The Liberal Party is lost and confused about what it stands for, where it is going and how it will get there. Peter Dutton's leadership is far from inspiring, writes Belinda Jones.
LAST WEEKEND'S NSW state election saw the Liberal Party suffer another crushing defeat after 12 tumultuous years in office.
The people of NSW voted for change; the entire mainland of Australia is now held by state and territory Labor governments. Tasmania is the only state held by the Liberals.
While counting continued, Labor leader Chris Minns was sworn in as the 47th Premier of New South Wales. Former Premier Dominic Perrottet graciously conceded defeat and stepped down. His successor has not yet been decided.
This follows the crisis-prone Victorian Liberals' controversy over MP Moira Deeming, who attended a rally alongside transphobic influencers and neo-Nazis. (And subsequently, Victorian Liberal Leader John Pesutto's motion to expel Deeming from the party - ultimately, a test of his leadership.)
What is really going on with the Liberal Party?
Some reports say it's factional infighting that is bringing them undone; other reports claim it's infiltration of the party by religious groups via branch stacking. It seems to be an insidious problem affecting Liberals nationwide based on recent election failures. The Libs are at war with themselves - moderates versus the far-Right.
Dutton's indifference to Indigenous Australia deadly for approval rating
He didn't go to Garma. He walked out of the Apology. With his approval rating already in the toilet, Peter Dutton foolishly continues to spawn discontent over an Indigenous Voice To Parliament.
The Federal Opposition isn't doing its state counterparts any favours either. Federal Liberal Leader Peter Dutton has not been the epitome of inspiring leadership. He takes his role as Opposition Leader literally and arguably opposes everything.
Last Thursday, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus introduced the Bill to establish an Indigenous Voice To Parliament. It was a momentous national occasion and at the conclusion of his address, the House of Representatives and public galleries gave a standing ovation.
Neither Opposition Leader Peter Dutton nor Deputy Opposition Leader Sussan Ley were present in the Chamber during the first and second readings of the Bill by the Attorney-General. There was no address in reply; the few Opposition members who did attend sat silently during the standing ovation.
Once again, Dutton was unable to recognise a moment of national significance. He infamously walked out of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations then, 15 years later after the fact, admitted he'd "failed to grasp" the significance of the occasion.
Seems to be a pattern emerging
It appears Thursday's no-show is another example of Dutton failing to grasp the significance of the occasion. Especially given the fact both Dutton and Ley have been demanding "detail" on The Voice for weeks while they procrastinate on whether or not to give it their support.
Nationwide, the Liberals - state and federal - have become synonymous with negativity, indecisiveness, infighting and dysfunction.
In a speech to the House of Representatives on Thursday, Dr Andrew Leigh (MP for Fenner) pointed out the fundamental differences between the modern Liberal Party and its founders:
On the ABC's Q&A, Country Liberal Party Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price said she would advise Peter Dutton:
So, there seems to be a fundamental disconnect between the actual ideological origins of the Liberal Party and what the current cohort of Liberals believe their roots to be. The seismic shift in ideology seems to have occurred during the Howard years with a shift from liberal to conservative values - effectively a shift from centre-Right to far-Right on the political spectrum.
The root cause of current Liberal Party dysfunction
Former Prime Minister John Howard's legacy remains revered in the Liberal Party and he is a regular campaigner for current Liberals at election time. No Liberal Party politician has publicly acknowledged that Howard's ideological lurch to the Right was the slippery slope that has led to the current corrosive factional wars besieging the Libs today.
And while all this is going on, the Albanese Government celebrated the passing of a slew of legislation since coming to office ten months ago, the latest being a significant climate law, the Safeguard Mechanism (Crediting) Amendment Bill 2023, which passed on Thursday.
Said Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen during Question Time:
During the final Question Time of the sitting fortnight, Leader of The House Minister Tony Burke reflected on the achievements of the Albanese Government:
No surprise Libs are on life support after malignant Morrison years
For many Liberal Party members, guilt by association with the Morrison years will forever remain a dead weight they must lug around with them for the remainder of their political careers.
These statistics fly in the face of what Liberals say they believe - rather, they are in contrast to what they actually do. The Morrison Government was renowned for gagging debate, yet Liberals now - and back then - strongly assert they advocate an ideology of encouraging debate. The very opposite is true. The current federal Liberals are basically LINOs (Liberals in name only).
The Liberal Party is lost and confused about what it is, what it stands for, the origin of its values, where it is going or how it's going to get there - and Peter Dutton provides no acknowledgement of or remedy for these problems. No leadership. Nothing.
As a leader, Dutton seems unable to prioritise the critical aspects of his job - he fails to show up at the most important times and seize the opportunity to lead his party out of the quagmire of infighting and dysfunction.
A strong Opposition is integral to a healthy democracy and it is incumbent on this Opposition to offer a credible alternative government to Australians. However, people won't vote for a factional fight club determined to lurch further away from modernity and the values espoused by father of classical liberalism, John Stuart Mill.
The Liberals need to get their act together if they want to be electable. At this juncture, under Peter Dutton's leadership, that looks highly unlikely.
You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.