The price of not being ‘Liberal enough’
31 May 2022
The outcome of the federal election certainly did not come as a surprise.
The Coalition consistently lagged behind in the news polls, resulting in the then Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese, matching Scott Morrison in the ‘preferred Prime Minister’ ratings. Morrison’s leadership was eventually defeated by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Teal Independents.
In this election, the Liberal-National Coalition recorded its worst primary vote in the modern era at 36 per cent. Many traditional Liberal Party supporters deserted the Coalition, voting for minor right-of-centre parties.
The ALP, which will now form a government, equally achieved its lowest primary vote in almost 100 years, receiving only 32 per cent of all the primary votes. In sum, Labor won the election by default because voters did not display a willingness to embrace this party. As law professor James Allan points out, ‘Both major parties scored woefully low first preference counties. In any country with a first-past-the-post, voting system both big parties would be reeling.’
Now, the time has come to evaluate the reasons for the monumental demise of Scott Morrison and the Coalition.
Julie Bishop, the former Foreign Minister, claimed Morrison lost the election because he supposedly alienated women during his tenure as Prime Minister. Bishop’s claim is not necessarily accurate. Calling for ‘better treatment’ of women, Morrison once stated: ‘I want women to have at least the same opportunities and the same voice and the same safety as men in this country.’ Ironically, Bishop herself refused to support a female Liberal, namely her successor as Curtin MP Celia Hammond, instead praising and thus tacitly supporting teal Independent Kate Chaney.
It is more likely that Scott Morrison simply did not have the leadership capabilities needed for an extended stay in the Lodge.
There is no doubt that he is also an unlucky Prime Minister, as his term in office was plagued by many challenges, including the disastrous bush fires of 2019-20, the continuing pandemic, and the floods in New South Wales and Queensland.
However, Morrison’s lack of competent leadership was on full display in his response to the pandemic. For example, he established National Cabinet, the existence of which is not based on the Australian Constitution. This enabled the Premiers of the states and the Chief Ministers of the territories to grab the reins of power by introducing emergency legislation, bypassing Parliament, and degrading the basic principles of democracy. The states and territories then introduced Chinese Communist Party-inspired methods of lockdowns, border closures, mask and vaccine mandates which devastated the economy and turned Australia into a debt-ridden country, repayment of which will take many generations.
Instead of upholding the rule of law, Morrison backed the imposition of de facto martial laws by the states and territories, which resulted in untold harm to millions of Australians, including causing a dangerous spike in mental health illnesses, especially among young Australians, and feeding negative educational outcomes.
The Coalition government’s disastrous leadership disregarded the Constitution and the principle underpinning it: one dissoluble Commonwealth.
Rather than defend it, as true conservatives should, on his orders the Commonwealth withdrew from Clive Palmer’s High Court action against the WA State Government. This is despite constitutional-law academics such as Professor George Williams, correctly opining that the Commonwealth has various options that could be explored to override the states on borders, be it through the Biosecurity legislation or possibly under the External Affairs power, to guarantee freedom of movement of citizens.
Morrison also claimed that the federal government did not have the constitutional power to itself address the pandemic because ‘health’ comes within the legislative power of the states. However, as carefully explained in our recent book, in relying on the external affairs powers and utilising the quarantine power, the Morrison government would have been able to take charge of the fight against the pandemic without creating the chaos, so characteristic of Australia’s response to the pandemic.
However, in absurdly pursuing a Covid Zero policy, Australia was the only country in the world that did not even allow its citizens to return to their home country – a shocking abuse of executive power.
In a more recent article, published in The Spectator Australia, Sanjeev Sabhlok observes that Australia never undertook a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of its Covid measures because the results would make uncomfortable reading for the Coalition government. Overall, the government’s response to the pandemic is the greatest policy failure of Australia since the second world war. Also, the government, in obstinately forcing potentially unsafe and inefficacious vaccines to be used, to the detriment of other, and cheaper methods and medicines, jeopardised the health of Australians and unduly interfered with the relationship between doctors and their patients.
Undoubtedly, one of the primary reasons for the Coalition loss at the election was the constant attempt to appease the left on Climate Change alarmism. According to Rowan Dean, ‘Attacking and resisting Climate Change alarmism had been the secret winning weapon of the Liberal and National parties at every election since and including the landslide win in 2013.’
However, as he correctly points out:
‘Morrison, through his cowardice on the climate issue and so many other issues – in particular the abandonment of the nation during Covid to the outrageous human rights abuses of the Labor premiers – and cultural issues such as religious freedom, has decimated the Liberal Party.’
The decision of the Prime Minister to support Daniel Andrews was particularly contemptible, telling the Federal Parliament that it was the ‘right decision of the Victorian Premier’ to impose draconian lockdowns. His egregious silence following the arrest of Zoe Buhler, a pregnant woman in her pyjamas, in her own home and in front of her children, for daring to question these measures on social media speaks volumes. This attitude is consistent with Morrison’s past statements on his lack of belief in the importance of free speech in a thriving liberal democracy.
