Infiltrated by extremists, what will the real Liberals do now?

Mar 29, 2023
Liberal Party of Australia logo.

The Labor victory in NSW this weekend has put the Liberal Party on notice. While many local issues were in play, the increasing radicalisation of the party at federal and state levels is making it unelectable. The usual drongos’ voices cry, “Liberals must go further right to win,” but Australia’s superior electoral system will make it hard for a radical right Liberal Party to win government.

It can’t have helped NSW’s Liberals to face an election immediately after Peter Dutton required a stinging parliamentary dressing down to force him to speak up against Nazis appearing on Melbourne Parliament’s steps – with a Liberal politician. Now Victorian leader John Pesutto has been unable to push that politician from the state Liberal Party’s fold following that shameful event.

The Liberals are partying with a toxic cocktail of base contingents aiming to cobble together a majority; these associations, however, will continue to push them further from government.

The kind of people they are counting on match that notorious “basket of deplorables,” ranging from the far right-connected conspiracy theorists that attacked police over Covid19 to the transphobic women who recently drew Nazis onto our streets. The party has become the redoubt of extremist religious groups that would enforce theocratic controls over women’s bodies and erase LGBTQI+ existence. Key Liberal Party elders travel the speaking tours of the world’s authoritarians, planning to undo liberalism and reverse modernity’s inclusiveness.

In America, the Republicans have ground down democratic protections over decades, working to make it impossible for people they disdain to vote, or for their vote to count. The party has been overwhelmed by the fire-eyed religious extremists and grifters they had hoped to manipulate.

The Tories in the UK have emulated the Republicans in anti-democratic steps to reinforce electoral success in the face of their destruction of the nation’s wealth and wellbeing.

Both parties are led by buffoons and cynics, and they use culture war hatreds to distract their base. Both nations are crumbling under the blasts on their homes fired by these political parties filled with ideologues and sharks.

The Australian Liberals, however, face compulsory and ranked choice voting. They contend with electoral commissions that are largely independent and functional. They also face a Labor federal government that is in the process of reversing the last decade’s Coalition attacks on our democratic processes, with an anti-corruption commission and the independent replacement for the corrupted Administrative Appeals Tribunal as important first steps.

The Albanese government must not stop there in AG Mark Dreyfus’ proudly promised integrity framework. There are several steps that must happen alongside those already in progress. The most important are surveillance of political donations and truth in political advertising measures. We also need politicians and public servants unable to convert their expertise into treasure in the private sector immediately after leaving government.

The Robodebt Royal Commission revealed repeatedly that the Coalition’s degradation of the public service must be reversed, with the ability for expert advice to be fearlessly given. This week’s decision to proceed with the trial of public service whistleblower Richard Boyle means (retrospective) whistleblower protections promised by Dreyfus must be brought forward.

One crucial step must be an official discussion about how Australia reinforces our news media. News Corp’s domination of the market may not be currently winning their chosen groups government, but Rupert Murdoch’s power cannot be ignored. His feigned “news” media threatens us even more than places like America where it has done so much of the catastrophic damage that threatens that nation’s ability to remain united states. At least America has other strong media organisations to balance the Murdoch and allies’ distorted narrative.

Our limited population and the current crisis of funding of news models demands debate to promote factual news. Social media’s wreckage of the civic discussion must be addressed. Democracy cannot function without reliable news available to the public, establishing a more balanced account of what is happening and what is at stake. It may be that measures to protect the independence – and independent funding – of the ABC are an important place to start. It will not be enough while Murdoch’s Dog Line pretend our depleted ABC is a socialist infiltrator.

Governments that face only broken and pathetic competition become complacent. We need a centre or centre-right alternative to engage in genuine debate, presenting an alternative vision of government. The Liberal Party, with or without their National Party partners, must engage in a process of renewal. Debate with the radical right only radicalises what the lazy media presents as “balance.”

Moira Deeming and Renee Heath present in stark terms the risk that threatens the Liberal Party. Deeming’s immediate scorn for the party’s instructions illustrate that toxic far right figures like this see our “conservative” parties as a tool, not as organisations to which they belong. If the party is unable to protect its branches from extremist religious groups organising to take them over, the threat is that the “conservative” voter accidentally votes for theocrats with a slick line in PR. This has never been the Australian way, and the vast majority of us do not wish to become this worst version of America.

If the old Liberals cannot protect their branches and central organisation from the onslaught of theocratic groups that believe they can mould the Liberal (or National) Party into the force for women’s submissive breeding and extremist definition of godly lives (or a white Australia) that they intend, then the old Liberals need to start over.

If the Kelly O’Dwyers who left the rotting party, or the Frydenbergs and Pesuttos who reluctantly pandered to the deplorables, care about their beliefs, they need to forge a new alternative that reflects conservative Australian values.

We need a fact-based conservative alternative for conservative voters, and for a genuine contest. What will the genuine Liberals and Nationals who have seen themselves savaged across the Australian mainland choose to do next?

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