Bernardi Can Kill The Liberals, Non-Labor Government, And Himself

ANY GUTLESS FOOL, knowing they can’t win a lower house seat, can “start a party” by standing in the Senate and rustling preferences to bolster single-digit support, but it takes a special kind of cowardice to do it by deserting a party that six months ago delivered up a six-year term. If Cory Bernardi leaves the Liberals to do just that, he stands to kill off the Liberal Party, the prospects for non-Labor government in Australia and, eventually, himself.

It’s a short post from me this morning: I suspect we will be returning to this theme very soon, and possibly as soon as tonight.

But the apparent putsch by Cory Bernardi to desert the Liberal Party to set up his “Australian Conservatives” party — fortified with cash from mining billionaire Gina Rinehart, if media reports are to be believed — seems set to occur very shortly, and as much as readers know I despair the inability of conservative forces in Australia to get their shit together, this is simply not the way to go about it.

(I emphasise, conservative forces: not whack-job right wing garbage almost exclusively focused on Muslim immigration, abortion, and vilifying homosexuals en route to stopping gay marriage — a measure I don’t support either).

Thanks to the endlessly updating speculation that filled large portions of yesterday’s press, we know Bernardi will likely stand alone if he walks out on the Liberals: the likeliest fellow travellers in any defection — Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz and Queensland MP George Christensen — have both ruled out joining their colleague on the crossbenches, for now at any rate.

Anyone seeking their five minutes in the limelight can try to start a new “party” by running for a Senate berth, armed with the knowledge they could never assemble a majority in a lower house electorate, and using a strategy of preference harvesting to bolster single-digit direct support; we’ve seen it time, and time, and time again.

But it takes a special kind of cowardice to use the money, resources and manpower of another party to secure a fresh six-year Senate term, and then “start a party” by biting the hand that fed you and walking out.

Bernardi, to be clear, is a creature of the Liberal Party, whatever he suggests to the contrary: he has been the president of the SA division, a vice-president federally and, of course, a Senator in SA for some years.

And the idea that walking out on the party that gave him a profile and a career will somehow empower the millions of frustrated voters looking for genuine action on mainstream conservative policies is fatuous, to say the least.

The Liberal Party has its problems — and we have explored them at great length in this column — but nothing a change of leader, a sweeping cleanout of the ranks of its advisers, a few astute preselection changes and some backbone wouldn’t fix.

To make those changes would take great effort, hard work, the making of enemies and the termination of the careers of many vested interests; the reward, however, would be to restore the Liberal Party to its role as the mainstream conduit for conservative sentiment that I passionately believe informs the outlook of a majority of the Australian electorate.

In recent years, this connection between party and base has certainly become strained, to put it most kindly; the present occupant of the federal leadership wears a heavy share of the responsibility, but he is not alone: the risk-averse advisors, the state Liberal Parties filled with deadwood and/or factional hacks, and the perennial desire to offer all things to all people — meaning the party actually ends up pleasing nobody, with the leaching of its support the most tangible consequence — have all played a part.

I note that Bernardi, despite his position on the backbench, has remained largely mute in terms of mass communication where any cogent conservative agenda is concerned; it’s hardly a state secret to advocate for a proper slate of conservative policies in government, and the inevitable conclusion is that no such platform is in the offing.

And it is dubious as to how many of the 50,000 people he has “signed up” will follow him if he walks out on the Liberals: as I noted some time ago, I too signed up — to keep an eye on what Bernardi was up to — and no doubt a fair slab of that 50,000 bloc was doing the same thing. Continue reading

Happy New Year, Prime Minister: Now Fix It

AFTER TEN years of aimless governance and the primacy of policy that is ideologically driven by the far Left or far Right and/or based in cynical, dishonest, jingoistic populism, Australia’s sins are coming home to roost: Malcolm Turnbull holds office at a time the consequences of reprehensible political ineptitude are about to crash into the Canberra firmament like a nuclear bomb. Happy New Year, Prime Minister. Your job is to fix it. We doubt you can.

It is one thing to be in office, but another matter altogether to be in power; on the cusp of a difficult political year, it would take a bold pundit indeed to suggest Malcolm Turnbull holds power at all.

This reality — and the contribution made to it by the sham of his own Prime Ministership — is likely to cost Turnbull, his party and the country very heavily indeed.

Australia has become virtually ungovernable from the Right, and impossible to protect from the Left, through a cascade of disparate yet interconnected events that are set to collide with the national polity in 2017 like an atomic bomb; a quisling would say that this is the fault of the Labor Party and the damage it inflicted upon Australia during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years, and that Turnbull is merely unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But however valid any condemnation of the ALP and the Communist Party Greens might be, to say so would be to ignore the reality that the Liberal Party shares some of the burden of blame: and to whatever extent it is culpable for the crisis of governance Australia faces, the present government is disproportionately responsible for the lion’s share of that burden.

In some respects, you couldn’t invent the confluence of events that have created the political cesspool Turnbull faces if you tried: the wanton amateurism and sheer self-destructive bent he has exhibited as Prime Minister defy almost every known law of political orthodoxy.

But first, a little history.

There are those who accuse the Howard government of “squandering the resources boom,” an ALP criticism that is both unreasonable and incorrect; the Howard years saw the repayment of $110bn in debt left behind by Paul Keating, a budget billions of dollars in surplus, and billions more in the bank.

Could Howard and his Treasurer, Peter Costello, have done more? Possibly, with the wisdom of hindsight. But the reality is that whilst the $110bn spent fixing Labor’s budgetary vandalism might instead have paid for nation-building infrastructure, Australia’s debt-free, AAA-rated economic position wouldn’t exist today had Howard and Costello not acted as they did.

But from (roughly) 2004 onward, the Howard government also started to give things away in what is popularly decried by the Left as “middle class welfare:” tax cuts for middle income earners. Family benefits. Pension bonuses for self-funded retirees. These cost money. Responsible as they may have been regarded at the time, they set a precedent that was gleefully leapt upon by the ALP soon after it returned to office in 2007.

