ALLAN PATIENCE: The dilemma now facing Coalition politics in Australia

The results of the Victorian State election are devastating for right-wing politics right across Australia. It is now blindingly obvious that the policies that they have been spruiking are irrelevant to mainstream voters. It is as if the Coalition parties presently exist in a parallel political universe, hermetically sealed off from the everyday opinions and needs of contemporary Australian voters. It’s time for the Liberal Party leadership to understand that the party is no longer a “broad church” embracing liberals and so-called conservatives.

The increasingly phalangist tendencies of the alt-right rump in the party (along with their mates in the National party and News Ltd) have to be jettisoned once and for all. Moreover, it’s time for the political right in Australia to understand that their obsessively bullying minions in the Murdoch media are frankly impotent. Australian voters have well and truly moved on from the pugnacious pontificating that stains the reporting and analysis in most of the Murdoch outlets.

The politics of fear, prejudice, and law-and-order populism have been soundly rejected by Victoria voters. The Trumpian tone that Matthew Guy and his Coalition team tried to inject into the Victorian election campaign has misfired very badly indeed. Their counterproductive efforts were aided and abetted by several federal colleagues who are seriously on-the-nose in Victoria, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. Some of those colleagues (especially Michael Sukkar, Greg Hunt, and Kevin Andrews who were in the vanguard pushing for Dutton to succeed Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister) have seriously damaged the Liberal brand in Victoria, as well as endangering their own political futures. They were very careless – stupidly so, in fact – in what they were wishing for federally, while arrogantly ignoring what it would mean for their Victorian counterparts.

The Liberal Party of Australia is in crisis. Once claiming to be a “broad church” that could embrace voters right across the centre-right of the political spectrum, it has fallen victim to a rump of disgruntled and narrow-minded extreme right-wingers whose personalities and policy preferences are taking them in a phalangist direction in Australian politics.

Phalangism is a form of fascism. It emerged in Spain in the 1920s and 1930, led by the grotesque dictator Franco. It drew deeply from the poisoned well of medieval Spanish Catholicism – the kind of repressively authoritarian Catholicism that gave rise to the Spanish Inquisition. Franco’s dictatorship was finally overthrown after his death in 1975.

However, the Catholicism of Franco’s regime lives on in the interstices of the post-Vatican II Catholic Church of today. It is disturbingly evident in shadowy organisations like Opus Dei (whose ultra-conservative founder Josemaría Escrivá was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2002), and in the repugnant and now discredited religious order, the Legion of Christ, founded by the corrupt and sexually perverted Father Marcial Maciel Degollado.

Right-wing Catholics share many of the political and theological views of the neo-phalangist ideologies represented by these extremists in the contemporary Catholic Church. Their successors are among the harshest critics of Pope Francis, some of whom are to be found among the bishops, priests and laity in the Catholic Church in contemporary Australia. Look no further than the Australian bishops’ recalcitrance in acknowledging the Church’s culpability in the wake of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse – recalcitrance that verges on evil.

There are echoes of this toxic thinking among alt-right politicians at federal and state levels. Hostility to the marriage equality, demands for legislation to protect religious freedom (which in fact would entrench religious privilege), ambivalence towards followers of Islam and other non-Christian faiths, the stunningly un-Christian cruelty of policies on asylum seekers, the idiotic commitment to neoliberal economic policies that privilege the rich, the refusal to accept the science of climate change – these are all traceable back to the kinds of blinkered theology and phalangist politics that threaten contemporary democracies all round the world.

The Liberal Party has to wake up to this reality. It must weed out those with phalangist tendencies in its ranks. It must reform its policy agenda to enable it to represent the views and needs of ordinary Australians. The voters in Victoria have shown very clearly that they do not see the current crop of Liberals as adequately understanding and responding to their deeply held beliefs and needs – beliefs and needs that are in no way associated with the neo-phalangism that is insinuating itself ever more ruthlessly into right wing politics in contemporary Australia. A step in the right direction would be to dis-endorse a number of extremist politicians of the likes of Tony Abbott and Kevin Andrews and to bring in new, fresh candidates who genuinely reflect the real concerns of everyday Australian voters. There should be a goodly number of women among those new candidates.

