federal intervention

Call for Federal Intervention to Fix the Victorian State Liberal Party

26 May 2023

4.2 MINS

This last weekend the State Council of the Victorian Liberal Party met in Bendigo. What a jolly gathering it was. One group of the delegates was fawning over the leadership for the decisive handling of the Deeming issue. Another was there who were devastated by the behaviour of the so-called leaders, who were acting like children and were the people supposedly running the party. Others were confused, wondering how the current farce came about. What a fun weekend!

The ‘thirds’ rule is a useful political guide. On contentious matters, a third will take one position, a third the opposite, with a third in the middle, trying to divine the direction of the political breeze. This is especially so in leadership contests. The sycophants chant ‘long live the King’ until a new king is installed, when they again chant ‘long live the King!’

Expulsion of Moira Deeming and Internal Party Division

The expulsion of Mrs Deeming, apart from being without foundation, reflects the precarious position of the Leader of the Opposition. A third of the Parliamentary party voted against the motion to expel her. Another third voted for it because of their preference to keep the current Leader which could dissipate quickly. Others consider the current Leader’s position untenable and are positioning for the future. Why the Leader thought this an issue to assert his authority defies common sense and political experience.

About 1,500 people are eligible to attend State Council, delegates from every branch and state and federal electorate conferences in the state. One of the three Council meetings each year is held in a regional city, usually Geelong, Ballarat or Bendigo. The regional meetings attract fewer delegates, usually between 500 and 1,000 people. Many members actually boycotted the meeting as a protest. Enough concerned showed up to protest the supposed leader – and it made the news. Watch the below video of the members walking out during John Pesutto’s speech at the state council meeting.

 

A Pathway to Political Irrelevancy

I have never seen the party in Victoria so bereft of common sense, political pragmatism and so divided. Factionalism is more rife than ever. Even State Council, which is the closest thing to a gathering of the general rank and file members, is more divided on factional grounds than ever. The ‘winner takes all’ is the current approach in many state divisions of the Liberal Party. As events of recent weeks demonstrate, it is a pathway to political irrelevancy. The only winners from the recent events are the Victorian Premier and the Labor Party.

The expulsion of Mrs Deeming was an ideological ‘hit’. Deeming had to go because her championing of the rights of women to have safe spaces and fair sporting competition offends the latest lefty woke cause, transgenderism, which had been endorsed by sections of the Liberal Party.

The political virtue of toleration has been replaced by an insistence that the issues the left advocate must be supported without dissent. John Howard’s ‘broad church’ no longer exists in sections of the Victorian Liberal Party. The new progressive left of the party no longer tolerates conservatives. Not only Moira Deeming, but Renee Heath and others, are being shown the departure mat.

Hundreds of thousands of people who would normally support the Liberal Party have deserted it for other minor parties. Many Liberal members have declined to renew their membership of the Party.

How to Respond?

What is to be done? One option is to formalise the factional system, as the Labor Party has practiced for decades. It is an approach that former senator and Howard government minister Nick Minchin advocated, based on his experience in South Australia.

The problem with this approach is that factional allegiances in Victoria – and New South Wales – are less about ideology than personalities. Moreover, factions, as John Howard observed, have become ‘preselection cooperatives’ for the political careerists. This option is unlikely to resolve the problems in Victoria.

One reason the left is in the ascendancy is that the party has lost the support of the outer suburban and regional electorates necessary to win government. Parliamentarians from these electorates are much more likely to reflect a middle of the road, conservative position on most issues.

 

The Victorian Liberal Party cannot resolve its internal warfare by itself. The ruling faction is unwilling to share power. Nor are some of its opponents. The turmoil in the Parliamentary party is a reflection of the divisions in the administration of the party. Neither the Leader of the Opposition nor the State President have demonstrated the ability to unite the Party.

Given the divided state of the Victorian division, federal intervention is justified. The grounds are clear. Clause 12 of the Liberal Party of Australia constitution allows for intervention where in the opinion of the Federal Executive there are circumstances that ‘substantially prejudice the ability of the Party to effectively campaign or win federal seats.’ These circumstances exist; it is not merely speculative as the loss of Kooyong, Higgins, Goldstein and Aston indicate.

Deakin is held by a few hundred votes and the once-safe Menzies by a few more! Metropolitan Melbourne is a sea of red seats.

The last state election revealed a similar inability to win seats. The events of the past few weeks have only compounded the challenges. Does anybody seriously think the Victorian Liberal Party will be in government before 2030, if not 2034?

The Federal constitution provides for the appointment of an administrator for up to two years to manage a state division. That should be done, with clear instructions to the Administrator to implement a modern governance structure for the Party that minimises the role of factional players.

A Way Forward for Deeming

Finally, a suggestion for Mrs Deeming. The Victorian Liberal Party unwittingly has given you an opportunity that most parliamentarians struggle to obtain.

The strength and dignity with which you have met the challenges of the past couple of months have earnt you the support of the quiet Australians.

You have widespread sympathy. You now have a profile and a position to proclaim a message like few others. Use it wisely. Seek out some astute, experienced mentors.

Avoid the comfortable temptation of speaking only about women’s rights. Broaden the matters you speak about. Indeed, focus on other issues for the next few months and become a voice for the conservative movement generally.

You have a unique opportunity if you grasp it now.

___

Originally published at The Spectator. Photo: Screenshot of Sky News.

Kevin runs his own commentary site, Kevin’s Columns, which you can subscribe to here.

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