ACT Senator Zed Seselja could be heading for a fourth term. Mr Seselja was re-endorsed as the Canberra Liberals Senate candidate in the next election at the local branch’s pre-selection meeting on Sunday (22 November). He defeated his challenger, moderate candidate Sam Fairall-Lee, by 178 to 47 votes.
“The Canberra Liberals are the most democratic branch of any major party in the country,” Mr Seselja said. “To get broad endorsement from the party is a great honour.
“What I want to do with that is to continue to fly the Liberal flag in Canberra, to deliver for Canberra, and to support Scott Morrison’s great leadership in delivering for the nation. These will be my priorities going forward until the next election – and should I be re-elected, it would be my priority beyond that.”
Mr Seselja’s running mate is Luke Hadfield, sales consultant with Luton Properties, and executive member of the Gungahlin Community Council.
“Luke has a lot to offer, and I’m really looking forward to that partnership,” Mr Seselja said. “He’s a local real estate agent, so he understands the private sector. He’s a relatively young Canberran, and it’s good to bring that different perspective of young people who are looking to purchase a home, who are starting out in the workforce, raising a family…”
Mr Seselja, former Opposition Leader in the ACT Legislative Assembly, was first elected to the Senate in 2013, following a leadership stoush in which he ousted incumbent Liberals Senator Gary Humphries. At the time, some party members complained that pre-selection was held at too short notice for members to attend enough meetings to be eligible to vote.
Mr Seselja was unopposed as the Liberal candidate for the 2016 and 2019 elections, and returned both times.
The senator said his emphatic preselection win reflected his political work going back to his time in ACT politics. Pre-selectors, he said, told him they valued his role as the first Canberra Liberal in a Federal Government ministry.
“They wanted to continue to see that influence within the government, both for the national good and for Liberal values, but also obviously for great results to Canberra,” Mr Seselja said.
Some within the branch, however, have said that this pre-selection was also held unexpectedly early, allowing the party’s Right faction to consolidate its power. The Prime Minister has said he does not plan to hold an election before 2022.
“Well, it’s just not backed up by the facts,” Mr Seselja said. “This is par for the course.”
The timing was “pretty standard”, he said; pre-selections were usually held midterm. Nor was the ACT the first branch to hold its pre-selections; Western Australia opened theirs in October, Mr Seselja pointed out, while several state divisions, he said, will hold theirs soon.
“The fact that we had so many people having the opportunity to vote I think demonstrates that those criticisms are unfounded.”
Some commentators, however, have raised concern about falling Canberra Liberals membership numbers over the last two decades:225 people voted last weekend, compared to 750 in 2002.
Fighting for Canberra
Since May last year, Zed Seselja has served as Assistant Minister for Finance, Charities and Electoral Matters. In this position, he worked with the Prime Minister and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to design the $130 billion JobKeeper package.
“It’s been a privilege and a great challenge in this very challenging year 2020 to be able to help to respond to the very great need that is in the community here in Canberra and right around the nation as part of the COVID recession,” Mr Seselja said.
“I think the Prime Minister can be very proud of the leadership he’s shown, but to be part of his economic team delivering that support – keeping people in jobs, keeping businesses afloat – is absolutely critical. It’s something I’m very passionate about, and it’s something that if I have the opportunity to be re-elected again, I’ll want to continue to fight very hard for.”
Mr Seselja’s previous portfolios as Assistant Minister include Social Sciences and Multicultural Affairs; Science, Jobs and Innovation; and Treasury and Finance.
Mr Seselja said one of his proudest achievements was fighting for local jobs in the ACT. The Senator said he personally intervened to keep 2,000 Department of Social Services jobs in Tuggeranong and around 4,000 Immigration jobs in Belconnen, while Defence Housing Australia is moving to the Gungahlin Town Centre as part of a 2016 election promise.
Mr Seselja said he advocated for the $115 million upgrades to the Monaro Highway, the $50 million Tuggeranong Parkway upgrades, and other recent investments such as the $87.5 million Molonglo Valley Bridge and the $500 million Australian War Memorial expansion – the largest investment in a Canberra building since the Howard era, Mr Seselja announced last year.
“These are all, I think, achievements for us as a government – but all of them I personally championed,” Mr Seselja said.
Some commentators, however, feel that Mr Seselja’s conservative social views – including his opposition to same-sex marriage and euthanasia – are out of sync with ‘progressive’ Canberrans.
Mr Seselja is confident that a Liberal Government under Scott Morrison’s leadership is the right choice for 2022 and beyond.
“The reason we need to see Scott Morrison re-elected is that he has shown himself to be the man for this time. He has shown himself to be the man who can manage the economy and to manage an [unprecedented] health crisis … I think that most Australians see that Scott Morrison has done an absolutely outstanding job, as has his team behind him.”