04 June 2024

More time with his family

When this blog started almost twenty years ago, Josh Frydenberg was an ambitious political staffer challenging for Liberal preselection against the sitting MP for Kooyong, Petro Georgiou. Today, Josh Frydenberg is trying to undermine both the federal MP for Kooyong and the preselected Liberal candidate for Kooyong - who for the first time in almost 80 years are not the same person - and Josh is neither of them.

Days ago, the press gallery were agreed about poll findings that Peter Dutton was nowhere near leading the Liberal Party back to government in a single term, but yet the Liberals remaining in federal parliament think he's doing a good job. Suddenly, if press gallery heroes like David Crowe or Josh Butler are to be believed, Liberals are clamouring for an alternative to the leader they fully support.

All that's in tatters now. Whenever the Leader of the Opposition speaks from now on, journalists have the excuse to ask him about Frydenberg, Frydenberg, Frydenberg indefinitely, as they do with beleaguered leaders. Karen Andrews, who had been challenged by Peter Dutton for preselection herself, initially called for an accomplished (younger) woman to have her preselection taken from her and given to a man deemed to have leadership potential. Andrews won't be in parliament after the next election but she has made her party's campaign for that election harder - but that doesn't mean the Liberals are divided, because only Labor has schisms and splits and chaos.

Imagine if Amelia Hamer had taken the sage advice from Jason Falinski to hand over her hard-won preselection to Frydenberg: "she would understand we want to put our best people on the field", apparently. Hamer was the best person in her preselection, and the preselectors agreed. Falinski is yet to secure preselection for the coming election, where his only real hope of beating Mackellar MP Sophie Scamps is if she simply stood aside for him.

David Crowe seems concerned that 30,000 voters might be transferred into Kooyong, who will be aware of Frydenberg but not of Monique Ryan. This is an odd assumption to make. It is so silly that it undermines the rest of his article and potentially diminishes any future articles he may write. Had Frydenberg succeeded in knocking off Hamer, Ryan's campaign would write itself: Frydenberg can beat women inside the Liberal Party, don't let him win outside. Ryan would paint Frydenberg as an entitled brat and would win in a canter. Everyone fancies themselves a battler, which is why politicians appeal to battlers: nobody believes Josh Frydenberg is a battler. Nobody believes Josh Frydenberg would stand up for them, not even people who like him.

Real leaders don't get gifted preselection. This country is on its 31st Prime Minister, and every one got there after facing down challenges within their party. No evidence exists that Frydenberg would or could help Liberals hold marginal seats like Deakin or Menzies, nor win marginal Labor seats like Chisholm, let alone those outside Victoria. Thank goodness Karen Andrews and the press gallery rate him, though.

The Liberal Party has a problem representing women and attracting those who didn't vote for them last time: a man who knocked off a duly preselected woman would have no claim to represent women's interests, inside the Liberal Party or outside it. Frydenberg's intervention in the Kew state preselection in 2014 against the talented Mary Wooldridge in favour of oafish Tim Smith has helped doom his party at the state level, a Pyrrhic victory if ever there was one.

The Liberal Party has had a long love affair with nuclear power, unreciprocated by the electorate. The Party has always dumped its nuclear option rather than lose votes:

  • In 1970 the Gorton government proposed building a nuclear power station in the Jervis Bay Territory. The McMahon government kyboshed it the following year.
  • The Howard government instituted a ban on nuclear power after repeatedly floating the nuclear idea, then facing such a backlash that they impsed a nuclear ban to try to avoid the subject ever coming up again.
  • Josh Frydenberg called for a national debate on nuclear without advancing a proposition himself. He later became Federal Energy Minister and simply declared he wouldn't consider nuclear, and no journalist has pressed him on the issue since.
Now Peter Dutton is proposing nuclear power: if he wins government he might claim an electoral mandate, but he won't win so there isn't and won't be one. Frydenberg will not be able to de-nuclearise the Liberal Party if/when an election loss requires them to do so. Both Dutton and Frydenberg were members of the Morrison government committing Australia to AUKUS, which includes a nuclear waste dump somewhere in this country.

Dutton's other main weakness is also one afflicting Frydenberg: that of not having learned the lesson of multicultural Australia that the electorate tried and failed to teach John Howard in 2007. 30% of Australians were born overseas, and not necessarily in English-speaking countries. When Dutton demonises asylum-seekers or even condemns the government's responses to immigration policy, racist attacks increase on people from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Dutton won't be able to hold electorates like Deakin or win back those like Bennelong with his career-long anti-immigration stance, and no media strategy will protect marginal seat candidates from its force.

Frydenberg's video for Sky News on rising anti-Semitism showed lots of inconsolable verklempt Jewish Australians but offers no solutions in dealing with the anti-Semitism itself, nor for dealing with other forms of prejudice manifesting as social violence like anti-Islamic or anti-Indigenous words and actions. The Liberal Party needs to show that it has learned those lessons, but Frydenberg is one of the perishing few who likes the Liberal Party the way it is. Only the press gallery regards this as some insoluble conundrum.

Brett Worthington thought he was identifying self-image problems for Frydenberg and the Liberal Party, but his examples only involved press gallery images and assumptions about him:

The former Liberal deputy leader and treasurer Josh Frydenberg has long been told he'd be a prime minister one day.
Plenty of media articles profile him in this way. Patricia Karvelas and other journalists used their social media accounts to lobby for him and could not believe it when he was defeated, putting the lie to any notion of objectivity in Australian political journalism.
In the years since, it's seemed like a matter of when, not if, Frydenberg would re-enter the political arena.
When the electorate of Aston, just down the road from Kooyong, was vacated in 2023 the press gallery screamed like Beatles fans for Frydenberg to run. The Liberals chose a candidate who lived further from Aston than he did, and Frydenberg played little to no role in helping the Liberals win that by-election, which they didn't. There was another by-election in a winnable seat in suburban Melbourne (Dunkley), and Frydenberg's role was minimal there too. Worthington mentions Aston but doesn't square it with his much-vaunted yearn to return.

