Although the Australian Electoral Commission is still counting postal votes, it is likely that the Independent Senate candidate for ACT David Pocock will defeat Liberal Senator Jade Cesselja.
Senator Cecelja has yet to be acknowledged, but the Canberra Liberals are already taking stock of the damage at the federal level and the implications of their branch moving forward.
So, are the results of the Act surprising, and what impact could it have on the Canberra Liberals’ next field election hopes?
Generous result should be ‘set on train in search of heart’
Gary Humphries, who served as the Liberal Senator for the ACT from 2003 to 2013, said the imminent loss of a second Senate seat in the area was a major blow to his party at the local level.
“One of the very first ACT senators was a Liberal senator, John Knight, in 1975 – so slipping from that position to lose a seat is incredibly disappointing.
“It should set off a real heartbreaking quest to train where we’re headed and how we managed to lose a seat we needed only one-three votes in the field to retain.”
But Mr Humphries thinks the search should have begun after Alistair Coe had conceded defeat to Andrew Barr in the last local election.
“The people of the ACT said in the 2020 ACT election that they do not like the ultra-conservative brand of liberalism,” Mr. Humphries said.
“And he repeated that message with even greater force last weekend.”
Canberra Liberal leader insists the party has a ‘united approach’
Canberra Liberal leader Elizabeth Lee is considered more progressive than both her predecessor and Senator Cecelja.
But she also thinks the prospect of Senator Cecelja’s seat going to Mr Pocock and the coalition’s defeat of the federal government would have a huge impact.
“But what I want to do is to focus on what we are doing in the Assembly and continue to advocate for Canberran at the local level on issues that really affect them.”
Mr Pocock campaigned heavily on the need to do more about climate change as well as the region’s rights and changing federal laws that prevent the ACT Legislative Assembly from legislating on a range of issues, including voluntary assisted death.
Senator Ceselja said he would not support overturning a bill that would prohibit what areas describe as “assisted suicide”.
But Ms. Lee argues that the party’s position differs at the legislative assembly level, on territorial rights as well as many other issues.
“We have a very cohesive approach when it comes to the rights of the region, we have a tripartite agreement with Labor and the Greens regarding climate action. [and] I introduced legislation that was head of state to outlaw piracy,” she said.
“If the region is given the right to debate and legislate on the issue, [then] The issue of voluntary assisted dying will be a discretionary vote for the Canberra Liberals.”
Mr Humphries, who is also the former chief minister of the ACT, thinks there may be a silver lining to the Canberra Liberal potentially losing his seat in Senator Cecelja.
“Senator Cecelja’s position in the act was so influential that it often overshadowed the views of the Canberra Liberals in the Assembly,” Mr Humphries said.
Senate loss may not end conservatism in Canberra Liberals, analyst says
Professor John Warhurst of the Australian National University School of Politics Emeritus was also surprised by Mr Pocock’s support in the polls.
“It’s a huge change, and it’s been a struggle for the past few elections, yet it’s surprising,” he said.
“I think it is difficult for the Liberal Party to do well in the Act when there is a Liberal and coalition government at the national level.
“It opens up a little more space for the local Liberal Party.”
But Professor Warhurst isn’t sure the Liberals will lose their ACT Senate seat and propel a crowd toward the center of the political spectrum.
He said a lot would depend on whether Senator Cecelja actually lost his seat and whether he decided to contest it again in the next federal election.
“If he decides to take another crack at the seat, we can expect a very intense three years with the Liberal Party in the act, throwing everything at incoming Senator David Pocock and keeping him very high for his performance. Huh.”
If Mr Pocock is elected to the Senate, Professor Warhurst said it could be difficult for major parties to remove him.
“This trend of supporting smaller parties and independent candidates for nearly a third of the electorate has been going on for some time,” he said.
“Independents elected in the last two or three elections – beginning with Kathy McGowan in Indy – have managed to increase their vote share in subsequent elections.
“There is tremendous value in incumbency and once you get into a seat, if you perform well and play your cards right, it becomes even more difficult for the opposition to beat you in the next election.
“I expect that to be the case at the ACT and at the national level.”
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