Shocked Liberals are preparing for a leadership change to Peter Dutton despite losing seats to the heart of Scott Morrison, raising concerns the party has been punished for abandoning its socially liberal roots.
Outgoing Trade and Investment Minister Dan Tehan and Home Secretary Karen Andrews are seen as potential rivals to Dutton, but the Conservatives are confident their numerical advantage will ensure the outgoing defense minister leads.
Although some are still looking for alternatives, even senior moderates have begun to reconcile with Dutton’s leadership, privately arguing that he is not uniformly conservative on social issues. Dutton’s former cabinet colleagues cited his support for welfare measures as an example of his more compassionate side.
After losing a haul of inner-city seats to independent candidates, including Wentworth, North Sydney and Mackellar in Sydney, and Kooyong and Goldstein in Melbourne, the leadership will be the party’s first test of its ideological orientation.
The Coalition’s path to retaking government is generally to reconnect with liberals who favor more climate action, or stick with socially conservative policies and opposition to higher emissions reduction targets in a bid to win suburban seats and Labor-occupied regions.
On Sunday morning, the moderate’s longest-serving member, Simon Birmingham, blamed the Liberal Party’s decline on “same-sex marriage debate that dragged on unnecessarily, but should have been resolved by a simple vote of conscience.” “.
Birmingham told ABC’s Insiders that another turning point was “the failure regarding the national energy guarantee,” when first the Nationals and then the Conservative Liberals scuttled Malcolm Turnbull’s emissions reduction policy.
That stoush triggered the Dutton vs. Malcolm Turnbull spill in 2018, in which moderates swung their votes behind Morrison in a successful attempt to deny Dutton.
Overlapping long-term factional tensions over climate policy, others blamed the election defeat more directly on Morrison for short-term decisions, such as the NSW party’s takeover and the selection of a group of NSW Liberal candidates, including the controversial Katherine Deves.
During the campaign, Morrison defended Deves after she retracted an earlier apology for transphobic comments, stonewalling moderates who asked not to support her.
One liberal told Guardian Australia: “Morrisonism has to die. Morrisonism is economic populism and cultural wars, that was poison for us in the city. We have to return to economic rationalism and social liberalism.”
“Deves was emblematic of everything that is wrong with Morrison on these kinds of issues. [The leadership] he made a big mistake in thinking that the party’s membership base is the voter base.
“The party’s voter base is much broader and they voted against this shit yesterday in Warringah.”
With outgoing treasurer Josh Frydenberg, On his way to losing his seat from Kooyong, the almost overwhelming favorite for the Liberal leadership is Dutton, who hails from the dominant Conservative faction and from Queensland, whose MPs and senators could make up a quarter of the party’s ward.
Outgoing superannuation minister Jane Hume said “as we look at the drivers of this defeat, we need to ensure all voices are in the room”.
“The Liberal Party thrives when all voices are heard. And the country needs a strong liberal party.”
On Sunday, both Tehan and Andrews refused to rule out running for the leadership.
Andrews told reporters on the Gold Coast that it was “too early” for a leadership conversation as votes were counted to determine the makeup of the nightclub.
“At some point the Liberal Party room will meet and we will elect a new leader but that is not a discussion for today.
“I am not going to participate in the discussion at all, within 24 hours of a devastating loss for the Liberal and National Party.”
Tehan said running for leadership was “the last thing on my mind.”
“At this stage, what we need to do is make sure we regroup and come together,” he told Sky News. “We have to wait and see what happens… there are still a lot of votes to count, it’s too early to have those discussions, we’re 12 hours away from election day.”
The recriminations were not limited to those who think the Coalition government had veered too far to the right, with the Nationals and some Liberal MPs arguing that Morrison’s adoption of a 2050 net-zero target had hurt their chances.
Liberal Senator Gerard Rennick said the party had gotten “bogged down in the Covid hysteria” and “didn’t fight the fight against climate change”.
Rennick said that instead of signing a net zero, the party “should have fought the [climate] issue of the cost of living again, to argue that [renewables and storage] they are the most expensive energy, as we did last time”.
The Coalition should advocate protecting the environment “without buying into this notion that an increase in CO2 is the end of humanity,” he said.
Liberal Senator Alex Antic said the Coalition should not adopt a more ambitious climate policy, saying that would only backfire.
“In many cases people were trying to appease the climate crowd, look what happens,” Antic told Sky News on Sunday morning.
“You throw the left and the weather squeezes a bone and then they use it to break your head later.”
Antic called on his party colleagues to “push back these emerging globalist forces and climate change is one of them.”
“We have to drown out the Guardians, the ABCs; we didn’t do it when we were in power, we’ll have to do it when we’re in opposition,” he said.