The Global Financial Crisis provided Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan the pretext upon which to start shovelling out cash: first under the guise of “stimulus spending,” but later by showering selected constituencies earmarked for electoral enslavement with hundreds of billions of dollars. Superannuation bribes for low income earners. Tens of billions of unaccountable “Gonski” education dollars. A “fully costed” National Disability Insurance Scheme that costs $22bn per annum, for which the original pot of cash is already empty. Preferential higher wages for certain unionised public sector employees, such as cleaners. Funding for “community organisations” that are no more than socialist propaganda units. The list goes on.

In other words, the advent of modest arbitrary spending under Howard was subsumed by the stimulus pursued by Rudd and Swan — with tacit support from the then Turnbull-led opposition — which in turn snowballed into an avalanche of legislated political spending the current government is welded to and unable to mitigate or repeal on account of a febrile Senate.

When the tactics of squalid Labor “leader” Bill Shorten are factored in — opposing practically everything for the sake of it, to the point of outright lies to voters — it is easy to see just how toxic the environment in which a conservative government must operate has become.

That’s the backdrop to the mess Turnbull now confronts: a budget nobody seriously believes will return to surplus despite the timid and simplistic account given of the figures by his Treasurer, Scott Morrison; a debt pile continuing to balloon and a hostile Senate that is disinclined to pass measures that might arrest that spiral; an empty agenda — let’s call that for what it is — and an apparent lack of any idea of how to develop one; and the complete lack of authority that is the inevitable by-product of winning a federal election by a single seat after a moderate to severe swing against the Coalition.

It is the compounding effects of these legacy problems — and the dire political straits in which Turnbull finds himself — that now stand to destroy the Turnbull government and with it, any prospect of sound government for the foreseeable future.

So strewn with potentially lethal incendiary devices is Malcolm’s path it is hard to know where to begin; but I think it instructive to redirect readers to the article I published two weeks ago, in which I called for Turnbull’s resignation: I urge everyone to read (or reread) this piece, for it fleshes out much that is wrong with his Prime Ministership and why, with growing inevitability, it seems destined to end in tears.

This column has never supported Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, and won’t: I was however prepared to let the farce roll on for a while before calling for its demise. The hope Malcolm might have made a decent fist — rather than a botch — of the task was a faint one, but regrettably the latter was always going to be the punchline of the “Malcolm for PM” story.

Never popular with the conservative Liberals who comprise roughly of 60% of the party’s grassroots membership, Turnbull’s coup against Tony Abbott means a majority of Liberal Party members do not support their leader: yes, we go out and campaign for him and yes, some of us support MPs and candidates who ultimately back Turnbull, but the reality is that more than half the party has no truck with him — an undesirable position at the best of times, let alone in turbulent weather.

Like a creature from beneath the septic tank, Pauline Hanson roared back onto the national stage at the July election, taking votes from Coalition voters disappointed by the inability of the Abbott government to deliver (thanks in large part to the Senate) and/or disgusted by Turnbull’s execution of Abbott and the government’s consequent leftward drift.

The Hanson phenomenon will grow before it eventually dies off again, and whilst John Howard might have fought her off where state Liberal leaders failed in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Turnbull is hamstrung by the fact that in terms of political smarts, he isn’t a Howard bootlace.

Predictably, One Nation will leach more and more Coalition support. Turnbull will do nothing to arrest the slide because, literally, he can’t.

Hanson aside, Turnbull faces the real possibility of a reasonable chunk of the membership — plus God knows how many MPs intent on committing political seppuku — detaching itself early in 2017 to form some kind of “conservative” party headed by backbench South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi.

We examined this issue last week and observed that based on what is already known, not only would such a party not be “conservative” at all, but it would likely gift government to Labor for years: a sentiment echoed by Abbott yesterday in a newspaper opinion piece (which earned him a rebuke from Bernardi on the laughable basis it was written out of self-interest).

Should a solitary lower house MP follow Bernardi out of the Liberal Party, Turnbull will lose his tiny majority and face enormous, immediate and justified pressure to resign or call an election. Given the nature of the beast suggests he would do neither, the federal government would become a running sore that would fester all the way to an undeserved ALP triumph in 2019 and the emergence of a Labor government that really knows how to damage Australia.

Yet Turnbull doesn’t need Bernardi to inflict politically fatal blows on his government. He is quite capable of doing so himself.

Despite the blather about a “strong economic plan” to generate “jobs and growth,” the truth is that Turnbull won the July election with a very threadbare agenda.

Neither the inclination nor the capacity to craft and advocate a comprehensive blueprint from office in a “better late than never” rearguard action is evident.

In my critique of Bernardi’s putative “conservative” party, I outlined an orthodox conservative agenda that could be adopted by a major party of the mainstream Right which, incredibly, would pose few conflicts with Turnbull’s left-leaning personal instincts. To thus combat weakness with the presentation of substance would require courage, skill, and tenacity. But as his stupid “tax reform debate” earlier this year vividly showed, Turnbull has none of these attributes.

Even if nothing is actually legislated, racking up trigger after trigger for another double dissolution — with a substantial agenda upon which to subsequently campaign — would add tremendous legitimacy to the government’s claims to a “strong plan” and the obfuscation of the Senate for petty political purposes, but even this won’t motivate Turnbull to do it.

The new Senate, with its swollen crossbench, may indeed be marginally less hostile to the government, thanks principally to the eradication of Clive Palmer from the national polity.

Yet it would be a dangerous indulgence to think its realignment is in any way a reliable plus for the government: as a case in point, the bill to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (which the July election was ostensibly fought upon) was rendered pointless by an amendment Turnbull agreed to from Derryn Hinch for a two-year lead-in period; the almost certain prospect of a Labor victory at the next election means the ABCC is already as good as dead.

In turn, this means the union movement — knowing the Coalition has persisted with measures to bring it to heel, and cock-a-hoop in the knowledge those measures will probably never apply to it — will be emboldened to cause maximum trouble for the Liberal Party before the next federal election.

