March 24th 2018

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Media ensure a comfy rise for Bill Shorten

CANBERRA OBSERVED Can Liberals' broad church survive schism?

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Middle-East time bomb: youth unemployment

ENVIRONMENT Europe's freeze further proof of global warming!

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cashless debit card records positive results

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Liberals' Tasmanian victory: the implications

OPINION The height of absurdity: education as business

ECONOMICS AND CHINA Eyes averted from the dragon in the marketplace

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM The state attacking the Church: lessons from history

FAMILY POLITICS A Trojan horse for monitoring children

NORTH AMERICA The cultural and political mosaic that is Canada

CINEMA Mary Magdalene on film: a new interpretation

MUSIC Audio-visual: or, how to watch your music

CINEMA The Adventures of Tintin: A light amid the bleakness

BOOK REVIEW Taking arms against the gender fluid fad

BOOK REVIEW Narrative history from a great writer



INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Sexual exploitation at Oxfam symptom of culture of death

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Can Liberals' broad church survive schism?

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, March 24, 2018

Last year the Liberal Party celebrated the 75th anniversary of Robert Menzies 1942 “Forgotten People” speech, recognised today as the great clarion call for the party’s foundation just a few years later.

The speech is held up as having defined the underlying philosophy that binds the party together, during which Menzies championed Australia’s forgotten middle class and their “homes material, homes human and homes spiritual”.

While the party (in coalition with the Nationals) is in power federally, there are growing concerns about its future prospects, and even long-term survival as the conservative vote splinters and fractures.

Paul Kelly, in a penetrating piece in The Australian, outlined just some of the problems the Liberal Party faces against the collective forces of progressive politics that now have hold of the universities, most of the media, including and especially the national broadcaster, and increasingly even business.

In a bleak appraisal of the Liberal Party’s current predicament, the newspaper’s editor-at-large warned that the party is facing a number of difficulties, both internally and externally.

“Conservatism is consumed by confusion over its principles and purpose,” Kelly wrote. “It is fragmenting in party terms – witness the Coalition bleeding votes to Hanson’s One Nation and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives.

“With John Howard long gone, it is devoid of any authority figure in office able to hold the movement together and retain it within the party. Abbott remains its figurehead with the faithful but his internal standing has nosedived.”

Then comes Kelly’s hammer blow: “The upshot is that the conservative movement in this country has no organisational structure, no agreed agenda or strategic mission, it features rival leadership contenders, crisscrosses the Coalition, pulls in a few celebrities, falls for the false mantra from its media champions and seizes up any grassroots eruptions of support from the suburbs and regions. This is not a winning formula.”

The Kelly thesis further argues that many of the institutions that provided ballast to the Liberals (and its partner, the Nationals) in the past are either in decline or abandoning them.

“The three institutions that long sustained conservative sentiment in Australia have been transformed – the church, the family and the business sector. The church, notably the Catholic Church, long the conservative sheet anchor, is discredited, with its influence in eclipse; the traditional family structure with its values has surrendered to the ‘modern’ family on the new norm that one type of family is as valid as another; and the business community, more pluralistic but unpopular, has abandoned financial support for the Coalition and, desperate to purchase credibility, presents as an agent of social and environmental change while being singularly inept at selling an economic reform message.

“Such unity is unlikely as de facto political warfare between the progressive and conservative rank and file only intensifies. It would be equally wrong, however, to think progressive ideology is the solution for the Liberal Party or Turnbull Government. The notion of ‘modernising’ the Liberal Party with progressive ideas only guarantees the fracture of voters on the right, a process now far advanced. Hanson is the beneficiary at present, but other breakaways on the right will emerge.”

Finally Kelly argues that Australia is not alone, as conservatives around the world are facing similar fragmentation, particularly in the era of Donald Trump; whose success, he says, has ignited conservative energy, breakaways and populist revolts around the world.

Menzies himself never believed in a conservative party per se, which is why he rejected the label.

“We 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 rights, and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea,” Menzies wrote in Afternoon Light in 1967.

But the truth is that Menzies, who was the most successful Liberal, was a conservative, though, nonetheless, he adjusted prudently to the modern era including, for example, embracing Australia’s place in Asia.

The second most successful Liberal, John Howard, was the same – a man with deep conservative instincts, but who was practical and pragmatic when he needed to be.

By becoming a more centrist party and walking away from its conservative base, the Liberals have seen a marked deterioration in its primary vote, which it must lift if it holds any hope of retaining government.

And unless the Liberal Party can find a way to bring the conservatives back into the fold in a more genuine way – as part of what was the traditional “broad church” of the party – it faces an even more serious long-term decline.

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April 4, 2018, 6:45 pm