By John Stapleton. Illustrations by John Brack.
This isn’t just a temporary setback, it’s an extermination. Australia’s conservatives are going through their worst period since the formation of the Liberal Party in 1944.
Their rout at the May Federal election last year and in the country’s most populous state New South Wales last month has left the Liberal Party out of power everywhere but in the mendicant island state of Tasmania. The party’s trouncing at last weekend’s bi-election in the Seat of Alston in Victoria after the resignation of controversial former Liberal Education Minister Alan Tudge has simply confirmed that Australia’s conservatives are in a deep pit of their own making.
For overseas readers, the Liberal Party in Australia are the conservatives. Yes, it’s a bit of oxymoronic nomenclature, but this is The Land Down Under.
The slow motion train wreck of Australia’s conservatives is in essence a case of Go Woke Go Broke. At the highest levels, the Liberal Party abandoned its base, many of whom are either climate change sceptics or fed up with the overkill, who are sick of identity politics and the gender wars, believe in the traditional virtues of hard work and self reliance, don’t want to see their taxes squandered on vast interlacing bureaucracies which achieve precisely nothing, want accountability in government, and want to be left alone to struggle and prosper as fortune dictates.
Not all of it is about Covid politics, but a lot of it is. Governments around the country crushed Australia’s freedom movement with ruthless intent, easily up to the standards of Justin Trudeau’s brutal crushing of the Canadian Freedom Convoy of early 2021 and his contemptuous treatment of his fellow citizens.
Australia’s poorly educated, news averse and seriously disengaged population were easy to manipulate, until they weren’t. Street protests around the country saw police out in their hundreds, military helicopters flying overhead, the pepper spraying of unarmed citizens, arrests, fines, imprisonment, and uber surveillance of anyone who dared to speak up against the government’s absurd Covid overreach.
The government put itself front and centre of the pandemic, destroyed all of Australia’s traditional liberties, and turned the country into a Prison Island. All led by a supposedly Liberal Prime Minister, the much reviled Scott Morrison, who has now not just managed to shatter his own reputation, but the standing of his party; the collateral damage being the country itself, and its population of 25 million.
Australia now has one of the highest excess death rates in the world, mirroring other jurisdictions which imposed hard lockdowns and implemented mass vaccination campaigns; public health strategies which have undeniably failed.
As columnist James Allan wrote in Spectator Australia: “If the Liberal party keeps saying it handled the pandemic well it will be eons before it gets back into government. Its response, turning away from just focusing on deaths, destroyed much of the productive small business sector while ballooning out the public sector, led to massive money printing, destroyed its credentials for sound fiscal management, got people used to being rewarded for not working and not going to work, helped to weaponise the police, created a profound distrust of the expert class, ruined two years of schooling and university for the young that is unfixable for many and the list goes on. Admit you erred. Apologise. Stop with the bogus Morrisonian self-justification and implicit self-praise. Then the Liberal base will move on.”
Way back in 2017, when I used to contribute regularly to The New Daily, a long forgotten period of Australian history when news was news and propaganda was largely confined to the opinion pages, I wrote a story sourced from a long term contact Geoffrey Greene.
As one the country’s leading political operatives, he worked as Liberal Party state director in both South Australia and Queensland and was one of the architects behind John Howard’s successful election campaigns between 1996 and 2007. And quite frankly, was one of the funniest and most Machiavellian people I’ve ever met.
He had thought about leaking the story to me before the 2016 election Malcolm Turnbull narrowly won but got cold feet. By 2017, however, the damage the “progressive” Turnbull was doing to the Liberal Party was manifest.
Greene’s motive was his hope that the story, which got extensive pickup in News Limited papers around the country, might help shock the Liberal Party back from the precipice. Fast forward to 2022, and Greene now believes those efforts were a dismal failure, and it’s time for an obituary.
Greene warned that the Liberals face electoral annihilation across the country. He might not have the Biblical gift of prophecy, but Greene was always a fine political analyst.