Next year sees state elections in WA, SA, Tasmania, and probably Queensland. That’s a lot of opportunities for unions to send fake emergency service workers to polling booths to bully voters, and a lot of opportunities for “nurses” to hit the phones, as they did in Victoria in 2014, to frighten shitless the old, the frail, and the sick. Every Liberal electorate the unions deliver Labor is a campaign unit lost; every Liberal state government beaten or kept from office in the first place is an extra Labor voice at COAG. The existing Labor states have shown themselves to be in no mood to cause Turnbull anything other than grief.

Turnbull faces the loss of Australia’s prized AAA investment rating if the Senate refuses to play ball; at best, this would add billions to the cost of servicing existing debt — and to the already haemorrhaging budget deficit — that could lead only to higher taxes or higher debt if spending remains impossible to cut. At worst, the certain ALP onslaught would simply compound the magnitude of the Coalition’s eventual defeat. After all, selling anything — let alone persuasively arguing the merits of its position — is an area in which this government has failed spectacularly.

Bill Shorten will continue to crap on about things that are “cruel” or “unfair;” just enough gullible voters will listen to him. Labor will lie to them and many will lap it up, for human nature is to gravitate to the soft option. It matters nowt that Shorten offered $110bn in tax hikes at the last election. The current Coalition government, poorly advised and tactically and strategically inept, simply can’t puncture the contradiction.

Energy prices will rocket, because of the cross-partisan obsession with renewable energy that Turnbull personally seems fixated with. Thousands of years’ worth of cheap coal sits in the ground and could power homes and businesses for a fraction of the current cost. But Turnbull, with his infatuation with emissions trading schemes and his blindness to the silliness of Australia shackling itself to the global climate change junta (which the biggest emitters, the USA and China, thumb their noses at) seems determined to simply let that happen.

Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act sits unchanged despite irrefutable evidence it has been co-opted by the Left to cause political trouble on the feigned pretence of being “offended.” Yet this self-described “thoroughly liberal” Prime Minister lacks the fortitude to even attempt to change it to safeguard free speech.

Enraged voters — the silent majority in the suburbs and the regions — are already flirting with protest vehicles like Nick Xenophon’s party, or lunatic options like One Nation, in a desperate search for someone who might govern for them rather than for minorities, vested interests, and the electorally bribed. Coalition voters are disproportionately inflating those minor parties. Turnbull seems oblivious to the people walking away.

These people see an inner-city trendy obsessed with a republic (which will make no difference to their day-to-day welfare); climate change (over which they are fuming at being priced out of the capacity to heat and cool and light their homes); and same-sex marriage (a political football in this country for far too long, which can only be resolved by a popular vote if political posturing over it is to ever cease).

They see Malcolm having televised dinners with Muslim leaders, with scant regard for their own issues and communities: the clear message is that the great unwashed masses simply don’t count.

Their anger is already showing up in Newspolls, six of which in a row have shown Malcolm on course to lose an election badly. There is no firepower in the Coalition’s policy cupboard and the dubious record of its leader suggests the polls cannot now be turned. With the bonfire erupting around the Coalition, those polls will worsen. Turnbull must be held to account. Having used bad polls to destroy Abbott, he cannot eschew responsibility for bad polls now.

A restive public, in the absence of any compelling Coalition narrative to negate opportunistic Senators and lying Labor goons, has become conditioned by charlatans like Rudd and Shorten to think that governments announcing initiatives that make a single voter a dollar worse off ought to be run out of office — just to make things even harder.

So there it is: a Prime Minister with no authority and a fragile hold on power, mired in internal divisions and confronting the predatory spectre of One Nation on the lunar right wing, faced with a hostile Senate and a rotting budget position, approaches 2017 with little support from his party, the real possibility a chunk of it will defect, an angry electorate and an agenda — to the extent he has one — that is anathema to most voters.

If this is a clueless government led by an even more clueless figurehead, the only consolation is that Bill Shorten and Labor would be worse. That won’t stop voters electing them, however, if for no better reason than to be rid of the developing apocalypse that is the Turnbull government.

As one wag in the mainstream press noted last week, Turnbull’s greatest political achievement may ultimately prove simply to have been Prime Minister.

Happy New Year, Malcolm.


Bernardi’s Conservatives Will Only Work If Mass-Based

WITH Malcolm Turnbull moving the Liberal Party to the political dead centre there is, at face value, room for a conservative party; even so, reports Senator Cory Bernardi will leave the Liberals to create one must be treated warily. A new party will fail unless it eschews messiah cults and is mass-based: if Bernardi’s Conservatives are an abortion-fixated, gun-toting mob of xenophobic Cory acolytes, they will amount to no more than a protest front.

As a Liberal Party member for 26 years — save for a bit of a gap after moving to Melbourne almost 20 years ago — and an openly conservative one at that, I should be just the kind of person who should be embracing Cory Bernardi and his Australian Conservatives with open arms: politically literate, located squarely on the mainstream Right, unsupportive of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership and frustrated in the extreme about the soft-moderate, progressive, namby-pamby allegedly “liberal” direction the party, at both state and federal levels, appears determined to pursue.

But reports in today’s press (see here the Murdoch or Fairfax version) that suggest the South Australian Senator will break with the Liberals next year to turn his “Australian Conservatives” into a new party make me wary and skeptical, not excited; I retain an open mind, of course, but this path has been traversed too many times before, and too many times — improperly executed — the resulting parties have become personality cults, a la the Palmer United Party, or incoherent pedlars of extremist fringe complaint politics, a la Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party.

(And of course, there have been idiotic examples of the phenomenon that deservedly polled 57 votes nationwide, such as this one).

There is much that is wrong with the Liberal Party today, and with the government led by Malcolm Turnbull in particular; not only is it not conservative, but it is difficult to describe it as “liberal” too: either way, it stands for very little other than the turgid miasma of left-leaning mediocrity that is the inevitable, execrable by-product of a government gripped by the balls by risk-averse advisors that is utterly incapable of (or willing to) stand up to the onslaught of socialism and the big government, high tax, high spending, incentive-crippling agenda of its opponents.

