Australian Libs must return to first principles

Australian Libs must return to first principles. By Peta Credlin.

During the past 50 years, the Liberal Party has had its greatest triumphs under leaders who crys­tallised the difference between the Coalition and Labor: Malcolm Fraser (then a right-winger), Howard and Tony Abbott. In 1975, 1996 and 2013 they garnered, respectively, 55.7, 53.6, and 53.5 per cent of the two-party preferred vote.

Compare this with the wins of Bob Hawke, Kevin Rudd and now Anthony Albanese with 53.2, 52.7 and (provisionally) 51.9 per cent of the vote. So not only does the Coalition do best under more conservative leaders but the Australian electorate, overall, looks distinctively centre-right.

There is, nonetheless, a key place for small-L liberals, or moderates, inside the Liberal Party: first, because political parties benefit from internal debate; and second, because the Liberal Party, whatever else it should be, must always be the party of free speech and individual freedom. Howard’s success was that for the 12 years of his second incarnation as leader he was able to keep the moderates included but not dominant.

Abbott’s tragedy — and the party’s loss — was that he faced an implacable internal foe in Malcolm Turnbull, who was not so much a small-L liberal as a political carpetbagger who’d worked out that he’d get further, faster, with the Liberals than with Labor. And after Turnbull came Scott Morrison, who lacked any real convictions and turned out to be much better at attacking Labor than at developing and defending a centre-right position of his own. …

To those self-styled Liberal moderates arguing against a post-election “move to the hard right” (a false and defamatory smear against their own party), the simple response is that under Howard and Abbott the Liberal Party did much better electorally than under Turnbull or Morrison (who achieved just 50.4 and 51.3 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote respectively in 2016 and 2019). It’s noteworthy that the supposedly “climate-denying misogynist” Abbott didn’t just deliver the biggest Coalition vote since 1996 but also by far the best Liberal vote among women since the Howard era. …

The left is a crowded marketplace whereas the centre-right, where most Australians sit, is suffering from a lack of attention, conviction and, critically, defence.

Why the Liberal Party would talk of abandoning these voters rather than grow their number is beyond me.

Indeed, last weekend’s election was the dramatic eruption into Australia of the long-term trend throughout the English-speaking world: that affluent voters who can afford to be blase about cost-of-living pressures are moving to the left while “struggle street” is moving to the right. …

On top of the money spent by head office, local Liberal campaigns have spent upwards of $1m in each of the seats that have just fallen to the teals. By contrast, in the seat of Werriwa, which Labor has just held with an overall margin of only 5.2 per cent, and where the combined first-preference vote for the Liberals, Liberal Democrats, United Australia Party and One Nation was 53.9 per cent, the local Liberal campaign spent less than $100,000. The danger, should the Liberal Party grandees of Vaucluse and Toorak demand that the party focus on winning back teal seats to the exclusion of all else, is that opportunity will go begging in the vastly more numerous outer-metropolitan seats that make or break government and that might readily vote Liberal if the party made more of an effort. …

Recall what won the Liberal Party success in the first place:

This week marks the 80th anniversary of Sir Robert Menzies’ celebrated Forgotten People broadcast, the most complete encapsulation of the Australian Liberal creed.

He explicitly denied that the “real life of this nation” was to be found in “fashionable suburbs” or in “officialdom” and he deprecated “the defensive and comfortable rich”.

“Salary-earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on”, he said, were the “backbone of the nation” (and, by inference, the Liberal Party). “Frugality and saving” and “a fierce independence of spirit” were the virtues to be cultivated so people were not “slaves to greed, to fear … and to public opinion”. The “great vice of democracy”, he said, “is that for a generation we have been busy getting ourselves on to the list of beneficiaries and removing ourselves from the list of contributors”.

Not only is this vision of the party’s founder hard to reconcile with the actions of the former government but it’s a stinging rebuke to all those urging an even more flaccid party.

If the Liberals continue to court the bureaucratic and globalist class, by moving further left and woke, that will leave a huge electoral hole for a new party to fill. The Nationals are probably best placed to fill it.