Former ACT Liberal chief minister and senator Gary Humphries has described any party move towards a political comeback by Zed Seselja as a "profoundly foolish thing" as he has a "unique ability to lose, not win hearts and minds".
Meantime, the former footballer and environmentalist who sensationally beat the conservative Morrison government minister at the 2022 May federal election, David Pocock, has acknowledged revelations Mr Seselja is seriously weighing up his political future by stating he is about "doing politics differently."
The Canberra Times is aware federal Opposition Leader Peter Dutton told party faithful the former ACT senator's "race is not yet run" at a party fundraiser in Canberra this month, while close allies, Nationals senator Matt Canavan and Liberal MP Michael Sukkar, have endorsed a possible Seselja comeback.
Mr Seselja was contacted by The Canberra Times several times but has not responded.
"For the party to choose him would be a profoundly foolish thing," he said.
"Given how decisively the ACT electorate rejected him at the last election, it's not just a question of having the numbers in the party, it's a question of being able to win hearts and minds in the Canberra community.
"And Zed demonstrated over the last term of the Parliament that he has a unique ability to lose, not win, hearts and minds."
There is no love lost between the two Liberal figures. Their acrimony dates back to the ugly 2013 preselection contest which saw Mr Humphries, an incumbent, rolled after serving just over a decade in the Senate and 14 years previously in the ACT Legislative Assembly.
Mr Humphries insists he refrained from publicly criticising Mr Seselja while a serving senator, but said he was compelled to speak out after the May 2022 loss exposed his unsuitability to the largely progressive Canberra electorate.
"The position he took on territory rights was anathema, not just to the majority of ACT voters. It was also deeply disturbing to many Liberal party members, many of whom simply walked away from voting Liberal on the basis of his views about that issue alone," he said.
"So to bring back someone who has been so divisive and so destructive of the Liberal party's standing in Canberra would be, I think, extremely foolish.
"His loss was spectacular in the extent to which it was his own work."
It comes amid Liberal jostling and calls to refresh the party ahead of a preselection contest for the ACT Senate ticket for a federal election due no later than mid-2025.
With Labor Special Minister of State Don Farrell indicating the territory could double its Senate representation from two to four seats as soon as the next election - and with Labor now bound to increasing territory representation - Mr Seselja stands out among Liberals seriously considering a run in the next race.
Mr Dutton talked up Mr Seselja's political future at a Canberra Liberals event listed as a "thank you dinner" for the former ACT senator. Liberal sources said he paid tribute to Mr Seselja's career, his family and his service to the Liberal party.
The federal leader also said of his fellow right faction colleague: "If you're in the trenches, Zed is someone you want by your side."
The 46-year-old Seselja, who now has a consultancy agency, is still active in Liberal circles. He has been spotted at community events and on social media, while he recently stepped into the debate over the ACT government's compulsory takeover of the former Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.
The Canberra Times understands members of the Young Liberals in Canberra have been talking up a Seselja comeback.
The independent senator who won the seat from the Liberals has acknowledged the news of his former rival.
"Senator Pocock's campaign represented a grassroots movement for politics to be done differently," a spokesperson for Senator Pocock said.
"Representing the best interests of ACT residents is his key priority and will form the basis for any future campaign."
Mr Seleja's Coalition allies are keen to welcome him back.
Senator Canavan told The Canberra Times: "Zed was a fantastic grassroots politician and he ably fought for the ACT for decades. It would be great to have him back in the team some day."
Mr Sukkar, the opposition social services and housing spokesman, said: "It would be great to see Zed back in the Parliament. If he does come back he would no doubt play a very senior role in the next Coalition government."
Mr Humphries said many people in the ACT wanted to vote Liberal but have felt "antagonised."
He urged the ACT Liberals to pick a moderate candidate to run against Senator Pocock, even if the territory race opens in an enlarged Senate.
We've made it a whole lot easier for you to have your say. Our new comment platform requires only one log-in to access articles and to join the discussion on The Canberra Times website. Find out how to register so you can enjoy civil, friendly and engaging discussions. See our moderation policy here.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.