When it comes to the purported breakaway party being schemed up by Bernardi, there is a hat-trick of names being bandied about: Eric Abetz, Kevin Andrews, and maverick Queensland MP George Christensen. Some, all or none of these gentlemen may or may not break bread with Bernardi’s putative party; whether they do or not, the three between them — plus Bernardi himself — advocate ultra-hardline positions on Muslim immigration, the prohibition of abortion and the complete liberalisation of gun laws.

Is this a mainstream conservative agenda? I think not.

It does, however, sound an awful lot like One Nation.

In fact, the insult of choice among Labor and Communist Greens types, when it comes to anything to the Right of Lenin and Stalin, is to label it “far Right,” or to talk of “RWNJs;” an agenda composed of those three issues is not mainstream at all, but it certainly qualifies as “far Right:” a label the rest of us are heartily sick of having to fend off for the rather dubious crime of simply refusing to kowtow to socialists and their agenda of political correctness.

I believe the Liberal Party has indeed lost the commitment of a large portion of what has traditionally been its base, and I know for a fact that on the conservative wing of the party (which also accounts for a majority of its rank and file members) there is great disillusionment with Malcolm Turnbull, his government, the performance of the Baird government in NSW, and the disparate condition in which the various state divisions of the party are gearing up to fight elections over the coming 18 months in Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, and South Australia.

(Over in the moderate faction, the feeling is that Turnbull is just wonderful, with Baird and his counterparts in most of the other states similarly primed for great success in their view: they don’t like Tim Nicholls in Queensland, and they can’t see that the quality of state MPs across the country, by and large, is abysmal — and this head-wedged-in-backside perspective is a clue as to why I have little time for moderate Liberals, much less their tepid, me-too approach to the ALP, and refuse now to vote for them at preselections under any circumstances).

But there are those who profess outrage over the dumping of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott — the “give us our elected PM back” brigade — whose degree of political insight and sense of the public mood is so defective as to prevent the realisation Abbott had, by his actions (or in the case of retaining Peta Credlin at the head of his office, lack of actions) rendered his own position terminal; that is in no way, shape or form an endorsement of Turnbull of any kind. But the issuance of political pronouncements in such idiot-simple terms is no less puerile than the taunts of being “far Right” and “RWNJs” that are levelled at them by the Left.

Does the fact Abbott was replaced (and by as unsuitable a candidate for the Prime Ministership as Turnbull) directly warrant the formation of a new party? I doubt it. In fact, there is no suggestion Abbott would defect to a new conservative party at all, let alone lead it.

That honour, it seems, belongs to Cory Bernardi — seated in the wrong chamber of Parliament for a start, if he is to ever amount to anything more than just the figurehead of just another Senate-based protest rabble which dwells in the upper house on account of its lack of adequate appeal to put a majority together anywhere.

And if Bernardi isn’t the chosen leader, then who?

The press reports today have noted mining baroness Gina Rinehart is on board with the project, meaning — like Clive Palmer’s Titanic-like eponymous party before it — Bernardi’s crowd won’t be wanting for cash.

But money isn’t everything in politics; just as those with the most of it often have the least political acumen of all (certain Western suburbs Brisbane Liberals take note), the parties who have the most of it don’t necessarily win (as the huge union war chest that bankrolled a losing ALP campaign this year is but one example).

At the risk of asking an indelicate question, precisely what does Bernardi intend his new conservative party will stand for? What will its policies be?

Will it advocate a sweeping round of tax reform — not the bullshit Turnbull tortured the country with earlier this year — involving a broadening and doubling of GST, steep cuts in PAYE and company taxes, the lifting of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers out of the PAYE system altogether, and the abolition of a raft of less efficient taxes, duties, and perhaps even the fuel excise?

Will it step up to the plate and argue cogently and persuasively for labour market reform — in the face of plummeting Australian productivity and international competitiveness — that could slash the unemployment rate and put a bomb under economic growth?

Would it — like Geoffrey Howe and Nigel Lawson in the UK in the 1980s — cut, deregulate and simplify, slashing red tape and abolishing overheads that affect businesses and private individuals alike, driving up costs and destroying incentive?

Will it finally make the case for putting an end to what one British MP termed “all this Greens bullshit,” abolishing renewable energy targets and subsidies to commercially unviable sources of ultra-expensive energy, in favour of an expanded coal-fired electricity sector that can provide inexhaustible power to Australian homes and businesses at some of the world’s lowest prices, as opposed to some of the world’s highest today?

Will it look at Health and Education, and make the case for genuine reform in each? I have privately floated a plan that I’ve called a “grand reform bargain” which (in crude terms) cedes Health to Labor and claims Education for conservatives: in very broad terms, it acknowledges Medicare can’t be unpicked, and nationalises primary care to form a UK-style National Health Service, with private clinics and hospitals still available for those who choose them after paying the Medicare levy; in return, it acknowledges the only reason for Labor’s alleged “superiority” in Education is that it throws money at teachers, whilst curriculums and the social engineering that increasingly passes as “education” generate falling standards and outcomes — and empowers individual schools to compete for teachers, set remuneration, develop their own curriculums, be governed by local school boards, with parents able to choose a school that best fits their child.

If not in these areas, then what bold reform ideas will Bernardi’s conservatives champion? After all, the notion that conservatives are completely opposed to change is a myth, and one peddled by Labor ruthlessly; to genuine conservatives, it’s the rate and type of change that is at issue, as opposed to change itself: and in this sense, a rich menu of potential options beckon. Reforming the Senate? Abolishing the states? A national infrastructure-building program to build dams, roads, schools, hospitals and railways?

Rather than flirting with spending billions of dollars on a transition to a republic — which might make a few people feel warm and fuzzy, but which would achieve exactly nothing of practical importance — what is Bernardi’s vision for a robust national identity and the restoration of pride in Australia, as opposed to the Labor/Greens practice of cringing over it?

What is the agenda of the Bernardi forces for robust national defences, and better and expanded relationships with traditional allies such as Britain and the US?

How does Bernardi reconcile the needs of rural conservatives with the agenda of their city counterparts?

In short, what exciting, integrated national vision for Australia would a breakaway conservative movement led by Bernardi actually offer?

I fear it will be nothing more than abortion, stopping Muslim immigration, and gun liberalisation.

