Flat White

Saving Private Josh

6 May 2022

4:00 AM

6 May 2022

4:00 AM

Josh Frydenberg has always been openly ambitious. Ambitious to be Member for Kooyong. Ambitious to be a minister. And ambitious to lead the Liberal Party.

Frydenberg has an astonishing personal and political network. His friendship group is wide, but not as deep. Like many politicians, his friendships are often transactional: they serve his immediate purpose and then he moves on although, to his credit, he still returns favours given.

But now the Morrison government faces defeat, and Anthony Albanese – almost unbelievably – is in sight of the prime ministership.

Tuesday’s Reserve Bank decision to raise interest rates to 0.35 per cent, from nearly zero, is a political body blow to the Coalition. Labor and the government’s wide range of other political opponents are determined to make Morrison and Frydenberg wear it like a crown of thorns.

In his own seat of Kooyong, Frydenberg is besieged by a so-called ‘Teal independent’, an extraordinarily cashed-up medical specialist, Monique Ryan. If his primary vote in Kooyong is south of 45 per cent, the preferences of his opponents almost certainly will fall into Ryan’s lap and give her victory. Just like all the Teal independents standing in affluent Liberal seats, and as she betrayed herself in yesterday’s Kooyong debate with Frydenberg, Ryan is a rich person talking to other rich people about rich people’s indulgences – all people who don’t give two hoots about battling suburban and regional families because their fat incomes free them from financial worry in an election centred on the cost of living.

Frydenberg, Treasurer and crucial campaigner, therefore looks likely to spend most of the remaining campaign holed up in his electorate, instead of being daily on the road selling the government’s positive economic story.

Whatever those on the Right think of Morrison and his government, they should unite on saving Frydenberg, even if the government itself falls on 21 May.

The essential point, while distasteful to supporters of more conservative figures such as Defence minister Peter Dutton, is that Frydenberg is the only senior minister of ability (there aren’t many) who is broadly acceptable to the wider Liberal Party, and to the electorate as a whole. As Ryan so helpfully pointed out in her debate with him, Frydenberg is no dripping wet moderate, and is economically and relatively socially centrist in terms of John Howard’s ‘broad church’.

If Morrison loses, or if a condition of the Coalition clinging on in a hung parliament is Morrison standing aside as Prime Minister (as Warringah MP Zali Steggall has revealed is her goal, and presumably the goal of the Teal coalition), Frydenberg is the only viable option to lead the Liberals.

That’s why Climate 200 Svengali, Simon Holmes à Court, is so determined that Frydenberg is beaten. With Morrison out of the picture, it would decapitate the already hopelessly divided Liberals and ensure their fighting each other, instead of Labor and his own climate coalition, for the next decade.

Albanese wants Frydenberg out of the way too. Labor knows Frydenberg is a far better defender of the Coalition’s economic record than Morrison, more likeable, and can put inflation and the interest rate increase into their proper context (a four per cent home mortgage rate is still low, especially compared to Paul Keating’s 18 per cent in ‘the recession we had to have’), expressed in terms voters easily can understand – the result of a strong, healthy, full-employment economy putting years of fiscal emergency behind it.

How to save Frydenberg?

First, Frydenberg will survive if the government survives. The government will not survive if its best economic salesman remains voluntarily locked in his leafy Kooyong prison.

The Liberals must instead keep Frydenberg out on the road meeting voters, supporting marginal seat MPs and candidates, and brushing off his Kooyong tormentors. His energy and work ethic is legendary, and sets an example to his wavering and lazier colleagues. And voters seeing the Treasurer defying his local challenge would see a government that hasn’t yet written itself off.

Frydenberg therefore must campaign confidently across the country, and rely on his campaign supporters and fellow Liberal MPs to hold the fort for him. If the government wins or nearly wins, Frydenberg wins. It is as simple as that.

Second, if you’re in Kooyong, give Frydenberg your second preference if you can’t bring yourself to give him your first. Yes, the Morrison government has been a great policy and moral disappointment to conservatives, but if the alternative of an Albanese majority government isn’t bad enough, a hung parliament, with the likes of Ryan and her billionaire backers like à Court holding sway over our destiny while caring for nothing but their self-indulgent climate religion, is far, far worse.

Albanese must be stopped. Ryan and à Court’s Teal insurgency must be stopped. The Liberal party must stay coherent and united after this election, win or lose. Like it or not, Frydenberg’s survival in Kooyong is essential to all of these goals.

It’s time that those who genuinely care about the future of the centre-right in the face of the Left’s political and ideological onslaught, aided by a compliant media, must be prepared to enter into a transactional friendship of their own with the Treasurer, and be prepared to save him to help save the rest of us from long-term Green Left domination of federal politics.

Terry Barnes edits the Morning Double Shot newsletter.

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