26 May 2010

Entitled to your opinion

When it lost the 1983 election, the Liberal Party made a unseemly rush to distance itself from Malcolm Fraser. Moderates thought he'd gone too far; right-whingers thought he didn't go far enough. By the early 1990s those Liberals who thought Malcolm Fraser went too far were pretty much gone. Andrew Peacock and Ian Macphee fell as chaff before the Kroger putsch, replicated in NSW by Bronwyn Bishop. The right whinge pretty much had the Howard government to themselves, with the only signs of moderate liberal life were confined to one issue (refugees) and to a small bunch of members who were then in their sixties, and whose careers must surely end soon (where they haven't already) in the pursuit of that party's renewal. But that was many years ago, and we've all moved on since then.

There has been some generational change but not by people who will or can disrupt the right-whinge status quo. There isn't a critical mass of such people and nor will there be, because no reserve of moderate preselectors exists within the Liberal Party and no deep pools of liberal candidates exist to draw upon. They can't effect any change because there is no evidence they have thought about the challenges confronting Australia and what liberal measures might be brought to bear on these. Moderate liberals tend to be trainee lobbyists rather than fully engaged with the policy process, which makes them little different from right-whingers really; only those right-whingers unsuitable for a lobbying career, mostly fanatics, tend to be fully engaged with public policy as such.

Much of this has been said before, particularly in The Australian, and it is a testament to Samantha Maiden that she can make old news seem relevant. That ad where Iraqis invade Perth and Indonesians sail up the Normanton River really is a crock and I hope it represents a low point for the Liberals, from which the only way forward must be up: but something tells me it's going to get worse before it gets better for them.

What really incensed me was the mendacious, self-regarding and self-negating piffle gainsaying Fraser toward the end:

Mr Fraser, the prime minister from 1975 to 1983 said today that the party was no longer a liberal party but a conservative party.

In response, Liberal frontbencher Chris Pyne said Mr Fraser “was entitled to his view, but I think he’s wrong,".

Malcolm Fraser is entitled to his view. Not because of any inherent human right or Australia's long history of freedom of speech, not even because of a lifetime of achievement: he has to wait until Chris Pyne condescends to grant him an entitlement. I wish we lived in a country where you could have a view regardless of whether Chris Pyne would condescend to you in this manner, but Pyne has to be good for something.

Insofar as it matters, on what grounds does Pyne think Fraser is wrong?

“The Liberal Party is as much a party of both liberal and conservative traditions, as it has ever been. It contains in it a number of very prominent ‘small’ ['l'] liberals such as Malcolm Turnbull and George Brandis and others, and they are in senior roles," he said.

The Liberal Party has not been a party of both liberal and conservative traditions for a decade at least. The idea that there is any sort of equivalence between liberals and conservatives within the Liberal Party, as there was during and before Fraser's time, is bullshit. Pyne's exclusion from the Howard ministry for many years was one small element of proof of that; there are plenty of others, but chances are the only way one can explain anything to Chris Pyne is to make direct reference to Chris Pyne. You could never accuse Chris Pyne of doing anything to encourage moderate liberals to become active in the Liberal Party.

The Federal Parliamentary Liberal Party contains almost no moderate liberals to speak of, and those that are there have scant records of tangible achievement in promoting moderate liberal policy. True, Turnbull does; but he is a backbencher, occupying not a senior role but a very junior one, where any utterance he makes at odds with party policy is quickly disowned by the party leadership in word and deed. Brandis has no record to speak of: a couple of sound speeches perhaps, but still less than Fraser's output since 1983, and even less than Fraser's output as a backbencher. Brandis' position as a moderate is similar to those of Pyne, or Robert Hill: adopt an appearance of bemusement with maybe a few quips now and then, but when the right-whinge attack dogs come at you the only thing to do (apparently) is flinch, back down, and negotiate a few meaningless little perks to keep quiet. Nick Minchin established the pattern under wich moderates operate within the Liberal Party - crush them, and only then throw them meaningless concessions to shut them up - and now two generations of liberal moderates are confined within that nutshell and command the 'infinite space' allowed to liberal moderates. You don't get to have lunch with Glenn Milne if you're a moderate, he didn't get where he is today by lunching with losers. Brandis has only got to be Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate (you can see why Chris Pyne is so impressed, can't you) by stopping all that moderate liberal nonsense once and for all.

Why would Maiden quote Pyne anyway? The journosphere perceive Pyne as some sort of leader of moderate liberals, whereas a greater perspective would show that to have Chris Pyne in such a position is a nonsense of itself. Here is an article that is not unsympathetic to Pyne but is all the more damning for highlighting his inability to think about policy, to imagine some aspect of Australian life greater than himself and to develop liberal policies addressing people's needs in that area.

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb said: “Malcolm, for whatever reason, has been uncomfortable with lots of our positions for 20 years, 25 years."

“I don’t know what’s going through his head. We’ve become used to Malcolm disagreeing with our positions on many issues for nearly a quarter of a century," he said.

That would be the same quarter-century in which the liberal and conservative traditions have been out of alignment: well done in negating Pyne, Andrew Robb, but no credit for drawing attention to yourself with a comment like “I don’t know what’s going through his head". Fraser has given long and lucid explanations of why he believes as he does, and I can't believe you haven't examined those in detail. If you still don't know what's going through the head of a voluble public figure then what does that say about your own?

Funniest yet, though, is this: Abbott tells Libs what? As if Abbott is some post-Howard leader. As if he is going to address the liberal-conservative imbalance, with his mealy-mouthed praise of Malcolm Fraser and his great big taxes. He's entitled to his opinion, he's even entitled to kid himself as Chris Pyne is; but he's not entitled to think that he can be believed that their party has the balance required to govern the nation.


  1. Andrew, you must have loved the line by Abbott:

    ''I'm as conservative as anyone in this room but a true conservative moves with the times.''

    I do not think conservative means what he thinks it means.

  2. The poor bastard thinks he's a liberal, Grog. It's the beginning of the end I tell ya.