Politics Opinion

'Net zero is dead' — so is the Coalition we used to know

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Then and now, Robert Menzies (left) and Scott Morrison represent very different versions of the Liberal Party (Image by Dan Jensen)

This Government seems to have departed from a tradition of liberal conservatism and broken a fundamental continuity that has defined the Coalition since Robert Menzies.

Net-zero was dead, he said on the ABC — the cavalier and controversial Senator Matthew Canavan. Always prone to an outlandish statement, but this was something completely different. Two weeks before an election, this was either a callous observation or the imaginings of a hostile takeover attempt. This moment could have been one of the key moments in a rolling period of collapse within the Liberal-National political experiment.

The already smoking and smouldering L-NP juggernaut was hijacked by words of the renegade Senator. The inertia could be felt in the leafy green battlegrounds, from the moderate candidates under siege to the high-quality Independents seeking to capture their traditional heartland seats.

An overweight 18-wheeler, losing nuts and bolts, exploding pistons and panels, doors flapping in the increasing heat of the desert sun, all of this hauling a decade of negligence and revisionism on climate action, spewing black fumes as it hurtles down the dusty track with election day in sight. Then, all of a sudden, Mad Matt Canavan suddenly veers off down the fury road.

It was only a few years ago that most voters were expecting a Malcolm Turnbull style boring and asinine conservative government, that they voted for, to be the general configuration of the Party. Something half-respectable that acknowledged the challenge of climate change, yet devoid of any real desire to enact any meaningful policy.

Sometimes we may forget that there was a growing rift developing between sections of the Coalition — the Liberal and National Parties were developing fundamental differences on key issues such as climate, immigration and the economy that were becoming ugly. This bitterness also simmered within the Liberal Party ranks, with its far-right smelling blood and opportunity.

With Turnbull’s National Energy Guarantee on the clock, it was only a matter of time before these divisions became open rebellion. Before we knew it, we were handed another Prime Minister we didn’t vote for.

For us, Scott Morrison was a new breed of politician, certainly a new breed of PM. We could largely agree that we had not yet encountered a sales and marketing statesman, with an approach towards leadership more akin to Edward Bernays than Robert Menzies, his political style more akin to the big-spending megachurch political pastors in the United States than the sensible protestant work ethic of Anglican moderates that has historically defined the Liberal Party.

These moderates are now held hostage by the neo-Pentecostalism of folk like Immigration Minister Alex Hawke, who has commandeered the local selection process in NSW, seeking to change the DNA of the political movement against its own will.

“Net-zero is dead” is one of the reasons there are neurosurgeons, foreign correspondents, rugby players and businesspeople hooking up with community members and running effective independent campaigns. The motivation for volunteers to flock to pizza nights in coloured shirts across the blue-ribbon seats of the country is generated in opposition to the religious libertarian hard right now openly led by the Prime Minister.

The moderate liberals who make up the bulk of the parties’ memberships have been jettisoned by the man who told them he could bring the Party back together. They now float abandoned in a rising sea of teal.     

Scott Morrison, a NSW-based liberal Prime minister, now prefers places like Parramatta instead of the traditional divisions now under siege that voted him narrowly into power. He is not welcome in Wentworth and he won’t get a guernsey in Goldstein, but it seems he never wanted one anyway.

This genre of “Nu-Liberals” now makes music in the disenfranchised working-middle classes of marginal NSW Labor heartlands, selling products to religious immigrant communities and the disenfranchised working class, cooking curries and sawing timber, and talking at them about identity politics and issues that have no bearing on the outcomes of these people’s lives.

As the culture war now turns fatal in the United States over the leaked Supreme Court overturning of Rowe vs Wade, over here with overwhelming support for the right to an abortion, the small-batch radicals here in Australia do whatever they can in the circumstances.

Assistant Minister for Women, Amanda Stoker, gets on the picket lines at an anti-abortion rally. Liberal candidate Katherine Deves has a crack from the garage. And later, their ideological captain, Morrison, hangs out with Social Services Minister Anne Ruston and Health Minister Greg Hunt at a fertility clinic, dog-whistling toward the sanctity of life, drawing fiery patterns in the sky over the divisive cudgel of the Religious Discrimination Bill and simultaneously watering down the hypotheticals over the subsequent need for a sexual discrimination act.