Meanwhile the Liberals need to stop looking to the Murdoch media to be their cheer leaders and ideological mentors. New Ltd has well and truly demonstrated that not only is it incapable of understanding and reflecting the views of most Australian voters, its leading columnists are simply being ignored by those very same voters. The vast majority of Murdoch reporters are all sound and fury signifying nothing.

For example, just before the Victoria election The Australian confidently predicted that the Coalition parties would win at least nine seats from Labor, including Premier Daniel Andrews’ seat of Mulgrave. How the paper could have been so utterly wrong is something it needs to explain. Meanwhile, one of its leading political journalists, the always pontificating Chris Kenny tweeted a prophecy: “Daniel Andrews is finished. Soft on crime. Paid a billion dollars not to build a tunnel. Siphoned taxpayers’ money to get elected.  A drovers (sic) dog could beat him.” Let’s not hold our breath waiting for Kenny to “Please explain!”

There are other columnists in The Australian and other Murdoch outlets whose views are increasingly out of step with the majority of Australian voters. They include Janet Albrechtsen and Judith Sloan, two writers whose sneering contempt for ordinary Australians is becoming increasingly shrill. Greg Sheridan’s views on foreign policy long ago passed their use-by date and the antiquated Catholicism that colours his rambling opining is shared by the misery preaching of Gerard Henderson. They have so much in common with the doom-saying Hanrahan that their columns have become laughable. “Pope” Paul Kelly long ago forgot that the secret of a good homily is brevity. About the only reputable columnist in The Australian is Peter Van Onselen whose intelligence stands in bright contrast to so many of his journalistic colleagues.

The very encouraging message that comes out of the Victoria election is that voters are fed up with the shenanigans on the right of Australian politics. They want progressive policies on a raft of issues that the right simply cannot and will not deliver – for example, climate change, comprehensively improved education and health systems, radically upgraded infrastructure (especially public transport), and a more just economy with a robust public sector competing with the private sector. They also want compassionate and clear-eyed political leadership that will take them, their children and grandchildren into a more hopeful public policy and genuinely democratic future.

Allan Patience is a political scientist based in Melbourne.

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8 Responses to ALLAN PATIENCE: The dilemma now facing Coalition politics in Australia

  1. Rosemary O'Grady says:

    I felt that the very good news that came as a result of the Victoria election was the eloquent and perceptive speech delivered by Julia Banks as she enmoved herself to the X-benches.
    This corner of the House is now looking like a jewelbox of humane and articulate political talent.
    I’m all for reviews of how we got here and where to go from here, and AP is an expert analyst of ‘all that’. But when I see Cathy McGowan, Kerryn Phelps and Julia Banks in a mini-caucus in the Reps – I am suddenly- renewed with a Hope that the Brains are in and there are Energetic, Practical people in Parliament who have the committment to make a change in the way things are, still, done. They’re in Parliament – now: how to get them into Government, – any ideas Julie?

  2. Kien Choong says:

    Why the liberals (small l) in the Liberal Party did so little to fight illiberal tendencies in the Liberal Party? It’s hard to understand, and would be great to read a piece explaining this.

    My own theory is that it has something to do with party identity trumping liberal values. Anyway, would be good to understand further!

