Sunday Herald Sun - - Opinion -

IT WAS his prob­lem when he was the Lib­eral leader last time, and it’s still his prob­lem now; Mal­colm Turn­bull has no po­lit­i­cal judg­ment. Rather than use the one-year an­niver­sary of his elec­tion win as a chance to lay out a new agenda and give vot­ers a sorely needed sense of di­rec­tion, the Prime Min­is­ter used a speech to a UK think tank to deepen Lib­eral Party di­vi­sions, and re­mind or­di­nary peo­ple that this is all about him, not them. Right now, the Lib­eral Party needs lead­er­ship. The gov­ern­ment has not won a Newspoll since it scraped home with a one-seat ma­jor­ity (Mr Turn­bull’s own test, not ours) and the base is splin­ter­ing.

It was like this last time when he tried to force an emis­sions trad­ing scheme through the party room with his un­for­get­table words, “I will not lead a po­lit­i­cal party that’s not as com­mit­ted to ef­fec­tive ac­tion on cli­mate change as I am”, and he’s do­ing it again.

There’s the break­away move­ment of Cory Bernardi that’s in­creas­ing mem­ber­ship each week and I know he’s be­ing asked to speak at events around the coun­try that once would have been the main­stay of Lib­er­als.

And of course there’s One Na­tion, which has be­come a pow­er­ful vote of protest and only grow­ing stronger be­cause of a fail­ure of Lib­eral lead­er­ship to ad­dress the is­sues it ar­tic­u­lates on be­half of dis­il­lu­sioned vot­ers.

But rather than unite, the PM chose to di­vide. It was poor judg­ment when there was ac­tu­ally much to sup­port in his speech, but try­ing to pick a fight with con­ser­va­tives was dumb in the ex­treme.

It shows an ab­ject lack of com­mon sense to poke the bear at a time when the cur­rent di­vi­sions were kicked off by the im­pu­dent gloat­ing of his fac­tional lieu­tenant, Christo­pher Pyne.

When Pyne spoke of the “win­ner’s cir­cle” he made it very clear t the party’s Left-wing Lib­er­als view to­day’s po­lit­i­cal fight as a bat­tle for con­trol of the party rather than a bat­tle of ideas to win over dis­il­lu­sioned vot­ers who are leav­ing the Coali­tion in droves. And los­ing 15 straight Newspolls is hardly “win­ning”.

Did Turn­bull hope to get a rise out of con­ser­va­tives by declar­ing the fact Robert Men­zies chose to name his party the Lib­eral Party of Aus­tralia, as ev­i­dence it was not con­ser­va­tive?

If so, he was naive and a poor stu­dent of party his­tory. The Lib­eral Party is a proud ex­po­nent of both the clas­si­cal lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive tra­di­tions, and an as­sess­ment of poli­cies over time makes this clear. It has only gov­erned suc­cess­fully when both these strands of cen­tre-Right phi­los­o­phy have a seat at the table. But Men­zies

him­self knew a shift to the Left was al­ways dan­ger­ous for a party built on the in­di­vid­ual free­doms, the as­pi­ra­tional or­di­nary per­son and sound eco­nomic man­age­ment.

As he wrote in a let­ter to his daugh­ter, Heather, in 1974, which she re­cently pub­lished: “The main trou­ble in my state is that we have the State Ex­ec­u­tive of the Lib­eral party, which is 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 … Why should I, at my age, have to be wor­ry­ing my­self about what is hap­pen­ing to the party which I cre­ated, a party which had prin­ci­ples to which I most firmly ad­here, prin­ci­ples which have now been com­pletely aban­doned by what they call ‘lit­tle l’ Lib­er­als.”

For most Aus­tralians, a de­bate about phi­los­o­phy in­side the Lib­er­als is an es­o­teric own goal. The PM would have been wiser to mark the one-year an­niver­sary of his one-seat win out­lin­ing his agenda — and he should have de­liv­ered this mes­sage in mar­ginal seats, backed up by a mini­cam­paign push from min­is­ters. The elec­torate is des­per­ate to see lead­er­ship from the man who’s al­ways shown prom­ise but never re­ally de­liv­ered.

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