Leading article Australia

A glorious coalition of conservatives

20 November 2021

9:00 AM

20 November 2021

9:00 AM

As Scott Morrison sets up the idea of ‘who do you trust?’ as his 2022 election theme, and in doing so attempts to re-heat a successful Howard mantra of the past, next year’s federal poll looms as one of the most important in decades. But not for the normal economic reasons. This time around our system of governance itself will be put to the test. In short, does Australian democracy do what it says on the label – does it genuinely represent the will of the people? At this forthcoming election, we shall find out.

In 2019 Scott Morrison’s ‘miracle’ victory, which was predicted and advocated for throughout the campaign by this magazine, was clearly a case of the electorate, traumatised by the emotional intensity of the Abbott and Turnbull wars, heaving a sigh of relief that Mr Morrison appeared to be a) a reasonable sort of bloke, the kind of dorky Dad you wouldn’t mind as a next-door neighbour, and b) not Bill Shorten. That sense of reasonableness and neighbourliness had been carefully crafted by the Morrison team and so long as it was reflected in policies then it was clearly a successful formula. The genius of the Morrison approach at the last election was epitomised by the climate change policy, which, if we may paraphrase, went something like this: ‘Malcolm and Julie ratified 26 to 28 per cent emissions reductions (nothing to do with me!), but I won’t budge one iota beyond that. To do so would be reckless, ideological and would destroy our economy. Which is why Labor’s 45 per cent policy is so dangerous.’

The quiet Australians nodded along – quietly – as they ignored the pollsters, switched off the ABC and went to the polling booths to return the Coalition to power. Since then, partly through hubris, partly through cowardice and partly though sheer spinelessness in the face of powerful vested interests, the Morrison government has abandoned the very ethos of why quiet Australians supported it.

Let’s start with the hubris. Some clown, either Mr Morrison or more likely one of his power-point, research-focus-group advisers, decided the Coalition could commit the nation to net zero emissions without it looking like the greatest ever betrayal of an election commitment. They were wrong. If there is one quality that the daggy Aussie Dad next door has, apart from his ability to remember to put out the bins once a week, is his trustworthiness. His word is his bond. It doesn’t matter what adversity comes along, a fair dinkum Aussie bloke will always stick to his word. If he promises snags at the barbie, you’ll get snags. Mr Morrison has wilfully and pointlessly destroyed his greatest electoral drawcard.

Then comes the cowardice. From Turnbull’s welcome eviction from the Lodge in 2018 until the election in 2019, most Australians recognised that we had a prime minister on training wheels. The public perception (however false) was that rather than desperately angling for the job of PM as had his Liberal and Labor predecessors, it had simply fallen in his lap due to political circumstances. So the public were more than happy to give him the benefit of the doubt. However, the fatal flaw in the entire Morrison strategy has been to avoid confrontation at all costs – a trait that has rapidly descended into abandoning leadership. So when along came Covid, a serious challenge that required strong and principled leadership, Mr Morrison folded like a deckchair. The establishment of the ‘national cabinet’ removed the democratic oversight essential in the Westminster system by disempowering his own Cabinet and backbench (including elected conservatives voices) whilst legitimising the worst excesses of the most despotic and incompetent gaggle of left-wing premiers. Add to this the cowardice in stubbornly refusing to comment on the increasingly explosive issues of the ‘culture wars’, and the absence of much-needed leadership is startling. Then came the spineless capitulation to vested interests. Has there been a more pathetic justification for the switch to net zero than the lamentable idea, first flagged by the Treasurer Josh Frydenberg – again we paraphrase – that: ‘Going to net zero is an economic as much as an environmental imperative. If we didn’t do exactly what we were told to by a powerful group of climate-obsessed, carpet-bagging hedge fund managers and renewables investors  (who now apparently rule the world) then our economy would be devastated. And your home loans would go up a point or two.’

This twaddle is an insult to every Australian.

Clearly, a Labor/Greens victory would be an unmitigated disaster for this country. But almost as detrimental would be to reward the increasingly left-leaning Liberal National government with a strong majority, which would merely encourage and entrench betrayal and cowardice. There are many strong conservative candidates currently in different parties. Many of their agendas are very similar.

What this country needs now more than ever is for these disparate right-of-centre parties and individuals to work together to hold the balance of power after the next election. A glorious coalition of conservatives without which the future looks bleak indeed.

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