Flat White

Career politicians destroyed community votes

28 May 2022

11:00 AM

28 May 2022

11:00 AM

Writing this, I realise that Australian politics has been reshaped in the last week.

This election is the first real sign we’ve seen of a shift away from two-party politics in the Australian landscape. It’s possible, even probable, that we’re shifting to a multi-party model.

More than anything, this election showed a fundamental rejection of the professional political class. Let me explain with some history.

Politics was, particularly in the Liberal Party, dominated by people who had professional careers and also wanted to serve and represent communities. Most of them had mainstream views and values, some conservative, but the primary goal was simple – let others make their own choices. They understood communities because they had come from them.

When I joined the Young Liberals around 2011 (I left in 2013) the Liberal Party, by then, had changed. Two key things had happened.

Firstly, careerist and factional politicians had dominated the Liberals through shrewd gaming of rules and preselections, giving central individuals more power than seat-based communities. People like Alex Hawke and Scott Morrison were instrumental here. You only need to look at how Morrison won his seat of Cook to know these were not community-led tactics to win a seat.

Secondly, the increased use of special powers combined with an insular selection process led to community voices being shut out in preselections. Often the people being preselected may have been wonderful people, but they struggled to empathise with small business owners for example.

Both of these things led to the Liberal Party looking inwardly at preselection and in ideology. From an outside perspective, it looks as if Labor had the same problem playing out with Kenneally in Fowler.

Also, the rise of the professional politician lead to ugly dynamics.

Party machinations trump community politics in winning seats. When your political beliefs come from party factions rather than community electorates it can be easy to ignore the signs in your safe seat. It makes it hard to know to listen.

With a cut-throat and not altogether fair system, it also becomes male-dominated. You only need to see the nominations in Liberal Party seats put forward by factions to know that’s real. Women, particularly successful and professional women, simply weren’t winning safe seat preselections in meaningful numbers.

So why did the Liberals lose so many seats to the Teals?

Well, it starts to become obvious in the pattern.

Most who lost the Teals had public service or career political backgrounds. They tended to prioritise ideology over community representation. It’s hard to stand up for views with conviction, no matter how brilliant, kind or empathetic you are (and I have a high regard for many of those who lost) when you’ve never had to risk things for yourself. When you’ve worked inside a system it is difficult to see how to revolutionise it.

You’re institutionalised.

I have no doubt many of the communities who voted against the Liberals saw wave after wave of candidates as ‘captain’s picks’ throughout NSW this election and felt they hadn’t gotten their say. And why would they? Morrison effectively picked for them. That’s not democracy, it’s dictatorship.

And whilst most who lost their seats were moderates, they toed the Liberal Party line. They didn’t stand up to their leader publicly, candidly, and forcefully to prioritise their community over their party. That, in itself to a moderate-leaning community, finally broke the camel’s back.

Why are they voting for a career politician who won’t even stand up for them?

It’s the height of entitlement in politics and one the Liberal Party must reflect on and abandon if it is to start getting back to community politics.

It’s no coincidence that the ALP lost a safe seat in the same circumstances. People don’t want professional politicians representing them anymore.

So what now?

It’s important to remember that many of these unrepresentative issues started with many of the so-called Right leaders in NSW. There has been no larger factional warrior than Alex Hawke, and I truly hope someone stands up to him in another Teal wave.

The Liberal Party must not lurch to the right because of this. Rather than talking about the importance of values, I’d suggest the Liberal Party also has to face up to some home truths about candidate selection. The Liberals must become the party of the community again, selecting incredible, local representatives. Politicians everywhere should look at disdain with captain’s picks and parachutes. They simply are a rejection of what it means to represent communities.

I’m certain the Right side of the Liberal Party will use this to say we need to move back to tradition. They are wrong.

The reason the Right survived was because they represented their communities better, but that’s not to say they aren’t out of the woods either. Increasingly Australians are seeking a Sensible Centre, and it is utter madness to say our solution should be to represent people less.

Above all, the way back for the Liberal Party must be clear. Stop selecting career politicians. Stop prioritising ideology over community. And above all get back to the Party that represents Australians wanting a safe, free and fair future.

I sincerely hope they get there.

Henry Innis is a business owner based in Melbourne, a former treasurer of the Australian Liberal Students Federation and vice-president of the Sydney University Liberal Club.

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