Features Australia

Why voters are putting the Libs out to pasture

Sadly, our current PM is no Thatcher or Reagan (or Howard)

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

26 March 2022

9:00 AM

Following the defeat of the Liberals, after just one term, at the South Australian state election, NSW Transport Minister David Elliott fired this broadside in a social media post: ‘The result of tonight’s South Australian election is an example of what happens when a centre-right party moves away from the centre-right. Ignore the base and the base ignores you.’

This is an interesting comment from a minister in a state Liberal government that seemingly has an obsession with renewable energy and other woke causes, but the point he makes is worth analysing. The SA Liberals lost for several reasons, however, one that tolls the bell from a federal point of view is the lack of centre-right product differentiation by Steven Marshall and his ‘moderate’ ministry, who went out of their way to sound like the Labor party. Ultimately, rather than pick a poor imitation, voters will go for the real thing every time.

This correspondent has been one of several in these pages to prosecute the case against Scott Morrison. In my view, Morrison has been one of Australia’s worst prime ministers, and that is not just because he is a windsock devoid of any principle whose authoritarian bent runs totally counter to his professed Christianity and to the traditions of the Liberal party. Remember ‘free speech doesn’t create a single job’, ‘Daniel Andrews has my total support’, and his treatment of Cardinal George Pell, to name but three examples. Scott Morrison will join the ranks of Billy McMahon and Malcolm Fraser as a poor prime minister also because he has led a government that has not implemented one single policy a true centre-right party can be proud of. Not one.

But unlike 1983 and 1972, the alternative, and putative, prime minister fills no one with enthusiasm, but rather outright dread. Anthony Albanese, deputy to two other poor prime ministers, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard (who led bad governments), but who did not hold a key portfolio such as finance or treasury, is of the hard-left of the party and no matter how hard he tries, that cannot be hidden away for long.

Therefore, many on the conservative side will assert there is no alternative but to return the government, even if the Liberals are Labor-lite. The problem is that when the Liberal party is taken closer to the ALP, it dismays its own best supporters without gaining any new ones.

Between 1955 and 1972, a significant minority of Australians cast their vote for neither the ALP nor the Coalition, but for B.A. Santamaria’s Democratic Labor Party (DLP). That had important policy outcomes – indeed, the DLP held the balance of power in the Senate from time to time and on more than one occasion saved the Coalition from defeat in elections. In fact, a good number of non-Catholics consistently voted DLP.

In 1972, Sir Robert Menzies, disgusted with what the then Liberals had become, cast his vote not for the party he founded and led for 22 years, but for the DLP. In this vein Tony Abbot, writing in the Australian in 2017, referred to Menzies’ oft-cited reflection: ‘We took the name “Liberal” because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his rights, and his enterprise and rejecting the socialist panacea’, saying it is sometimes used to make conservatives look like interlopers in the party he formed. However, to demonstrate the inaccuracy of this assertion, Abbott also refers to Menzies’ much less familiar despairing 1974 observation in a letter to his daughter Heather about the party’s Victorian state executive: ‘dominated by what they now call “Liberals with a small l” – that is to say Liberals who believe in nothing but who still believe in anything if they think it worth a few votes. The whole thing is tragic’.

Sound familiar? The Greens have dragged the ALP to the left, and the Liberals along with them. It has not done this country any good having two left-leaning major parties. However, when people look at Albanese and co., they ask, is it really worth putting the Liberals in opposition simply to punish them, so they will think about what they stand for and rediscover their roots? Victorians tried that in 1999 and look what has happened. But then again, John Howard was removed from the Liberal leadership in 1989, a bitter experience which he used to learn and then return to become one of our greatest prime ministers.

So should the Liberals be put out to pasture? An election presents an opportunity, in Paul Keating’s words, ‘to change the country’. At the forthcoming election, one of the most important in modern history, the time has come to change this country for the better. In doing so, conservatives when voting must also return to their core ideals, and there are no better exponents of these than Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.

In 1964, Reagan delivered his famous discourse entitled ‘A time for choosing’, where he outlined the importance of individual liberty: ‘This is the issue… whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we… confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.’ Indeed, in his 1981 Inauguration Address, President Reagan declared: ‘In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.’

Upon becoming Conservative party leader in 1975, Mrs Thatcher outlined her vision of a free society: ‘A man’s right to work… to spend what he earns, to own property, to have the State as servant and not as master…. They are the essence of a free economy. And on that freedom all our other freedoms depend.’

I would urge all conservatives, and especially all ‘quiet Australians’, to consider carefully when voting in the upcoming federal election, having these ideals uppermost in their minds in doing so.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Dr Rocco Loiacono is co-author, with Augusto Zimmermann, of ‘Deconstructing ScoMo: Critical Reflections on Australia’s 30th Prime Minister’, which is available for purchase at https://DeconstructingScoMo.com.au.

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