We are getting used to commentators such as Peter Van Onselen and Niki Savva railing against the ‘reactionary right’ or the ‘hard right’ of the Liberal Party, who apparently had the numbers to tear down Malcolm Turnbull but not enough to install one of their own in his place. Generally, one takes their observations with a grain of salt but every now and then the itch to respond becomes irresistible.
Just what is the agenda of this ‘reactionary right’ that is such an anathema to all right-thinking conservatives? Let’s see. Opposition to the continued destruction of our energy infrastructure, opposition to the as yet unspecified damage to be inflicted on the wider economy to combat the entirely imaginary threat of climate change, opposition to the inexorable march towards a politically correct society based on identity politics, opposition to the vile and insidious Safe Schools program, opposition to the trashing of free speech, opposition to the surrender of our sovereignty to the UN, opposition to the increasing polarization of our society under the banner of multiculturalism. Need I go on?
But Peter Van Onselen, for example, believes the ‘reactionary right’ is out of touch with mainstream voters:
The problem for the Liberal Party is that it is perceived as dominated by climate-change deniers and opponents of issues such as same-sex marriage. It is electoral poison among younger voters. Added to this is a gender problem. Women aren’t joining the party’s ranks and, even when they do, they struggle to get preselected.
Van Onselen gives only three examples. I’ll deal with climate change later but has PvO forgotten that the arch reactionary righter, Tony Abbott, devised a mechanism whereby the Party’s official position on same-sex marriage could be overturned by a conscience vote based on the result of a public plebiscite? Has he forgotten that we now have same sex marriage, enacted under a Liberal government? On the gender issue, it may be true that women struggle to get pre-selection but at the national executive level, at least, under Nick Greiner’s presidency, three of four vice presidents are women.
Here’s Niki Savva:
Many voters no longer recognise the Liberal Party. It has forgotten how to speak to women and young people. Kelly O’Dwyer laid it out at a private meeting called by the Prime Minister to allow his Victorian MPs to vent when she warned the party was regarded as homophobic, anti-women, climate-deniers. “It has to stop,” she said, regretting the demise of the live-and-let-live philosophy of the Liberal Party she joined as a teenager.
‘Live and let live’ as the philosophy of a political party? Really? That’s a great recipe for getting elected!
And here is Savva again, this time employing that time-tested leftist technique – the strawman argument:
A party that prided itself on being a broad church is now marked by intolerance. Alternative views are treated contemptuously, as is anyone who dares put them forward. This is the modern face of the Liberal Party created by those who hog the airwaves and the screens, still parroting the mantra that Morrison has to get out of Paris, as if that is going to convince any normal person — emphasis here on normal — that this will make it rain in Longreach, give the cows in Gippsland free rein on emissions or cut power bills in Brisbane or Boothby.
No-one who promotes ditching the Paris agreement makes these claims, which are nonsensical in any case.
If the next-generation leadership of the Nationals, represented by Agriculture Minister David Littleproud, can talk easily about climate change because he thinks it’s real, because his constituents think it’s real, because they see its effects on the quality of the environment around them, then surely it’s safe for suburban Liberals to say those words about a policy that dare not speak its name without being pilloried: Climate. Change.
I doubt very much that David Littleproud really believes in climate change. His recent appearance on Q&A would seem to give the lie to Savva’s assertion.
So the theme that the ‘reactionary right’ is taking over the Liberal Party to the detriment of its election chances has now gained holy writ status in most of the mainstream press. One of the things that the Left does well is hammer home its message ad nauseam. The Right not so much. They seem to have the view that once having rationally stated their position, the unassailable logic should be enough to sway voters. In recent times, the only Liberal who defied that limp-wristed tradition was Tony Abbott.
So let’s have a look at the record.
Turnbull was not travelling too well as Opposition Leader after he allowed himself to get shafted over the Godwin Grech affair. No doubt there were murmurings against him then by disaffected conservatives but it was not until he conspired to grant Kevin Rudd his crowning glory, the ill-fated ETS, that they moved against him. This was a step too far out of the hallowed halls of the ‘broad church’ and Tony Abbott took over, which led to the landslide victory in 2013. Notable in this phase was that Abbott retained Turnbull’s services on the front bench as Shadow Minister for Communications. No doubt this magnanimity was driven, in part, by the fact that Turnbull was seen to have had some skills in this area.