And just on those issues, people are entitled to their opinions; the point is that those three things are not the platform of a party of government: they are the platform of a party of protest. And if the rest of the hard policy work hasn’t been done, Bernardi’s party — if it champions those, and little else — will go the same way the rest of the protest parties that have come and gone over the years have done.

The hard reality is that even if Bernardi simply walks out on the Liberal Party and takes a few of its less trustworthy MPs with him, the Turnbull government will fall sooner rather than later; on one level, what appears to be in prospect could simply install a Labor government in power — an outcome Bernardi, and anyone who backs him, will have to wear.

Bernardi claims to have “signed up” 50,000 supporters that could be used as the basis for this likely new party: I can definitively say that this is absolute rubbish.

I signed up when Bernardi launched the website for Australian Conservatives; not because I was “on board” but to keep an eye on what it was doing. Yes, I’m curious, but highly skeptical. I daresay that everyone — from other Liberals monitoring his activities, to enemies from the ALP and the Greens, and to everyone in between — has done the same thing. Just how many of those are rusted onto the cause is unknown, but I’d bet tens it’s a hell of a lot less than 50,000.

Readers know that I believe there is a willing and receptive constituency when it comes to a comprehensive mainstream conservative agenda; properly articulated, communicated and sold to voters, such an agenda would be an election-winning manifesto.

But running off half-cocked — especially with Trump-like slogans such as “Make Australia Great Again” — is a recipe for eventual disaster, but only after irretrievable damage is inflicted upon the Liberal Party, which at some point will be left to pick up the pieces and put them (and itself) back together again.

Based on the available information and what is already publicly known about this “Australian Conservatives” project, I remain to be convinced: and if a born conservative of the drive and passion of someone like me isn’t excited by what Bernardi appears to be contemplating, then I doubt he is pitching to much more than a very narrow audience indeed.

Maybe the best option is for genuinely conservative Liberals in the Liberal Party — not the left-straining moderates, nor those who might accurately be termed “far Right” — to be more assertive about what they stand for, and to fix what remains a great political organisation whose cardinal sin has been to stray from its core beliefs, and which is fast losing both members and supporters as a consequence.


A Breakaway Conservative Party? Perhaps, But Questions Abound

WITH THE ELECTION result remaining unclear, much of the political discussion yesterday turned to the initiative of controversial Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi to start a group — the Australian Conservatives — to “unite Australian conservatives;” the initiative, supposedly able to exist inside the Liberal Party, may have merit, but questions regarding its breadth, depth, policy objectives and personnel are all concerns that must be resolved.

We have only ever discussed controversial conservative Liberal Party Senator Cory Bernardi twice in this column; once, four years ago, when I ripped into him over comments about gay marriage leading to sex and marriage with horses and goats and so forth, and once last year, in the aftermath of the majority decision of the US Supreme Court to legalise gay marriage and following the publication of an essay (which can also be accessed through that link) in a respected political journal advocating “group marriage” (and God only knows what else at some later juncture), in which I published an unsolicited retraction of my attack on Bernardi, and an apology. He had been proven right.

I begin my remarks thus this morning because Bernardi has emerged — having correctly described the Liberal Party’s federal election campaign as “a disaster” — as the latest individual to the Right of Australian politics to set forth on some kind of adventure in creating a new conservative party; the objective is nothing new, and all too often has seen narrow, personality-based, cult-like organisations spring up that are nothing more than complaint amplification devices, vehicles for the indulgence of personal megalomania, or both.

Too often, they gravitate toward agendas based on guns and the wholesale vilification of Muslims, and whilst responsible gun ownership and the insidious rise of radical Islam are matters that concern genuine conservatives, they do not of themselves constitute an agenda for a mainstream party, or anything remotely approaching it.

Whilst the Liberal Party received votes from me in both Houses on Saturday, for the first time in my life (and this was my 10th federal election as a voter) it did not receive them by way of a primary vote; under its present leadership, the Liberal Party has come to project an image resembling an encounter group that would interact pleasantly with the Labor Right, or even some elements within the Greens, and this latte-swilling, inner-city focus on people totally into themselves simply because of who they are and where they live is a culture with which I have no truck: and the campaign which may yet cost the Coalition government was notable only for its excited screeching of empty messages that would appeal to such a trendy, with-it funky bunch. It was an exciting time, all right. The name of Tony Blair also comes involuntarily to mind.

Yet in the end, and certainly in the lower house where any vote in my local seat was ultimately a choice between the Liberal Party and Labor, the Liberals still offered the lesser of two evils; but others — those uninterested in seeing the party recover and prosper, or those who couldn’t really care less, or those who think the Liberals should be taught a lesson and who instead voted Labor to try to teach them one — deserted the Coalition in droves, balancing it finely upon the precipice of defeat as a result.

I don’t think there is any problem in having a conservative forum within the Liberal Party as a starting point; after all, the party is home to other sub-groupings based on business, women, young people, regional centres and so forth, and bringing like-minded people together within the famed “broad tent” is no bad thing: contrary to the view it can erect barriers between different elements within the party, I actually think it can break them down, as the like-minded network with each other, and people in each of the sub-groups network into other sub-groups with the effect that new and deeper connections between them can be forged.

Bernardi has set up a website for people to “register interest” in his Australian Conservatives; out of interest, I’ve registered: and a little disconcertingly, the first thing I received from it was an email thanking me for “joining.” We will see what is forthcoming as the days and weeks pass, and I will share this information with readers as it becomes available, but I haven’t “joined” anything, and the presumption I have is perhaps a sign that the Australian Conservatives are something other than what they say they are.

But it takes little insight to realise the end destination of this exercise — an attempt to form a new conservative party — and in that sense, Bernardi has some questions to answer.

A check of the website requesting registrations stated that Australian Conservatives was “an initiative of the Conservative Leadership Foundation;” a quick search revealed (surprise, surprise) that the Conservative Leadership Foundation is headed by “Chairman and Founder” Cory Bernardi, and the uneasy feeling that this might be another Clive Palmer/Jacqui Lambie/Pauline Hanson enterprise was heightened by the fact the “Conservative Shop” (accessible through another tab on the CLF website) is selling five books authored by Cory Bernardi in addition to a “Hardcore Conservative” T-Shirt range.

