The Liberal Party has abandoned liberalism - Speech

Matter of Public Importance Debate
House of Representatives, 
30 March 2023

A year ago, the coalition lost nine seats in South Australia and lost government. Ten months ago, they lost 17 seats federally and lost government. Last weekend, they lost at least a dozen seats in New South Wales and lost government. The coalition now holds no mainland state or territory. The most senior Liberal governing leaders in Australia today are Brisbane Mayor Adrian Schrinner and Tasmanian Premier Jeremy Rockliff.

You'd think that the loss of 40 seats and three elections would provoke some soul-searching, but the main lesson that the coalition seems to be taking from this is that they're too woke and they need to move to the right. The fact is that the coalition hasn't woken up. The Australian people aren't buying what you're selling. This is no better epitomised than by the shadow Treasurer, a man who brought us the current energy crisis—a man who is best known for hiding energy price increases from the Australian people, for his Cayman Islands company, for the Jam Land scandal and for making things up about Clover Moore and Naomi Wolf. As he might have put it, 'Well done, Angus.' He thinks he's the second coming of the Messiah, but most Australians think he's more like Mr Burns from The Simpsons—just with a slightly greater tendency to look straight down the barrel of the camera.

The once-great Liberal Party has lost its way. At its founding in 1944, Robert Menzies said:

We took the name "Liberal" because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary …

Menzies never once used the word 'conservative' to describe his party. Like Deakin before him and Holt, Gorton and Fraser after him, Menzies was a liberal, not a conservative. Yet under Howard, Abbott, Morrison and the current Leader of the Opposition, the Liberal Party has become what Sir Robert Menzies wished against. The Liberal Party of Australia has become a party of reaction. It isn't the Liberal Party; it's a conservative party. It is the party of no.

It doesn't have to be this way. Oppositions don't have to oppose. Just look at the member for Grayndler, who, when he took on the job, said he wanted to be known as the Labor leader, not the opposition leader. Look at how he behaved and how we as a party behaved during the COVID pandemic—supporting the government on its health measures and supporting the government on its economic measures.

In less than a year, what has the coalition said no to? They've said no to energy price relief and a temporary gas price cap. They've said no to the Housing Australia Future Fund, which would build 20,000 social housing properties and 10,000 affordable homes, with homes earmarked for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence. The coalition has said no to the National Reconstruction Fund. The coalition has said no to free TAFE. The coalition has said no to increasing the minimum wage. The coalition has said no to the Secure Jobs, Better Pay bill, which puts gender equity at the heart of wage setting, expands access to flexibility for carers and prohibits sexual harassment in the Fair Work Act. The coalition has said no to cheaper electric vehicles. The coalition has said no to Rewiring the Nation.

The biggest sign that they have become the nattering nabobs of negativity is their break with business over climate policy. While the Australian Industry Group and the Business Council of Australia are celebrating the safeguard mechanism passing parliament, the coalition are in here voting against the safeguard mechanism—voting against a measure that is the largest single carbon abatement measure that the government is pursuing, voting against a measure that provides certainty to industry and voting against a measure designed by Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt. The coalition have become so much the party of 'no' that they are today saying no to their own measures.

There is a thing called the useless box, whose only job, when you switch it on, is to switch itself off again—and that is the very definition of the modern Liberal Party. They are the useless box of Australian politics. They have become the party that are Liberals in name only. They are the LINO party. Lino was a great floor covering—in the 1950s. That is the modern Liberal Party today—a party stuck in the past. A party mired in negativity. No wonder former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull spends so much time criticising them. And those on that side grumble about expelling Malcolm Turnbull from the Liberal Party. They say Malcolm Turnbull isn't a real Liberal. What they don't realise is that they are the ones who have ceased being true liberals. All political parties lose their way from time to time. Mine was once headed by Billy Hughes and once headed by Mark Latham! But when you're in a hole, the least you can do is stop digging. The 'Trumpification' of Robert Menzies's former party is truly sad. They think that their way back to the centre is by listening to the Sky After Dark crowd.

I know some of those on my side of the House will be telling me that I shouldn't be giving helpful advice to our political opponents. I shouldn't be reminding them that the way to win elections is from the centre of Australian politics. But I'm not worried by that. This is a party which has lost federal seats once held by Julie Bishop, Peter Costello, Joe Hockey, Josh Frydenberg, Malcolm Turnbull and Robert Menzies, and still comes in here rejecting the need for climate action, voting against their very own safeguard mechanism. This is a party who, in Victoria, has just seen its leader rolled in his attempt to expel an MP who attended an anti-trans rally that included black-shirted members of the far right performing Nazi salutes on the steps of the Victorian parliament. In being rolled, the Victorian Liberal leader was being lobbied by members of the federal Liberal Party, urging him to keep that MP in the party.

The Matter of Public Importance is apparently about affordable housing, although the shadow Treasurer didn't seem to display much concern for the issue in his remarks earlier. Their concern over housing is as genuine as a fox crying tears for the wellbeing of the chickens. This is the party that cut social housing programs. This is a party that allowed the home ownership rate to fall to its lowest level in half a century. The coalition purport to be caring about inflation—a concern that's as genuine as a $3 note, because the single quarter of highest inflation this century was March 2022, when the coalition were in office. Interest rate rises began under the coalition and, indeed, the opposition leader said at the time:

… nobody wants to see interest rates go up, but it's a reality of a world where there's inflation.

   Those opposite claim that they are the party of lower taxes. The Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments were the second-highest taxing governments since federation, behind only the Howard government. They came into office in 2013 promising that they would deliver a budget surplus each and every year. By the time their last Intergenerational report came down, it was projecting deficits all the way out until 2060. They're the party that say they are the safe custodians of taxpayer monies, and yet they gave $20 billion of JobKeeper to firms with rising revenue. We supported measures that saved jobs, but giving JobKeeper to Harvey Norman, AP Eagers and offshore billionaires did not save a single job.

This weekend, the voters of Aston will cast their ballots. We know of course that no government has taken a seat from the opposition in a by-election since 1920. We know the seat of Aston has been held by the Liberal Party since 1990. But I have a simple message for the voters of Aston: the Liberal Party has abandoned you. It's time to abandon the Liberal Party.

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  • Andrew Leigh Mp
    published this page in What's New 2023-03-30 18:58:22 +1100

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.