If this period of tectonic ideological shifting feels a bit strange, you are hardly alone. in the past, the media would perform its role to help us understand this lack of normality in a government. Instead, they frantically pave the way for its ascension, wheeling this political Frankenstein’s monster over the top of our collective anguish — this is a political movement we have never experienced in this country before.

In one short tenure, Scott Morrison has dismantled a proud history of continuity of liberalism that has defined our political landscape since Federation, a line that had continued in some form or another throughout history until his presence as our Prime Minister. Morrison has brought in something new and that’s why it feels strange to many of us. Worse still, it is not to appease a radical faction in the Party, but to aid and empower them.

The voiceless moderates, the members who still hold the majority share within the Party, must resist this foreign-inspired lurch to the right to ensure that their Party has a future. People like MP Matt Kean represent an alternative to the segregationists of this new form of neo-conservatism. Without these elements, the Party could be captured by a group that represents a small section of extreme thinkers, incompatible with the needs of the majority of the country and destined for political oblivion.   

If the moderates cannot win this ideological battle, the political movement will fall to the Alex Hawkes, Amanda Stokers and Matt Canavans, and all the ideologues and culture war miscreants who have more in common with U.S. red state crackpots than they do with the majority of this secular country.

These people see new coalitions with entities like One Nation and the UAP, preferring a long game approach to forge a future on maximising climate change, forcing religious-inspired reforms and imposing changes on the core tenants of our open society. It could be that some like Canavan may want to lose this Election, reset the movement and purge the moderates. Why else would a responsible party member mention such a counterintuitive and damaging comment prior to such a crucial vote?

“Net-zero is dead” just about sums the whole lot up. In the face of realities most of us can see, their vapid brand of junk food conservatism is selfish and greedy, empty and contemptuous and ultimately incompatible with the global trend of complexity and the impending challenges that require national unity.

The shameful absence of objective media and the presence of corruption and the proliferation of moribund ideas have allowed this fringe to solder themselves onto the circuitry of this moderate nation, tarnishing our prestige and hampering our endeavour. In a short time, this PM has brought down a country that until recently, was the shining example of the developed world.

This Government has no real desire to reform or create or imagine or dream within the common good of this country — it is only willing to impose its radical minority views against the people that live within it. Whatever the costs.

The succour to Turnbull would have to find a way to appease a new libertarian branch of conservative politics based out of Queensland. Somehow, Morrison jostled the competition like he did in Cook ten years earlier. He put his hand up as the unifying force of the Party and won the pre-selection, keeping his hand waving reasonably inoffensively for a year or two till the 2019 Election. When he narrowly beat Bill Shorten, most of us still didn’t know him. But he gave off a vibe.

In all the nattering of election campaigns, candidates return home and hit the pavement and the campaign trail in their search for electoral glory. One party is holding its breath in a tumble as it hopes to fall over the line, the other party is playing safe trying to appeal to a sensible vote while around them, Independents mount grassroots campaigns across the country.

So much happening in the weeks to an election, so many pertinent questions for our media to ask, policies to unravel, so much comes and goes in the campaign of the 24-hour news cycle, the controversial tweets from 2011, the high pitched manic repetition of demands shouted by a new generation of journalists, yet they brushed over this one. But they shouldn’t have.

At a time in which we struggle with the double-edged sword of our tall-poppy syndrome, we allowed this man, for some reason. Maybe because the major parties had left us wanting more, maybe because of the effect of Trumpism. Once we let him in, we allowed him to impose his callousness across the spectrum of this good society and now it trickles down through the beaurocracy, boardrooms, independent bodies and corporate hierarchies of the country. An endemic virus.

The fires happened and the handshakes were refused by the openly distressed on the frontlines, followed by the shirking of responsibility shortly after the combined National Cabinet splintered on COVID-19 responses and his Government’s failures on vaccines. All of this while we were in decentralised lockdowns demanding more of the biased news we were reading more of, trying to understand the details of the sports rorts and the car park schemes, and trying to correct for a new future that looked increasingly uncertain.

The people of Australia want our government to work with its people to meet the problems we will face in the future. 

This story was first published on Bogan Intelligentsia and has been republished with permission.

Joel Jenkins is a writer and actuator. You can read more from Joel on Bogan Intelligentsia and follow him on Twitter @boganintel.

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