Readers know I have little time for the cult of personality, and it is perhaps poetic to report back today on a nauseating flower whom we noted last year was attempting to shanghai the noble principles of conservatism to legitimise an undeserving, personality-based bid for the Senate, which — in a happy takeout from Saturday’s election — received the sum total of 57 Senate votes out of more than three million cast in NSW, which is at least 56 more than it deserved.

Yet in that piece, I also set out many of the preconditions it failed to address for the establishment not just of a new conservative party, but of any new party at all.

As I opined at the time:

“Any new, mass-based party — conservative or otherwise — would need to spring from multiple figureheads spanning a raft of prominent roles in business, politics, commerce, industry, and other spheres like the armed forces and interest groups like pensioners…there is an agenda a conservative party — a proper conservative party — could easily win mass backing for: one fashioned around opportunity and reward for effort; built on the family, the business community, strong national defences and a sense of national identity; looking after the vulnerable, whilst rewarding the entrepreneurial; and modernising the entire outdated structure of the pillars of the so-called “Australian settlement” that still see unions controlling whatever they like in this country, despite less than one in six Australians belonging to a union, and which see anyone who wants to sit on their arses doing nothing protected by the populist outrage of anyone with a political point to gain from letting them do so.”

And as I also pointed out, I’m not closed to the idea of a Conservative Party of Australia, but there is an awful lot it would have to do and get right in the formative stages that no new party, to my mind, has managed and/or even bothered to do and get right since Bob Menzies founded the Liberal Party in 1944.

Bernardi is right to note that 1.7 million Australians cast their votes for “right-of-centre or conservative parties rather than the Liberal Party” on Saturday, and probably at least substantially right to suggest a large number of these people were disaffected Liberal voters who simply felt unable, for whatever reason or reasons, to support their party this time.

But caution is also required, for that 1.7 million also includes those who voted for blatantly and unapologetically racist outfits like the Australian Liberty Alliance, and divisive troublemakers like Pauline Hanson with her One Nation party, who (and this is an old story) is just great at whipping up a furore around race-based problems, but never advocates anything rational or substantial as a solution to them: it’s just stir the punters up into a frenzy, grab their votes (and the election funding they yield), and skip off somewhere else to make more noise.

Neither of these entities could be called “conservative:” they are bastions of the far Right, and there is a distinction between mainstream conservatism and the lunatic fringe that must be drawn — just like there is a difference between the mainstream social democrats of the Left and their insidious brethren at its ultra-socialist, ultra-statist extreme.

Disturbingly, though, the “comments” section of Bernardi’s call to arms on his personal website shows an awful lot of interest from people openly identifying with the ALA, nutcase religious fringe outfit the Rise Up! Australia Party, and One Nation: and as soon as you build these types of far-Right influences into a political party, it can hardly be characterised as “mainstream.”

On the other hand, were current conservative Liberal voters to be coalesced into a single organisation with those from the National Party, Family First, the Shooters and Fishers party, perhaps the Liberal Democrats, and maybe some of the more reasonable Christian Democrat-style parties floating around the place, then a solid base from which to advocate proper conservative policies might be assembled.

It would have to be mass-based; none of the personality bullshit that every lunchtime legend seems to think Australians are desperate for a slice of.

It would have to be truly democratic; no management committees to rule by decree, or state executive-type delegates to turn up to every preselection to overturn the wishes of local members in favour of predetermined outcomes; some degree of veto is always mandatory of course, as the slew of candidates who slipped through vetting processes on both sides of the political divide showed repeatedly during the election campaign that has just concluded. But the criteria for vetoing candidates would have to be codified, and things like “pissed off such-and-such an MP x years ago” or “doesn’t belong to the right bunch of mates” simply wouldn’t cut it, and existing parties which engage in some or all of this behaviour should contemplate their actions when next the issue of permanently declining membership numbers comes up.

It would have to develop policies that cater to both urban and regional conservatives; there is no point in a new party that caters to one to the exclusion of the other, and such a suite of policies would probably take the form of a series of separate measures targeted to each constituency that are complementary rather than contradictory. But good luck getting the balance right.

And whilst small government, low tax, personal responsibility, incentive for effort, reward for success and an emphasis on family and traditional values — coupled with strong national defences, strong national identity, and a strong safety net for those genuinely in need of it — are all bedrock principles of mainstream conservative governance, great care would need to be taken to ensure the agenda of any new conservative party isn’t hijacked by the “string ’em up” anti-Muslim brigade, or by others whose voices are much further to the Right of an orthodox policy platform.

I don’t know how Bernardi proposes to reconcile and resolve these problems; it is heartening to see he is casting the net to form a movement rather than a party as a first step, and apparently sounding out significant figures of conservative inclination as to whether they might be involved.

But at some point, it seems inevitable that the bullet will have to be bitten: as I said earlier, it takes little imagination to see that what Bernardi is doing is taking the first, very tentative steps to form a new conservative party (or at least to try to facilitate the formation of one by mass participation), and it’s an endeavour I will most certainly be monitoring, if nothing else.

It is a process that is far from straightforward, and throws up far more questions than Bernardi has to date volunteered any answers to. At some point I may attempt to contact him to discuss his intentions, and if I do — subject to any strictures around confidentiality upon which he might insist — I will share this with readers as well.

But I am most interested in feedback from readers: what do you think? Is there a place for a new, mass-based conservative party in Australia? What do you think it should incorporate in its platform, and who should it — and shouldn’t it — open its doors to? Or do you think, as many do, that the Liberal Party, imperfect as it is, still represents the best ongoing vehicle for the advancement of conservatism in Australia?

As we ever do, we will wait and see, but I encourage all conservatively minded readers to share their views in the comment section today; the typical comment rate for this site is 1-2% of all readers, and this totemic issue presents one occasion when the views of all — if they describe themselves as conservative, or find they align with the values I have outlined here as conservative values — really should be shared, debated, and given further thought.


