Whether or not Tony Abbott is deposed as PM this morning, his position is surely terminal. At least I hope so, for under Abbott’s leadership we do not have a Liberal Party, we have a Conservative party.
Conservatives, as the name implies, believe in conserving the existing structures in society. If change is to occur it must be slow and incremental. To the conservative our social and power structures serve us well, so that if anybody is not well served by them the problem must lie with that person, not the system. Thus conservatives tend to punish those on the margins and adopt the mentality expressed in Joe Hockey’s reference to “lifters” and “leaners”.
With this outlook conservatives wield power without ever understanding it. They fail to appreciate the ways social, political, and economic systems serve the interests of the powerful to the detriment of the vulnerable.
This is a far cry from political liberalism, which has at its core the notion that the freedoms and rights of the individual must be protected. When Menzies founded the Liberal Party it was liberalism he had in mind. Robert Dean, a former cabinet minister in the Victorian Liberal Party summed up the Menzies values as “compassion, inventiveness, tenacity and achievement, individualism, protection of the underdog, fair go, and equal opportunity through free education, tolerance and generosity.” (Sydney Morning Herald 2008). A true liberal would not push boats filled with asylum seekers out to sea but protect them; a true liberal would not ask the poorer members of the community to bear the cost of “budget repair” nor slash foreign aid in favour of infrastructure for the affluent.
Whether Abbott is replaced by Malcolm Turnbull or Julie Bishop, this is much more than an opportunity to replace the leader; it is an opportunity to replace the Conservative party with a liberal one.