Liberal Preselection problems are significant in a Binary System
10 April 2022
Now that the election is called, progressives might delight in the bad publicity associated with the Liberals pre-selection battle.
The Saturday Paper had 3 articles yesterday, a front page about Morrison’s personal pre-selection scheming double-cross, an article about ‘How Morrison became a tin-pot dictator’, by Stephen Mutch, a moderate Liberal who was a NSW State MLC and briefly member for Cook, and a comment by ex-Federal leader John Hewson saying that Morrison’s willingness to ride roughshod over constituent processes shows total disregard for rank and file members.
In the immediate term of this election, it may hurt the Liberals, though 6 weeks is long time in politics so many people will forget. In my own experience door-knocking in the North Sydney by-election when Treasurer Joe Hockey resigned to go to New York, a Liberal told me that the local branch had pre-selected a candidate with 36 votes out of 40, and Trent Zimmerman had 2. But Head office and the branch both had 40 votes, and put in Zimmerman with all their votes, giving him 42. The local branch members were disgusted and did not help hand out. Liberals came from other areas to staff the booth; it was a blue ribbon seat and a predictable victory. Zimmerman is a moderate and the branch had a harder Right candidate, so head office favoured the moderate, who is now asking us to vote for him so that there are some moderates left in the Liberal party.
Similarly, Felicity Wilson, a moderate was parachuted into the State seat of North Sydney against the branch’s desire and against the branch’s more Right-wing candidate.
Craig Kelly was kept in his seat when the branch wanted to dis-endorse him before last election, but were over-ruled by Morrison’s intervention. What a success he turned out to be; anti-climate change, and then an anti-vaxxer. The Libs stuck with him as they needed his vote only to be rewarded as he became an independent and now fronts Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party.
According to Mutch a ‘troika’ determines pre-selections in NSW; Morrison, Perrottet and he does not name the third person. The question must be asked, what would happen if the troika did not control the numbers. Who controls the branches and who would control the pre-selections if it were democratic?
Morrison has claimed to be a moderate, but Alex Hawke, Morrison’s hatchet man as the minder of David Campbell an evangelical Liberal right-wing numbers man in the NSW Upper house in the early 2000s, and was then given a safe seat. The Right are in control.
The US Republican Party is completely out of touch with the common person in the US and acts in the interests of banks, big business, the gun lobby, fossil fuels, voter restriction and gerrymandering to maintain power. They seem totally beholden to Donald Trump. This has happened in about 15 years. In their campaigning and some of the philosophy the Liberals follow the Republicans closely. We must ask, ‘Who is joining the Liberal party?’ Fewer and fewer people join political parties, so they are correspondingly easier to stack or influence. Lobby groups work on politicians, but if they can have members beholden to them for their pre-selections, it would make their lobbying much easier. The Liberals are perceived as very right wing and very influenced by the right-wing Christian lobby. Why would anyone else join? And if they don’t, who will be left to control the grass roots?
In an article in the Sun Herald today (‘Infighting could cost seats: top Liberals) Liberal Federal Vice President Teena McQueen said that sitting members like Trent Zimmerman and Katie Allen could lose their seats but ‘with a couple of lefties gone we can get back to our core philosophy’.
This may not matter for 6 years if Labor wins and gets a second term, or even 9 years if they get a rare third term, but in a binary system the Libs will win eventually, which is why the nature of a major party membership and their pre-selection processes are of interest. If the Liberals go the way of the US Republicans we are in danger.
Australians generally are sick of the two major parties and their capture by their lobby groups. The High Court declining to intervene to support the branches was on the ground that political parties are Private entities. They are not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution so have become almost privatised lobbies. Labor have declined to release many policies to remain a small target because negative campaigning is more cost-effective than positive ideas. The question is whether Labor will actually do the right thing when they get in, or will they be conservative, do very little and leave things as the Liberals have made them in order to stay in power? Pundits have described the ‘right-wing ratchet’ where the Conservative parties privatise and increase social inequality and the Progressive parties make noise and minor changes, but never actually undo what the Right has done.
The Independents are a fresh start, and the negative campaigning does not work as well against them. There is a website ‘notindependent.com’ that is owned by the Liberals asking which party the independent will support? This of course tries to turn the whole thing into a binary contest again and the Independent effectively into a major party backbencher. They also want the Independents to have a comprehensive set of policies, as if the Liberals do!
In the medium term, it may be reassuring to think that if a tradition of Independents can be established the major parties will not have it all their way, but this does not solve the problem of a Republican-like Liberal Party.
My own answer is a major change to the constitution with citizen-initiated referenda at 3 levels of government able to overturn Parliamentary decisions, part-time politicians limited to 2 terms so that politics is not a career and there are no significant party hierarchies to climb, multiple political parties so that no single one ever has an absolute majority and the members’ retirement plan is their current job. This will take years of campaigning to achieve, so we’d better get on with it, or the increasing power and vulnerability of a private political party will have us following the US model, just a few years behind.