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Adding fuel to the Abbott conundrum

Norman Abjorensen writes in Inside Story (29.6.17) about the latest airing of factional divisions among federal Liberals, asking whether it’s ‘business as usual’ within the party, or are the Liberals heading for a showdown?

‘Is there a war going on within the Liberal Party? Media coverage would suggest there is, but among those on the inside, opinions are very mixed. One veteran Liberal laughed when I put this to him, saying, “Look, it’s really all business as usual. But what is different right now is that what people say in private is now out there. Not a good look, but nothing much has changed. We have always had differences.” But a minister in the Turnbull government took precisely the opposite view. “Are we at war? You bet we are. And this will be very messy”.

‘At the centre of agitation is the former prime minister, Tony Abbott, who is maintaining a running critique of the government despite his “no sniping” pledge after he was dumped in a party-room revolt almost two years ago.

‘The key issue at stake centres on the interminable conundrum of the Liberal Party’s identity and the closely linked power struggle between moderates and conservatives, not at all helped by senior minister Christopher Pyne’s brash triumphalism about marriage equality and the moderates being “in the winner’s circle”.

‘… Another matter clouding the Abbott issue is the NSW state election in March 2019, most likely after a federal election late next year. The state government, along with the state economy, is the best performing in the country and, as such, is the current jewel in the Liberal crown. The last thing the party needs is for a civil war to spill over into the state arena and jeopardise the Berejiklian government’s re-election prospects.

‘With the Turnbull government looking dismal in the polls and the possibility that the Liberal government in Tasmania could be defeated next year, that might well be the only asset the party has to defend – and Tony Abbott just might be sacrificed in that defence.’

Turnbull is right to link the Liberals with the centre – but is the centre where it used to be?

Carol Johnson writes in The Conversation (12.7.17) that Malcolm Turnbull’s claim that Robert Menzies’ Liberal Party was meant to be one of the ‘sensible centre’ has some validity – but it may also be that that centre has shifted significantly, too.

‘It is a sign of how serious the divisions have become in the Liberal Party that speaking the truth about Robert Menzies is now depicted as making a provocative attack on the Liberal right.

‘Yet that is the situation in which Malcolm Turnbull found himself after giving his Disraeli Prize speech in London. As Turnbull pointed out in that speech, Menzies intentionally avoided calling the new party “conservative” in case that gave rise to misconceptions. Rather, Turnbull cites Menzies’ statement that they:

‘… took the name “Liberal” because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea.

‘As the leading academic expert on Robert Menzies, Judith Brett, has pointed out, Menzies recognised when the party was founded in 1944 that there was a strong public sentiment in favour of building a progressive, new post-war society that was far better than the old.

‘In other words, it was a party that pledged to reject socialism, but wouldn’t necessarily stand in the path of social progress.’

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