Features Australia

What is the point of Cory Bernardi?

24 February 2018

9:00 AM

24 February 2018

9:00 AM

Let me be honest. I don’t really see the point of Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives (‘AC’) party as presently configured. What does it hope to accomplish? What are its goals? After all, on the face of things it looks like not much more than a virtue-signalling outlet for disaffected right-of-centre voters.  Want to indulge in a bit of bumper sticker moralising and show off your anger with Team Turnbull and the Black Hand gang that run today’s Liberal Party? (And let’s be clear, that anger is more than warranted.) But what will voting Australian Conservatives get you when the party sends all of its preferences – wait for it – to that very same Mark Textor-influenced Liberal Party. In effect, you achieve absolutely nothing, or at least not much more than a bit of political posturing. Sure, you can say you didn’t preference the Libs number one, but other than a bit of campaign cash that follows first preferences what have you accomplished when Bernardi et al make it clear these preferences will all go back to the Libs? Let me tell you. You accomplish nothing. It’s all talk and no action. And remember, conservatives are the ones who are supposed to care about results and outcomes not intentions and pontificating.

Compare Bernardi’s AC party to what Stephen Harper did in Canada. Harper came out of the province of Alberta with the intention of doing something about a supposedly right-leaning ‘Progressive Conservative’ party that he thought had drifted a good deal leftwards (though Canada’s Joe Clark whom he wanted to get out looks like a bastion of right-wingery compared to Christopher Pyne and Malcolm Turnbull). And so Harper formed a new party, the Reform Party.  His goal wasn’t to help the Progressive Conservatives or (and isn’t this acronym spot on?) PCs. Harper’s goal was to destroy the PCs. Now if that meant a left wing government for a number of years, well so be it. If you just keep drifting left under the mantle of ‘we’re a centimetre to the right of the other guys’ you end up with Angela Merkel-like outcomes.

Hence Reform set out to first knock off the PCs. And you know what, they did. To the point that the PCs eventually had to agree to a merger on the Reform Party’s terms. It was a reverse takeover, as it were. The new entity was named ‘the Conservatives’ – the label ‘Progressive’ deliberately dropped – and as we all know Harper went on to win three elections (and the term in Canada is up to five years, so he was PM for a long time). But my point is that Harper and the Reform Party didn’t try to help the PCs, or make life easy in any way for the long-established right-of-centre party. The goal was to destroy them, or take them over, with more right-leaning policies being the result.

Now Canada has no elected Upper House (which I have come back to thinking is a good thing and our Senate a ‘too big for its democratically-enervated boots’ block on any sensible reforms, hence in desperate need of having its wings clipped). And Canada uses a First-Past-the-Post voting system rather than our related preferential voting system.  The first of those, the lack of an elected Senate, makes winning in the House the only game in town. And that motivates reformers like Harper to go all in, rather than be satisfied with a few Upper House senators and a comfortable life away from the where the real action is in the Lower House.

The second of those, the different voting system employed in Canada, makes destroying a wayward fellow right- of-centre party easier. Up in the Great White North (can we still say that all you overpaid hacks in the Human Rights Commission?) you don’t rank the candidates. You get to pick only one and put a tick beside that person. So there’s no question of your vote flowing to anyone else. Vote for Reform and the PCs get nothing. Nada. Zip. They feel the pain right away.

But let’s say we concede both of those points: 1) that in this country rinky-dink little parties can have a semi-comfortable existence in the Upper House while never really threatening to do anything in the House of Reps – which is pretty tempting to politicians with an eye on the good pension and the big salary and the safety of the Senate STV voting system where winning a fraction of a fraction of the overall votes can get you in; and 2) our preferential AV voting system in the House assuredly makes it harder to do what Harper did and destroy the existing supposedly right-of-centre party. So concede those both. It is still the case, at least in my view, that Cory Bernardi’s ACs ought to be aiming to be something other than a wanky protest vehicle for conservatively-inclined voters to blow off steam while still, at the end of the day, helping Team Turnbull and C. Pyne’s Black Hand Brigade.

If that’s your role in life you’re nothing much more than an unwitting agent for Mark Textor and his view that DelCons have nowhere else to go. Because a vote for the ACs is, in effect, right now a vote for Team Turnbull. So I ask again.  What’s the point of that?

If you want meaningful change on the right side of politics, then you first have to do something about the fact that the median view of the membership of the Liberal party in this country is significantly to the right of the median view of the party room MPs. A new political party on the right that set out to destroy the Libs would, paradoxically, make those same Libs change direction much more quickly.  It might not be able to pull off the Harper reverse takeover gambit, but it would go a long way to fixing today’s horribly wayward Liberal Party.

Of course another way to do that, with your eye on the longer term, is just to preference Labor and get Team Turnbull out of there. Painful, to be sure. But if we’d done it last election we’d probably be looking at soon electing a revitalised Coalition rather than facing the much deserved electoral annihilation we can all see on the horizon with Turnbull in charge and not enough MPs in the party room prepared to do anything about him.

Toying around with Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives option that lacks any apparent desire to kill off the Libs is pretty much plain useless. You might feel a tad better about yourself as you virtue signal. But isn’t that what you hate about the Left?

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