The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) and many other conservative Christians wanted a more socially conservative Liberal Party – and by the end of election night, you could say they had achieved their goal.
Making this comment is not to mock the ACL because the future structure of the right half of our political spectrum has been in question for some time. The election results for the Liberals have brought a simmering pot to the fore.
“The success of campaigns by the Teal Independents and the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) shows that the Liberals cannot win on the left after tonight’s election results,” said an ACL statement raising critical questions.
“Three of the four Liberal MPs whose opposition to faith-based schools and religious freedom was widely advertised by the ACL are likely to have lost their seats tonight. The result confirms similar concerns arising from the recent election loss in South Australia by a Liberal government widely criticized for pursuing socially progressive policies.
“The ‘broad church’ Liberal Party cannot survive in the long run because it cannot be everything to all people.” – Wendy Francis.
Wendy Francis, ACL’s national political director, said: “‘The ‘broad church’ Liberal Party cannot survive in the long run because it cannot be everything to everyone. It cannot address left and right simultaneously. Competition on the left will always be more convincing and attractive to left- and center-left voters in the city voters, and tonight’s victories by the Teals, despite the liberals being more socially progressive than ever, prove it.
“Meanwhile, by sending a signal to these increasingly unwinnable constituencies, the Liberals are ousting social conservatives in seats in western Sydney (like Reid) and other suburban areas that should be increasingly liberal heartland.”
What happened on election night?
The ACL spent much of its electoral resources campaigning against the five Liberal MPs who came to the floor, leading to the failure of the Religious Discrimination Act. The ACL mobilized thousands of volunteers. The voters were thorough in the letterbox.
Four of the five renegades lost Saturday night. The exception was Bridget Archer, the Bass member in Tasmania, a state where the coalition vote was held.
Fiona Martin lost to Labor by a significant 8.7 percent battle in Reid (NSW), which spans the inner city and the multicultural suburbs of the center ring. Three of the others lost to the teal independents downtown. Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney), Tim Wilson (Goldstein, Vic), and Katie Allen (Higgins, Vic).
Another ACL publication details polls showing that the renegade liberals were very much aware of religious freedom.
“Independent polls in North Sydney, Wentworth, and Reid showed that voters were aware of these issues two days before the election. This follows a major campaign by ACL in these seats, which includes flyers, door knocks, telephone solicitation, billboards, digital marketing, and newspaper advertisements.
“In Wentworth, 69.8 percent of voters were aware of Dave Sharma’s voting record on religious freedom and faith-based schools, compared to 64.8 percent in North Sydney (Trent Zimmerman) and 63.3 percent in Reid (Fiona Martin) .”
Any evidence that the ACL campaign caused four Liberals to lose their seats is weakened by their neighbors going to Teal.
But to take Melbourne examples, the seats next to those where the ACL campaigned also experienced swings to the Teals. Tim Wilson (Goldstein, Vic) lost to a Teal, as did Josh Frydenberg (Kooyong).
The effect of the ACL campaign seems to have been swamped by the Teals – so it would be hard to choose. Any evidence that the ACL campaign caused four Liberals to lose their seats is weakened by their neighbors going to Teal. Reid’s result, a chair uncomplicated by the Teals, would indicate no significant effect. Reid waved to Labor at 8.7 percent.
(It’s probably going too far to suggest that the ACL and other conservatives wanted Morrison’s government to lose. It’s fair to conclude that they may have believed the coalition could get enough “suburban” seats to win. Is what the Morrison campaign seemed to be aiming for.)
One can look at Brisbane’s inner city without Teal or the ACL’s campaign against floor-crossers, where the Greens had teal-ish results in inner-city seats against the Liberals and Labour.
This analysis is not intended to dismiss the ACL campaign but rather to say that more significant nighttime effects, such as teal, make it difficult to measure the performance of the ACL.
The ACL’s recipe for the Liberal Party’s future isn’t unique, as party insiders say the same thing, though others argue the opposite.
“State liberals are divided on the reasons behind their party’s loss in the federal election, with moderates blaming an environmental protest while conservatives point the finger at a policy drift to the left,” said Tom Richardson of the South Australian website. Daily. The same debate is happening around Australia.
a good question
The question the ACL asks is a good one. Can the liberals beat the left?
Aside from whether the losing liberals were “left” — we could spend a lot of pixels on that — the coalition’s shattering vote on teal and small parties on the right means “exciting” days for the liberals.
Coalition factions say their counterpart has rejected voters. Social conservatives say the moderate/modern liberals have reduced coalition votes in seats outside the suburbs. In contrast, the middle/current Libs argue that culture war campaigns — such as Warringah candidate Katherine Devas’s on transgender — are decreasing the vote in the suburbs. Downtown has decreased.
So who is conservative?
This current dilemma for liberals revolves around the slippery word “conservative” because there is more than one kind of “conservative.” Conservatives in the Edmund Burke tradition want to preserve what is valuable in society but allow for measured change when necessary. But other conservatives have different priorities.
Malcolm Turnbull Conservatives: These voters are socially liberal but fiscally conservative, with a base among large corporations and professionals. This attitude is a form of libertarian conservatism. Lower taxes keep the government out of business, and fewer laws keep the government out of the bedroom.
Tony Abbott Conservatives: These voters are socially conservative and fiscally conservative. Abbott’s first budget was an attempt to roll back the state. Ten years in office would have resulted in a much smaller government. More active on fiscal conservatism than on social conservatism.
Senator Alex Antic Conservatives: These voters want an activist social conservative government. Social conservatism is their top priority. (Senator Alex Antic of South Australia is a Christian who would like to include hundreds of Christians in the Liberal Party.
All these groups have overlaps in the policy. Which one of them can work together will take the next three years.
Strikingly, none of the main policies of the last election were fundamentally conservative, despite the opposition coalition parties.
1) Climate change has gone from a big government-led difference (a conservative no-no) to a largely market-led change. No doubt, it is a cause that conservatives can embrace. Morrison’s government tried to catch up.
2) Uluru Statement: The gracious request of First Nations people is an incremental change that fits conservative increment.
3) Respect for women. The alleged rape in the parliament building and the necessary reforms could have been a social-conservative campaign.
4) Integrity Committee. The NSW Liberals extended funding for that state’s ICAC during the election campaign. Meanwhile, South Australian Labor supports their milder version. The dispute of the Integrity Committee seems to be more about figures in the dysfunctional liberal party chamber.
It’s not hard to see opposition to this as stubbornness rather than conservatism. Any new Liberal leader must consider removing these barnacles from the policy. The need for such action may be especially true if one party wants to pursue a socially conservative approach – it will need something to bond with some of the other types of conservatives.
The past revisited
The collection of social forces that Menzies organized in the Liberal Party has always been unstable. The Labor splits kept it out of power for 23 years until Whitlam became more talked about in our culture, but the Liberals have had their share.
The Liberal Movement divided South Australian Liberals in the late 1960s on the issue of one vote, one value. The Liberals who stayed away were at the heart of the Australian Democrats.
The long history of National Party dominance in Queensland is another example of how difficult it is to unite the right half of Australian politics.
Conservative Christians, some of whom want a party to become “full Trump,” will have to decide what kind of liberal party to contend with.
The Liberals may be about to make the same mistake as the Labor Party at its most socialist: preferring ideological purity to gain office.
The answer to the ACL’s question about the coalition’s victory over the ‘Left’ is to examine where the numbers lie. Are there enough social conservatives to win? And as we’ve noted, none of the election’s major issues, such as climate change, are about conservative, not even socially conservative, principles.