Curiously, information released by a research group at the John Hopkins University on February 1, 2022, indicates that lockdowns during the first Covid wave in the spring of 2020 only reduced Covid mortality by 0.2 per cent in the United States and Europe. But although lockdowns have no tangible public health benefits, in Australia, they were relentlessly enforced by politicised police forces, inflicting immense misery on people, and devastating the economic landscape. John Hopkins’ researchers thus concluded that ‘lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.’
As can be seen, Scott Morrison led a deeply illiberal government that was responsible for the worst violations of human rights in Australia’s history. Under this disastrous leadership, the Coalition government was directly responsible for a remarkable increase in the violation of fundamental human rights.
Even prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, IPA Research Fellow Morgan Begg wrote that the Coalition government was already consistently ‘trashing fundamental legal rights of all Australians, creating an unprecedented challenge to individual freedom and human dignity’. In its 2019 Legal Rights Audit, the Melbourne-based Institute of Public Affairs had already been able to identify more than 380 separate provisions that breached fundamental rights via Acts of Federal Parliament.
Ironically, Scott Morrison’s much-heralded final attempt at capturing the youth vote badly misfired. In his campaign launch, he promised that the Coalition, if returned, would allow younger voters to access their superannuation for the purpose of buying their first home. This idea, rejected by many Liberal luminaries in the past, is a questionable one. As demand for housing would likely increase, the price of dwellings might also increase, fuelling inflationary forces, and there would be insufficient money left for a comfortable retirement when it would be needed most, necessitating reliance on the government’s largesse and pensions. Morrison’s pledge undermined the basic idea that superannuation is a nest egg to be accessed for retirement purposes. One could say that it was a last-ditch and desperate effort to shore up his chances of victory at the election.
As can be seen, the Morrison government miserably failed to act as a centre-right government. As John Ruddick commented in The Spectator Australia, ‘lacking any depth, Scott Morrison’s guiding principle is to be a little to the right of a very left Labor party and that’s delivering us two left-wing parties’. And Gideon Rozner, from the Institute of Public Affairs, argued that Morrison had entirely strayed from the values of his Liberal Party. In a Q&A session televised by the ABC, he described him as the worst ever Liberal Prime Minister because he ramped up a trillion-dollar debt, prevented Australian citizens from returning home during the pandemic, making them stateless, and trashing freedom of speech, among other things.
Rozner’s opinion points to the existence of pent-up frustration and a feeling of general powerlessness among the electorate. Of course, if you betray your base, you lose. And Morrison completely betrayed the base of his conservative government who believe in conservative and classical liberal values. He espoused, or condoned, typically left-leaning policies and actions. His first reaction to a challenging situation was always to make comments, which could as well have been made by any left-wing advocate. For example, his comments on the Israel Folau case, calling Folau’s religiously inspired comments ‘insensitive’, his condemnation of the Australia’s Post’s CEO, Christine Holgate, before even getting the full picture, and his condemnation of Cardinal George Pell, assuming his guilt, are merely examples of the repertoire of gaffes and left-wing rhetoric that alienated the conservative base of the Liberal Party.
Above all, the Liberal Party lost the election primarily because they forgot what it meant to be Liberals. In a keynote speech delivered on January 21, 1943, ironically about the founding principles of this party, its founder Robert Menzies revealed his innermost conviction that the progress of our nation depended not on the security provided by the State but instead on ‘a free individual living in a free community with a free tomorrow in front of him or her’.
‘When we have the all-powerful State,’ Menzies declared, ‘the people will then be the servants of that State and the minds of those people will be servile minds, because there will only be one master – the State inhuman but all-powerful!’
This is precisely the challenge our nation presently faces, especially now that we are under a new Labor government. After all, Labor has become the main party for all sorts of social engineers and interest groups pushing for such things as the teaching of gender fluidity in schools, Climate Change alarmism, abortion on demand, euthanasia, affirmative action, among others. Arguably, Scott Morrison failed traditional voters of his own party by embracing some of these very destructive ideas and abandoning the key Liberal principles of smaller government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility and, above all, individual liberty.
This is the price of not being ‘Liberal’ enough.
When the Liberal Party moves so close to the values of the ALP, it dismays its own best supporters without gaining any new ones. And since Morrison and the Coalition were anything but truly Liberals, they have no one but themselves to blame for the sound electoral defeat this last Saturday.
Augusto Zimmermann is Professor and Head of Law at Sheridan Institute of Higher Education in Perth. He is also President of the Western Australian Legal Theory Association, Adjunct Professor at the University of Notre Dame Australia, and, from 2012 to 2017, he served as a Law Reform Commissioner in Western Australia. While serving as Associate Dean (Research) at Murdoch Law School, he was awarded the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research, in 2012.
Gabriël A. Moens AM is an Emeritus Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, and served as Pro Vice-Chancellor and Dean of Law at Murdoch University. In 2003, Moens was awarded the Australian Centenary Medal by the Prime Minister for services to education. He has taught extensively across Australia, Asia, Europe, and the United States. Moens has recently published two novels “A Twisted Choice” (Boolarong Press, 2020) and “The Coincidence” (Connor Court Publishing, 2021).