Gay Marriage: No, It Is NOT Time To Legalise Polygamy

LESS THAN A DAY after the US Supreme Court ruled in favour of gay marriage — legalising the measure in all 50 states, making the pressure to follow suit here harder to resist — voices of the liberal Left are already pointing to polygamy as the “next step forward” in their “progressive” crusade. The ruling by the Court is a travesty. For those who’ve opposed gay marriage and warned of what might follow, those forecasts have quickly proven right.

As fair-minded as I am about my conservatism, I find myself offering an unconditional apology to Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi this evening; the Senator — whom I pilloried when he warned that sanctioning gay marriage would inevitably lead to calls for polygamous unions to be legal, and further along the slippery slope marriages (and presumably sexual relations) between people and animals — was probably right.

Three years ago, when Bernardi caused uproar and brought shame on conservatives with his graphic warnings of polygamy and bestiality, I never thought I would see the day when I would say this: but the attack I made on him in this column is one I now unreservedly and fulsomely withdraw.

By now I’m sure readers are aware that overnight the Supreme Court of the United States delivered a majority decision by a 5-4 margin that legalises gay marriage in all 50 US states; and whilst the victors are entitled to be jubilant, declaring “love wins” and rattling on about “equal love” and marriage “equality” — when there is no such thing — the decision already looks to be the thin edge of the wedge, and promises to stir great division and conflict in American society.

An article from the New York Times, which details the decision and which I strongly recommend readers review, can be accessed here.

I’m sick of being told I am a bigot, or a homophobe, or ignorant, or a Neanderthal, when I am none of these things; as far as I am concerned, gay people can go off and do whatever they like with each other. As far as their place among the rest of us goes, that’s a given. I understand there are still people around who think gay people should be bashed, ostracised, prosecuted or worse. But I am not one of them and I am fed up with sanctimonious “do-gooders” taking it upon themselves to make such insidious spot diagnoses when they have absolutely no clue what they are talking about.

But my opposition to gay marriage (in spite of a wide liberal streak that says they should do as they please) isn’t about brutalising and vilifying gay people; rather, it stems from the need to preserve traditional social values: values that, sadly, seem to break down that little bit more each day, when they are the foundation and the bedrock of our society — and not some arbitrary product of it, as this decision is, and as it will be if developments in the United States come to be mirrored here.

I think the ruling of the Court is a travesty, made as it seems to have been with the cavalier disregard for its consequences that invariably accompanies judicial activism, and driven as it has been by the hardline activism of the illiberal political Left. It is one of those oxymorons that in recent years where social policy is concerned, those traditionally ascribed the label “liberal” have largely come to be nothing of the kind.

The regime this decision will spawn in the United States will seek to vilify and to crucify anything or anyone who fails to parrot unquestioning compliance with the new “order,” and before anyone scoffs, there are already signs of the same thing happening in Australia. Exhibit #101 in this regard is deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek, who has already shown her hand (and that of the wider Australian Left) through her push to enforce a compulsory vote in favour of gay marriage on Labor MPs if and when the matter comes before federal Parliament.

It defies belief that the use of force would stop there: and with the prospect of conservative campaigners in the USA now facing a barrage of legal and social attacks for their trouble, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a) this change could tear American society apart, and that b) that effect could well be replicated here if gay marriage is legalised in Australia.

I’m sorry, but exhortations of “goodwill” from those activists campaigning for this change amount to nothing — literally nothing — when viewed against the backdrop of the very clear signs that have already emerged in the States in the wake of their Honours’ decision.

I’m not going to labour the point on the decision, but less than a day after it was announced a prominent American academic has published an essay in the respectable Politico magazine, in which he argues “group marriage” is the “next horizon in social liberalism” in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling.

Just as readers should acquaint themselves with the coverage I’ve linked from the New York Times, they should read Fredrik deBoer’s article from Politico as well.

The point that I would make of his theoretical case is that from a logical perspective, it is very persuasive.

Yet this is a key problem with socialism in all its forms, and with the ideologies of the Left in general: you can make a case for them, and those cases may seem compelling. From a purely practical perspective, however, they are generally unworkable — the experience of the Soviet Union is obvious proof of it — and when it comes to engineering the complete breakdown of traditional social values that have endured and underpinned liberal democratic societies for centuries, it’s not unreasonable to assert that their implementation, if taken to its logical conclusion, risks the breakdown of the society as well as the values.

Polygamy is popular with welfare rorters; until the practice was clamped down upon in Britain, the UK had hundreds of polygamous families on its books claiming millions of pounds in welfare payments; here in Australia, there have been cases of the same thing occurring. To the best of my knowledge, the practice (in terms of welfare claims) remains legal, even if the “family” structure is not. But if the likes of Dr deBoer win the argument, this adoption of “family” structures with which to abuse public resources will skyrocket.

Polygamy is also popular with all the kinds of people the Left purport to hate: misogynists, sexists, tokenisers of women, those who are violent and/or abusive of women, and those who hide behind what deBoer euphemistically describes as a “hub and spoke” view of “family” relations.

As Dr deBoer himself gleefully acknowledges, the decision of the US Supreme Court has set American society on the slippery slope: and his embrace of the fact is alarming, considering where that slope may lead.

I don’t intend to tear his arguments apart at length any more than I intend to dwell on the “historic” decision of the Court; those who feel elated by its handiwork can celebrate, but they should be careful in contemplating what they think they have won.

Do I have a problem with gay people in relationships, or with extending to them the same rights at law that heterosexual people enjoy? Of course I don’t.

But as I have now said many times, calling it “marriage” is one step too far: and for a group in society that arguably ranks among its most intelligent, my suggestion they come up with their own institution rather than hijacking a “hetero” entity half of them want nothing to do with anyway is a sincere one.

Yet regrettably, having trashed marriage in its traditional sense, other injuries to decent and traditional social norms will quickly follow, and if one of the first to be inflicted is to bring polygamy into the mainstream as the Left has done with gay marriage, then it’s only a matter of time before outright social decay ensues.