Frydenberg didn't have to be a one-seat wonder. In 2004 and 2007 he was offered other seats, but insisted on Kooyong or nothing. There is nothing stopping him knocking off the Victorian Liberals' weakest link, Jason Wood, in the safe seat of La Trobe: all that team-player, best-on-field stuff applies to Wood as much as Hamer.

[Frydenberg is] young, often dubbed moderate and from a state where the Liberal brand has been on the nose in recent election cycles.
Young? He's the same age as Dutton.

Often dubbed moderate - by whom? Frydenberg is a conservative. When the Liberals held a leadership election in September 2015 the moderates voted for Malcolm Turnbull, the conservatives for Tony Abbott - Frydenberg voted for Abbott. Frydenberg is a monarchist at a time when King Charles III is less a figure of Australian national unity than Taylor Swift. He voted against marriage equality. This son of refugees has never been asked about any of the Cabinet decisions he took to make life harder for asylum-seekers and other migrants (and no, we don't need to see picfacs of him munching banh mi or piroshki). It is no more valid to describe him as a 'moderate' than he is a 'sandwich' or a 'Wednesday'. Keep this in mind when reading Brett Worthington: he blindly repeats nonsense without really unpacking it.

As for Victoria, "a state where the Liberal brand has been on the nose in recent election cycles", what would be the point? What difference would Frydenberg make in holding Liberal marginals, winning Labor marginals or reclaiming seats like Goldstein?

Frydenberg had a gifted run in the federal political arena ... A prolific texter, Frydenberg has no shortage of supporters in the media eager to stoke a Josh for PM campaign.
Don't take my word for it that press gallery professionalism and objectivity is bullshit.
Frydenberg made it known he was considering a return, the news was reported, there was no shortage of reaction and a little over 24 hours later, he makes his first public comments, hosing down the speculation he'd fuelled.
This article contains all the proof you need that journalists are up to no good when they lapse into the passive voice. Josh sends them a text and the entire Australian media en bloc are as helpless as kittens. The news was reported, what can you do?

Every time it flares it serves as another reminder about the lack of depth within the federal Liberal ranks.
It flares. Nothing you can do.

Josh Frydenberg is not a solution to this problem because he lacks depth himself. There is simply no evidence of any conviction that he has brought to politics. Scott Morrison rose through a system of patronage that left him bereft when he attained the top job, and Josh Frydenberg would be no different in a leadership role. What did he learn from being Member for Kooyong 2007-22? What did he learn from the varous ministerial portfolios he held? Morrison has paraded his faith, what role does Frydenberg's play in his life (other than as identity politics and concern over nasty graffiti)? What about that family with whom he is spending time? What of Goldman Sachs?

For all Frydenberg's contact with journalists, none of them seem to have asked these fairly basic questions. For Worthington and other members of the press gallery, it seems impertinent to consider where there should be something in it for those of us outside both the Liberal Party and the press gallery in the return of Josh Frydenberg to public life.

Should [Amelia Hamer win Kooyong], that Josh for Canberra campaign will become even harder.
Harder for whom, Brett?

When former Kooyong MP Robert Menzies lost the Prime Ministership in 1941, he did not lose his seat. Menzies did, however, spend years re-examining his beliefs about the world, Australia's place within it, the place of politics within Australia, and his own role within politics. At a time when lots of people are re-examining these issues at fundamental levels, Frydenberg shows no sign of anything other than getting along and going along. If life can go on without him, perhaps it should.

Toward the end of his career, Menzies sounded out Amelia Hamer's great-uncle Dick to succeed him in Kooyong. Dick Hamer declined (and went into a long career in Victorian state politics) so Menzies was succeeded by Andrew Peacock. Peacock, like Frydenberg, was a get-along-go-along guy. Peacock's achievements in Papua New Guinea and in foreign policy are more significant than any Frydenberg achievement I can think of. Peacock never became Prime Minister either, he courted the press gallery of his time in his own way, and the country was hardly worse off for that.

Frydenberg says he is not going to challenge Amelia Hamer for Liberal preselection in Kooyong, and there are plenty of journalists willing to take him at his word and leave it at that. I pity Hamer, though. She is not going to get the sort of assistance Frydenberg got in his first election in 2007 from people like Peter Costello.

I am quite sure Amelia Hamer is capable, intelligent, nice, and possessed of more positive qualities than I can imagine. I am equally certain that she has never been a political candidate for national office, and that inexperienced people under pressure tend to make rookie errors. Hamer is not going to get anywhere near the $2mn campaign budget Frydenberg had in 2022. She is less likely to be forgiven for slips and flubs in her first campaign than Frydenberg was in 2007. The press gallery will descend on her in all its self-exculpating passive voice and there will (for all her abilities and promise) be nothing she can do, because traditional media exists for major parties and vice versa: and when the press gallery thinks about the Liberal Party, it thinks Josh, not Amelia.

Frydenberg is not a change agent and no evidence exists that he might become one. He is part of the Liberal Party's problems, particularly its lack of depth: he offers no solution. Maybe that's why the press gallery like him, though: they're fine with Labor but only in opposition, and Greens and independents scare them. Frydenberg would be predictably different rather than unpredictably better. There has been a lot said and written about the relationships between politicians and traditional media, but in Josh Frydenberg we see a relationship that serves neither party well at all.