So, firstly, back to 2017.
The story, headlined “Turnbull Government at War with the People”, read in part: “The Turnbull government is at war with the people. This is a government which hates their own constituents. The Liberal Party has lost touch with what it stands for and will be decimated unless it changes tack. Across the next electoral cycle the Liberals will lose power federally and in every state with the exception, perhaps, of Tasmania.
“Those are not the words of the opposition, but of one of the Liberal Party’s leading strategists of the past 20 years.
“Known for his ruthless political savvy, Greene was an old-fashioned, behind-the-scenes political operative. His public declaration of despair follows on from the resignations this month of Liberal federal director Tony Nutt and his deputy John Burston, also a former South Australian Liberal Party director.”
Greene said: “They would not have supported the warfare this government has declared on its citizens. The Turnbull government has attacked every core constituency, small business, superannuants, pensioners, families with children, all because they have a budget that is out of control.
“They have not done anything about their own backyard. Public servants still fly at the front of the plane.”
Greene warned that the crashing political fortunes of his party was being accompanied by administrative collapse at federal, state and branch levels, with membership and donations in freefall.
Greene said a major Liberal Party constituency was small business, yet they had been burdened with excessive regulation.
“This is a government which only listens to big business,” Greene said. “Small business has been annihilated.”
There is an unhealthy debate over who was the worst Prime Minister in Australian history, was it Malcolm Turnbull or Scott Morrison.
The latter comes out ahead.
Desperate to play the strong man, from the moment Covid set foot on our shores in early 2020 Morrison began a string of mistakes for which the country will be paying the price for many years to come, not least quadrupling the national debt and gifting extraordinary dictatorial powers to State Premiers.
Lockdowns were always a left wing preoccupation, but Morrison backed the draconian actions of Australia’s State Premiers with a kind of feral, spit flying enthusiasm. What was tantamount to martial law was introduced around the country, while international media outlets painted Australia as a police state and a warning to the world of where Covid overreach could lead.
That Morrison insists his management of the Covid era was a success, and that he saved tens of thousands of lives, an entirely spurious claim, leaves many of us shaking our heads.
As columnist Joel Argus wrote in the conservative leaning Spectator Australia recently: “The Liberal Party should know better than to continue with the line that lockdowns were necessary and vaccine mandates lawful and righteous. There is seemingly no end to the number of times I have to reiterate that people lost their jobs, incomes, livelihoods, and sanity because of the nefarious behaviour our state governments engaged in. Others lost their good health, some even their lives, because of vaccine mandates that forced them into a position where they had to choose between their jobs and a jab that was most likely improperly tested, which has now led to countless recipients enduring a whole host of adverse effects, some even lifelong conditions that may never be cured.”
The smashing of small business during the Covid era was just one of the many betrayals; there are many more scandals to come. Not least will be the contracts the Morrison government signed with vaccine manufacturers, particularly Moderna and Pfizer, and why the government ordered ten doses each for every man, woman and child in Australia of a “vaccine” which prevents neither infection, transmission, hospitalisation or death. Similar contracts in the European Union are the subject of massive scandal. In Australia the contracts remain “Commercial in Confidence”. The largest of several contracts signed with Pfizer by the EU was worth an estimated $54 billion Australian dollars. Here, we shall just have to wait for the scandal to unfold.
All of this has left Opposition leader Peter Dutton in an extremely difficult situation. The man whom, many people believe, destiny has appointed to be a future Prime Minister of Australia, our version of Florida’s Ron DeSantis, someone who does actually believe in something, can at this point only hope to rebuild his Party’s shattered ranks.
While the nation’s tertiary educated chatterati dislike Dutton for his unfashionable views, they also seriously underestimate him. Dutton appeals directly to the traditional, socially conservative Liberal Party base, and also appeals to the nation’s working class, who like his no nonsense approach.
While ever former Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists on remaining in parliament, presumably because he can’t get another job, Dutton has a rotting turkey strung around his neck, and no chance of resurrection.