The thing that makes us civilised as human beings is that we don’t behave like animals: our societies are ordered according to a set of values that give them structure, and operate within the rule of law to give them order.

To begin to kick the pillars out from beneath the edifice is to invite the entire thing to collapse; gay marriage might well be the harmless foible its proponents claim in attempting to steer conservatives toward supporting it, but it really is the thin edge of the wedge.

To me, it is no surprise the call for polygamy to be legalised has already rung out in the United States; the only mildly surprising thing about it is the indecent haste with which that call has been made but then again, there is never all that much about the social engineering efforts of the Left that could be characterised as “decent.”

Let those who are so inclined celebrate what has transpired in the United States; for the legalisation of gay marriage is a Pyrrhic victory indeed, and one which raises the curtain on the prospect of it ultimately delivering far more harm than good.

Suddenly, Cory Bernardi’s warning about sex and marriage with goats and horses and God knows what else looks a little less hysterical than it did 24 hours ago.

Even if that sounds — as it deserves to sound — thoroughly ridiculous.


Bugger Off: Bestial Broadside Buys Bernardi The Bullet

Comments in the Senate by hard-right Liberal Cory Bernardi — suggesting a direct causal link from gay relationships to sex between human beings and animals — have rightly and correctly resulted in his sacking from the Coalition frontbench. The Red And The Blue heartily endorses his dismissal.

The ongoing debate over gay marriage — and whether to legislate in favour of it — is a labyrinth of differing positions and viewpoints, interwoven with personal friendships and relationships, political considerations, and social outcomes, and one which largely transcends orthodox lines of demarcation such as Left vs Right, or Labor vs Liberal.

Whilst I am not gay and am known for conservative views, I oppose gay marriage — because, as I have opined in the past, I think the gay community has enough bright, creative people in its ranks to come up with an equivalent institution of their own, rather than seeking to second an institution that is quintessentially heterosexual as defined in its history, tradition, convention, and its basis in religious lore.

And marriage, at its very genesis (no pun intended) is a religious institution across many faiths, not a modern societal or legal one.

It is true that the conservative in me opposes gay marriage; yet the liberal in me (in the true sense of the word, not the political sense) takes the view that gay people can do whatever they like between themselves in the privacy of their own company so long as it doesn’t adversely affect anyone else — which, by the way, is pretty much the way all of us should conduct our personal affairs, whether straight or gay.

My position on this issue probably puts me somewhere in the middle of those who are absolutely dead against the legislation of gay marriage and those who are ardently in favour of that change being legislated.

I wanted to restate my position on this tonight because — whether you agree with it or not — it is a reasoned one.

And I think that generally, most people who have participated in the gay marriage debate — in Parliament, the mainstream media, in independent opinion instruments such as this column, or around the barbeque or kitchen table — equally have views that are reasoned out; whether they concur with mine or not, I think most people have at least paid the subject the courtesy of giving it some thought.

Yes, there are religious conservatives and rednecks with an outright opposition to the right; there are others at the opposite end of the spectrum using Leftist blackmail (“you support this or you’re a bigot,” or silly, focus-group slogans like “equal love”) to push their case.

But until Tuesday, I wasn’t aware of anyone advocating a position that legislating gay marriage could lead to lawful sexual relations between humans and animals.

Enter Senator Cory Bernardi.

In the interests of clarity, I reprint here his remarks to the Senate debate as quoted in The Australian:

“The next step …(if gay marriage is legalised) is having three people that love each other be able to enter into a permanent union endorsed by society, or four people.

“There are even some creepy people out there who say that it’s OK to have consensual sexual relations between humans and animals. Will that be a future step?

“In the future, will we say, ‘These two creatures love each other and maybe they should be able to be joined in a union?’ “

I’m going to be blunt about this:

  1. The debate about gay marriage has nothing to do with polygamy.
  2. The debate about gay marriage has nothing to do with sex with animals.
  3. Senator Bernardi’s remarks are a disgusting attempt to divert the debate about gay marriage down a filthy tangent designed to morally revolt and shock.
  4. Senator Bernardi’s remarks are not worthy of an adolescent school debate let alone be uttered in the Houses of the country’s Parliament.
  5. Senator Bernardi’s remarks are an affront to gay people and those who favour gay marriage and to those opposed but nonetheless engaged in the debate in good faith.

Claiming that various reports “had not taken into account the full context of his remarks” — a variation, to be sure, on the proven, guilt-tinged defence of being “misquoted” — Bernardi apparently remains unrepentant; refusing to apologise, and refusing to acknowledge what everyone else can see as a repugnance.

The consideration of the actual issue aside, Bernardi’s outburst — essentially repeated yesterday morning in a radio interview — raises political considerations as well.

He has defied party room instructions not to inflame the debate over gay marriage; the latest in a litany of ill-advised and incendiary outbursts over the course of his Senatorial career.

He has, by virtue of this grotesque overreach, enraged more moderate Liberals such as Malcolm Turnbull, who favour the legalisation of gay marriage but who voted against it in accordance with the published policy of the Coalition.

And he has created additional problems for Liberal leader Tony Abbott at a time when the Coalition has performed badly for a couple of weeks — partially reflected in some recent opinion polling — and compounded by a rare outbreak of ill-discipline in Coalition ranks under Abbott’s leadership.

To his credit, Abbott has been unconditional in his statements that what Bernardi has done is completely unacceptable.

We could discuss this at greater length in terms of the political repercussions and the fallout on a wider basis but that really isn’t the purpose of tonight’s article.

Clearly, Bernardi’s comments to the Senate debate merit no further consideration; we can treat these with the contempt they deserve, and ignore them.

And quite clearly, Senator Bernardi has outlived any real usefulness he may have had politically, as a Senator and lawmaker, and is of no further value to the Liberal Party in any conceivable sense.

Abbott — historically a factional ally of Bernardi’s — has stamped the papers of the latter, dismissing him from his frontbench; it is to be hoped the party’s preselectors in South Australia give consideration to completing the job, and removing Bernardi from their Senate ticket.

For now, however, Bernardi has been told — in no uncertain terms — to bugger off.

And, on balance, quite rightly so.