberra Liberals House of Representative candidates combined, lagging the house vote where the Liberals' Senate vote historically leads it. His personal brand clearly failed more than the party's brand. He barely hit a quarter of the vote - a humiliating rebuke.
Given the bar was so low, comparisons to interstate house seats are clearly disingenuous. It was a uniquely spectacular failure in the ACT.
The federal campaign philosophy of the Canberra Liberals has always been to shoot for a third of the vote and not much more. It's on that basis that Seselja felt as though he could appeal to the so-called "base" and ignore the need to make inroads elsewhere in the community.
This sort of "smash-and-bash" conservatism took for granted the obvious need to speak to broader and more diverse parts of the Canberra community that didn't always share his conservative views.
Entering the ministry to pursue his own career ambitions (winding up as the minister for the Pacific, no less) meant his focus was far away from his local community. Any chance of breaking with unpopular party lines and crossing the floor, as Gary Humphries promised to do in favour of territory rights in 2009, totally evaporated.
There is a litany of examples well-known to readers of this masthead. Promising to follow-through with the Canberra community's views on same-sex marriage in 2017 only to then backtrack and abstain. Rejecting the most basic premise of self-determination by refusing to allow Canberrans to have a say on voluntary assisted dying, no matter how appropriate it might be to oppose it. Failing to oppose public service relocation fought for by Barnaby Joyce and the Nationals. Jetting off to Warringah in the 2019 election to campaign for Tony Abbott, despite telling party faithful he held a marginal seat.
The self-deluded cries of conservatives in the local party that Seselja's unpopularity played no factor in defeat, and instead "mandates, interstate border controls and net zero" were responsible would be laughable if they weren't so hideously destructive.
The fact that those responsible for putting the local party in the worst position since its inception are happily keeping their positions and callously insulting those that wish to solve the problem is a testament to the conservatives' factional strength in an otherwise vacuous and increasingly talentless division. It is this fantastical arrogance that emboldened Seselja's out-of-touch approach and lead to the loss of the Senate seat.
The ACT is certainly not some socialist behemoth in which liberal ideas cannot penetrate.
It is a high-income jurisdiction with high rates of home ownership that in any other state would be ripe for Liberal politics. Parts of the territory look more like Sydney's eastern suburbs than any Labor-voting industrial heartland. Recognising this, and respecting the intelligence of Canberran voters, is the first step in developing a broad appeal from all corners of the community that would put a Liberal back in the Senate for the ACT.
The Canberra Liberals in the Assembly - which actually wishes to appeal to a majority of Canberrans in order to form government - is making positive inroads in this cause. Elizabeth Lee has been a proactive Opposition Leader working constructively with other parties where needed and achieving some positive reforms, together with supporting territory rights and holding the ACT government to account on significant integrity issues.
The proof will of course be in the pudding come 2024. But the approach of working with parties to achieve community-based outcomes and representing the views of Canberrans will no doubt serve the Canberra Liberals better than maintaining its status as an insular pariah, peddling conspiracy theories and ignoring local issues.
It worked for Carnell in 1995 who formed government with independent support which, no matter how you dice it, was always a far better outcome than Seselja's "strong performance" in 2012 who once again found himself in opposition.
But for now, Seselja's beloved conservative acolytes in the local party desperately need a reality check. He's not coming back - nor is his brand of politics in the form of any would-be successor.
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