Australia election: Fight for soul of Liberal Party underway after blue-ribbon wipeout to teals


The fight for the Liberal Party of the future is underway – and it is going to get very ugly.

Just hours after a bruising election defeat and the shock loss of a swag of inner-city seats to so-called teal independents, there is already fierce internal debate about what went wrong and how to win back power.

Conservatives such as Senator Alex Antic and former chief of staff to Tony Abbott Peta Credlin want to the party to move to the right to present a ‘strong alternative’ and appeal to the outer suburbs and regions. 

But leading moderates including Simon Birmingham and outgoing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg believe the next election will be won from the centre and the party must embrace climate change action to win back city seats stolen by teal independents.

Former chief of staff to Tony Abbott Peta Credlin wants the Liberal party to move right to present a ‘strong alternative’ and appeal to the outer suburbs and regions

The next leader is most likely to be right-wing conservative Peter Dutton with trade minister Dan Tehan ruling himself out of the running.

Moderates fear Mr Dutton will push the party even further to the right – making it harder to win back the seats lost to the teal independents.  

But Credlin summarised the argument in favour of a more conservative approach in her News Corp column on Saturday night.

After Anthony Albanese won power with a projected 77-seat majority, she claimed the Coalition lost because it was not right-wing enough.

She described Scott Morrison’s government as a ‘Labor-lite government that gave in on ”net zero”, compromised budget responsibility and freedom during the pandemic, and refused to fight any culture wars.’  

Credlin claimed Mr Morrison had shifted to the left, alienating conservative voters who turned to One Nation and the United Australia Party and did not preference the Coalition.

‘Instead of sticking with the Quiet Australians who’d supported him to his miracle win last time, Morrison’s shift to the left didn’t placate the Teals, but it sure alienated one-time Coalition supporters who moved in droves to splinter parties on the right whose preferences haven’t returned in anything like the numbers needed to hold government,’ she wrote.

Leading moderates including Simon Birmingham and outgoing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (pictured together) believe the next election will be won from the centre

Leading moderates including Simon Birmingham and outgoing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg (pictured together) believe the next election will be won from the centre

Credlin argued the Coalition should forget the six seats in Melbourne and Sydney won by the climate-conscious teals and instead try to win suburban and regional Labor seats in 2025.

‘It should be pretty simple for the Coalition to see its future representing a new generation of Menzies’ ‘Forgotten People’ living outside the leafy inner-city suburbs that used to be the Liberals’ heartland, in places where people worry about earning a living, about what their kids are taught at school and hope they still live in country where hard work means getting ahead,’ she wrote.

However, leading moderate Senator Birmingham disagreed and said the lesson is that the Coalition must do better on climate change and women’s rights.  

He called for an increase to the Coalition’s 2030 emissions targets.

‘It is already clear that we disproportionately lost the votes of many women and professionals. Issues of equality, inclusion and respect played a role, along with policy on climate change,’ he wrote in a long Facebook post.

Peter Dutton speaks alongside his son as he celebrates winning his seat of Dickson

Peter Dutton speaks alongside his son as he celebrates winning his seat of Dickson

Senator Birmingham said it took too long for the Coalition to agree on net zero emissions by 2050 in the face of resistance from the National Party, the junior Coalition party. 

‘It shouldn’t have taken such effort to bring the Coalition on that necessary journey. Sadly, the process of getting there cemented doubts in the minds of too many voters about the genuineness of the commitment,’ he wrote.

‘In too many seats, especially where we faced independent challenges, too many voters thought that we didn’t share their values or concerns.

‘All of this presents an opportunity for a swift Liberal comeback, if we react the right way. 

‘If we listen to the messages from the electorate, embrace change where we need and ensure the selection of many, many more skilled women then we should approach the next election with optimism.’ 

Mr Frydenberg, who lost his seat to teal independent Monique Ryan, also said climate change was crucial, describing it as ‘a salient and most important issue, not just here in Kooyong but obviously for the country’.

He said: ‘Australia has not been well served by the culture wars on climate change. 

‘Whether you believe in it or don’t believe in it, climate change is not a religion. 

‘It needs to be dealt with from a perspective of engineering, economics and also environmental science.’

Former foreign minister and Liberal moderate Julie Bishop said the party must better reflect women.

‘Women did not see their concerns and interests reflected in a party led by Scott Morrison in coalition with Barnaby Joyce,’ she said on Channel 9.

‘We have not mentioned at this point the impact of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, they changed the narrative when they exposed an ugly side to the workplace in Canberra. That resonated with women.’ 

Federal member for Kooyong Josh Frydenberg embraces a constituent following a press conference on Sunday

Federal member for Kooyong Josh Frydenberg embraces a constituent following a press conference on Sunday

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