Once in government, Abbott made some mistakes (notably breaking a promise about ABC funding and sticking by his woke paid parental leave scheme) but he also had significant achievements –stopping the boats, axing the carbon tax, cutting back on corporate welfare and making a decision on Sydney’s second airport to name a few . That didn’t stop Turnbull and his cohorts scheming against him almost from day one. Another mistake Abbot made was to back away from his commitment to reform Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This could be seen as a sop to the moderates , a concession to the ‘broad church’ concept. As was his agreement to hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage and his commitment to be bound by the result.
In the event, Abbott never made it past November 2015 but no front bench position for him. However, some of his closest allies (Cormann, Dutton etc) remained in Cabinet and served Turnbull loyally, despite his disastrous performance in losing 14 seats in the 2016 election, losing 38 Newspolls in a row , crashing out in the Longman and Mayo by-elections etc etc. They were still supporting him at the time he sprung his ill-judged leadership spill in an attempt to thwart a mooted challenge by Dutton. The trigger for all this was Turnbull once again pushing the ‘climate change’ envelope beyond what was acceptable to the conservatives, as they had made clear when they toppled him the first time. In his time as Prime Minister, Turnbull made no concessions to the right apart from the fact that he held the line on asylum seekers. (It seems somewhat sad to say that something essentially negative like stopping the boats was Tony Abbott’s greatest achievement – but it was something Turnbull could never have done and even he was smart enough to know that his job depended on holding the line.) During this period, Christopher Pyne, leader of the self-proclaimed Black Hand faction, boasted openly that the Left faction now had the whip hand.
We now have conservative Senator Jim Molan relegated to an unwinnable position on the NSW Senate ticket. We have conservative Member Craig Kelly almost certain to lose his pre-selection to a former Labor operative. We have Tony Abbott, perhaps the most successful Opposition Leader in history, under siege in his own seat. What happened to ‘live and let live’?
And what do we hear? The ‘reactionary right’ are talking over the Liberal Party.
It seems to me that the conservative wing have been content to’ live and let live’ on almost every issue except climate change. That is the fault line that runs through the Party.
Feather-weight philosopher, Peter Van Onselen, in a recent column in the Australian observes:
(Senate President Scott) Ryan’s point is that you can believe in climate change and still vote Liberal (or be a Liberal).
‘Believe in climate change’. (Voice goes up an octave) ‘Believe in climate change’! What a mindless statement. Van Onselen likes to claim that Abbott and co are not true Conservatives. ‘Belief in climate change’ sounds like the very antithesis of conservatism to me.
Climate change has become an ideological issue when it should be a scientific/economic issue with arguments on both sides. But the Left will not allow this. With them, as in all issues, it is an all or nothing approach. You cannot question ‘the science’, you cannot question the cost effectiveness of proposed actions, you cannot even debate if adaptation might be a more appropriate response than costly mitigation. To do any of these things is to be dismissed as a ‘climate denier’.
Even belief in God – the ultimate act of faith – allows for variations and nuance. But not climate science.
Van Onselen claims:
The problem with self-stylised conservatives today is that they are readily prepared to tear down institutions if it advances their campaigning cause.
What institutions are under threat from these renegades, one has to ask? Responsible government? The rule of law? The separation of powers? Religious freedom? Freedom of speech? Trial by jury rather than Twitter?
The only tearing down I can think f is the tearing down of a successful first term Prime Minister.
Where are we now after the reactionary right revolution?
We have an accidental two-bob-each- way Prime Minister who can’t bring himself to cut loose from the legacy of the man who’s now trying to destroy him, we have a two bob each way Treasurer who thinks business needs a social licence to operate, we have a Defence Minister presiding over both the emasculation of our fighting forces and a major defence purchase designed more to save seats in South Australia than to save the lives of sailors. I could go on but you get the picture. The only remotely conservative Member in a senior position is Angus Taylor and even he will not state the obvious – that the Paris Agreement is a crock. Takeover by the ‘reactionary right’? Give me a break.