  3. Scott MacWilliam says:

    The Liberal Party as a a `broad church’ is a creature of John Howard’s political needs. As George Brandis noted, RG Menzies never employed the description conservative to formulate his political identity for the party. Howard used the expression broad church as a cover for his drive to neuter the remnants of the Malcom Fraser-led liberals. In time, the `lying rodent’, will be seen as one of the most destructive forces ever unleahsed on liberalism in Australia. Whenever a TV presenter, as with Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report last night, allows Howard to get away with this broad church slogan, she/he is just facilitating his myth building
    As for the Abbottites, there is little conservative in them either. Their religious identity is what holds them together as a political force, as Allan Patience correctly notes. It is always well to remember what Jim Griffin, a liberal Catholic, said of BA Santamaria’s claim to intellectual stature: `a vat of second grade ingredients in first class ferment’.
    However for self-proclaimed liberals the question remains: which liberalism? Menzies’ achievement was in knitting the several strands into a govening political ideology. Howard’s repeated reference to the importance of classical liberalism for him only shows he is ignorant of the several strands present from the nineteenth century framing of liberal into liberalism as the basis for political action.

  4. Richard Broinowski says:

    Allan’s comments are right on, not just about the phalangists, but also about the increasingly strident opinion makers in the Murdoch press. With her attack on the international climate scientists as Sky-falling Henny Pennies, Judith Sloan goes beyond contempt. The same applies to the Australian’s ‘environmental’ writer Graham Lloyd. It would be gratifying to put Murdoch (and his sons) before a Royal Commission and pursue his motives, his fixations, and why he insists on calling the Philippines The Philippines. (Sorry, just a fixation of mine). Richard Broinowski

  5. roger scott says:

    Thanks for the overview and reminders of Franco and the DLP. Some of the press coverage seemed to presume that Victorian small-l liberalism was being sacrificed to boost the Queensland phalange. Dutton has other problems beside One Nation, not least a high quality female opponent getting wide support for the ALP from fellow-travellers.

    In addition, there are some Brisbane seats where the ALP and the Greens could combine to oust the sitting Liberals, including both the inner-city seat of Brisbane and the seat of Ryan. The latter incorporates the state seat of Maiwar where a Green now sits in parliament on the basis of ALP preferences which taken together swamped the LNP. Both Brisbane and Ryan have ALP candidates with strong professional credentials who cannot be dismissed as union hacks or upstarts from the youth movement. And the sitting (female) LNP member for Ryan in the national parliament has been disendorsed by the local branch in favour of an LNP apparatchik who used to work for her. Even the Courier-Mail took a dim view of this and urged Ryan conservatives to change their voting preferences.

  6. Evan Hadkins says:

    I’m still amazed at how bad this lot of Libs and the previous lot are at politics.

    The outrage that greeted the first Abbott-Hockey budget should have told them something – but since then they have persisted in their march to the right. (Probably initiated by Howard – getting rid of the moderates. And the moderates remaining selling their souls to retain their seats.)

    I don’t think we need a return to a broad church party. I think we need a party that will deal with the current real world of increasing inequality and climate change.

  7. John Battye says:

    What we have just seen in the Victorian Election (on the cultural/religious front) is the final repudiation of the DLP. Victoria was once the “jewel” in the DLP “crown”. Now no more. The Child Abuse Royal Commission put paid to that.

    With the Election of Sir Philip Lynch in 1966, the DLP began its invasion of both the Liberal and Country Parties. This was completed with the Election of Tony Abbott – who was the first, and last – DLP Prime Minister.

    What is described as the “phalang-ist” tendency in this article is in reality the denouement of the DLP takeover of the LNP. And its repudiation by the wider electorate. Almost every individual mentioned in this article, identified today as “phalang-ist” Liberal / Murdoch, three generations ago would have been identified as DLP. Their “soul-mates” are Daniel Mannix, BA Santamaria and Senator John Little.

    The great Ming (Sir Robert) was happy to have them as political allies, but was wise enough to never have them in his Cabinet, or, for that matter, in his Party. It is a shame that his successors were not wise enough to follow suit.

    The Liberal Party – in particular – needs to expel this element from its midst to once more become credible to the wider electorate. Likewise, the Child Abuse Royal Commission has made that mandatory. Are the Liberals up to it? That answer will determine their long term political fate.

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