Morrison is easy pickings for the press corp who, like much of the population, loathe him. The discovery that “Scottie from Marketing” had secretly appointed himself to five ministerial portfolios made him the nation’s laughing stock, and has been fully exploited by the Labor government.
The Robodebt Royal Commission, an expensive inquiry to which everyone already knows the answer, is cheap politics once again skewering Morrison for chronic maladministration.
Who could blame the current government; like breeds like and the Liberal Party under Turnbull and Morrison played cheap politics for all they were worth.
They long ago forgot about providing good administration, fostering the natural productiveness of the population, guaranteeing freedom of expression, and running a lean and mean government which largely stayed out of people’s lives.
In the November elections in Victoria Liberal Opposition leader Matthew Guy was defeated once again by Daniel Andrews, a man whose demented Covid overreach made headlines around the world and who is utterly despised by significant swathes of the electorate.
To the bemusement of the rest of the country, the stench of Andrews’ administration was not enough to encourage Victorians to vote Liberal.
Spurred by yet another electoral defeat, Geoffrey Greene has now written his own party’s Obituary.
It reads in part: “We stand today overlooking a once well respected and well supported political party – so obviously on life support, being read the last rites as we mourn its passing. That’s right – while the shell of the party may remain – forever hopeful of revival – I am the bearer of bad news. Barring a miracle, the Liberal Party founded by Robert Menzies in 1944, I declare ‘Brain Dead’.
“I suspect the autopsy will eventually reveal it has been euthanised from within. But at 78 years old – it had a good life.
“Menzies founded our party as a political movement which championed the voice of the ‘forgotten people’ of Australia; those mainstream Australians whose goals, needs and aspirations had been ignored by Government.
“Looking back today, those people who had supported the Liberal Party over the years, have been left without voice, without a values-based leadership they can relate to, and without recognition – and some might say outright contempt – for the hard work, dedication, effort and sacrifice generations of Australians have made to develop this country.”
Nothing like a woman scorned, as the pre-woke saying used to go, and the cruellest analyses are coming from the conservative’s own side of politics. Greene is by no means alone in his scathing analysis.
Long time Liberal Party member Terry Barnes wrote, also in Spectator Australia: “The Liberal Party, nationally and at state level, is failing both its supporters and the Australian people who need – who deserve – a strong, viable, mainstream, centre-right alternative to a now-rampant Labor-Green-Teal hegemony. It’s a shambles.
“Modern Liberals fail to believe in anything. They have allowed factional and personality politics to trump policy. Incompetent state divisions and parliamentary parties destroy their election prospects. Parliamentary benches are filled with time-servers, has-beens, passengers, and leaders unwilling or afraid to preselect or promote genuinely talented MP contributors.
“The Liberal Party has become a belief-free zone. If you stand for nothing, you lose.”
As one of the many savage headlines now raining down upon the conservatives put it recently, the Liberals are “Dying on their knees.”
So, let Greene have the last word: “The Liberal Party was once a party that would progress social justice equally with our national security; it would argue at every opportunity for the full development of the individual citizen – without the deadening and liberty depriving hand of socialism.
“We once believed in the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples.
“We once believed in lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives.
“We once believed in the equality of opportunity – to maximise individual and private sector initiative and the encouragement and facilitation of wealth so that all may enjoy the highest possible standards of living, health, education and social justice.
“We once believed in the most basic of parliamentary democracy – the freedom of thought, worship, speech and association.
“We once believed. And we no longer do.”
John Stapleton is the author of Unfolding Catastrophe: Australia. He is one of Australia’s most experienced general news reporters, having worked on two of the country’s leading newspapers for a quarter of a century, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian. This story was originally published last year and has been updated to take into account the Liberal Party’s latest defeats.
John Brack (1920-1999) was born in Melbourne and spent much of his life there. He first came to prominence in the 1950s. For over forty years he was at the forefront of Australian art. His most famous painting is Collins Street, 5pm, our feature image.