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Teals are not permanent occupiers of the Liberal heartland

25 June 2022

9:00 AM

25 June 2022

9:00 AM

It is defeatist nonsense. There is no merit in the widespread  claim that the Liberals should not waste time, effort and money (all of which will continue to be in short supply until there’s an end to internal factional party shenanigans) to win back the six heartland Liberal seats lost to the Teals. Setting aside any issues about the performance of those who lost their seats, the Teal wins relied on the three Ms – Money, Motivation and Management. Whether the Teals will represent a lasting change in the political landscape will depend not only on keeping up the flow of multi-millions of campaigning dollars and the outstanding campaign organisational skills, but also on their being able to maintain at least until the next election in 2023, the essential momentum, particularly at community level (‘around the kitchen table’) that brought victory.

Influencing that prospect will be the performance of the Albanese government (its inevitable failure to make effective progress towards the Teals’ unachievable demand for 60 per cent emissions reduction by 2030 may help maintain the climate rage) and on the Liberals being a viable alternative with an effective and motivated local membership.

Hanging over the Teals’ heads is the reality that despite an unprecedented multi-million dollar highly concentrated spending spree, none of them were the voters’ first choice; and all of them did worse on first preferences than their Liberal opponents and their narrow wins (only one, Wentworth, broke out of the two per cent ‘marginal seat’ range) depended on the distribution of other candidates’ preferences, some of which were as low as the voter’s sixth or seventh choice.

So the statistics do not support the conventional wisdom that seats made up of an elitist upper-middle class who can afford to indulge their social consciences by voting Teal (and Green in increasing numbers) will now be permanently lost by the Liberal party. But with a period of financial instability looming, which may influence a change in political priorities among the well-off, the Liberals need to focus on the reasons they invariably used to win such seats, like supporting small government, financial rectitude, sound economic management, home ownership, an education system that actually educates, cheap and reliable energy and  family values.

While some doubt that the Liberal party will ever again provide an effective home for the middle class, either because it will never be ‘woke’ enough or, at the other extreme, because of a failure to revert to its traditional values, its dismal 36 per cent first preference vote at the May election is nevertheless a substantial base on which to rebuild.

Even if the Teals can, in three years, replicate their Money, Motivation and Management (and particularly the evident community enthusiasm for their missionary campaign), they will need to bolster their first-preference votes against Liberal candidates in these six seats to remove the high risk of continuing to depend on preferences of those who chose not to vote for them. In Curtin they won by 1.26 per cent with only 29.5 per cent of the primary vote to the Liberals 41, in Goldstein by 2.9 per cent with 34 per cent of primaries to Tim Wilson’s 40, Spender won by 4.2 per cent in Wentworth with 36 per cent of primaries to Dave Sharma’s 41, in Mackellar Dr Scamps won with 38 per cent of primaries to Falinski’s 41 and, in their best primary result, Kooyong with 40 per cent – still below Frydenberg’s 43 per cent – resulted in a winning margin for Dr Ryan of only 2.9 per cent. Their weakest success was in North Sydney where, despite the disastrous 14-per-cent primary swing against Liberal Trent Zimmerman that dropped his first-preference vote to only 38 per cent, three-quarters of the voters in North Sydney did not give their first preference to the Teal winner, Kylea Tink – but, by gathering 27.7 per cent (more than her primary vote of 25 per cent) from the distribution of preferences (some that had preferred eight other candidates ahead of her) she won the seat with a 2.9 per cent margin.

It would take another political miracle for the Teals to have all the omens pointing their way in 2023 as they did last month. If the wind was blowing in the wrong direction for the six ‘moderate Liberals’ who lost their seats, Wentworth represented the perfect storm in an electorate now prone to changing its local MP. On top of the factors influencing the other five wins, the Wentworth campaign received unexpected, and ultimately crucial, help in October 2020 from the then prime minister Morrison’s catastrophic unwarranted and un-retracted parliamentary attack on high-profile outstandingly successful business leader Catherine Holgate, forcing her resignation as Australia Post’s CEO.

Leading Australian businesswomen, like generally right-of-centre Jillian Broadbent (who had been close to John Howard; he appointed her to the Reserve Bank board in 1998) were outraged. Holgate’s close personal friend Carla Zampatti and her family (with its generational close Liberal connections through two lots of Spenders as Liberal ministers) were determined to right the wrong. While Zampatti’s daughter Allegra Spender was formally selected (allegedly from 30 candidates) to represent the ‘We’re not a party’ Climate 200 Teals with their unattainable zero emissions goals, her enthusiasm to punish Morrison for what was readily perceived as a prejudiced, bullying, anti-female verbal and privileged assault on her late mother’s close friend brought elements of get-square that were widely shared among eastern suburbs female elites. The SMH quoted one high-profile Zampatti supporter saying: ‘Women and professional women in particular are pissed off with the whole Liberal party… women are furious’.

And for some business leaders like Jillian Broadbent, the Teals’ zero emissions target also suited their philosophic position, in her case as the Labor-appointed chair of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. And then the billionaire Milgrom family was sufficiently gung-ho on emissions reduction to kick the can for at least half a million dollars to Simon Holmes a’ Court’s Climate 200 Teal-funding ‘non-party’.

The SMH reported before the election: ‘A drive around the eastern suburbs reveals a distinct advantage for Team Spender on the corflute front’; the Liberals were massively out-resourced over the whole campaign. The result was a significant swing in the richest suburbs; the surf beach polling booths are always a drag on the Liberal vote, Vaucluse was Sharma’s best true-blue booth three years ago with 76 per cent of the vote but fell to 62 per cent, up-market Darling Point dropped from 62.5 per cent to 52.5 per cent, Bellevue Hill South from 68.36 to 63.3 percent, and even Dover Heights, the centre of Sharma’s strong Jewish support, edged down from 70.6 to 67.5 percent.

A dose of economic reality over the next three years affecting the hip-pocket nerve could help remedy this problem.

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