It is becoming increasingly clear that there is no prospect of a Liberal Party led by Malcom Turnbull ever returning to the party’s former core values of social conservatism, fiscal responsibility and personal integrity. Being determined to win at any cost, and making any promises to do so, is not a win at all. Certainly not for the Australian people. Unless there are principles, there is no point.
Three years of Shorten and Plibersek is a ghastly prospect, with its certainty of increased energy prices and the costs of doing business, plus higher unemployment and debt and a reopening and refilling of detention centres. But it is more and more likely that many ordinary and loyal Liberal voters will see a Labor victory as the distasteful but only alternative to the destruction from within of conservatism in Australia. Those of us who believe that social conservatism and economic libertarianism offer the best paths for peace and justice and prosperity may well believe that this will only be achieved by sending a clear message that the Liberal Party needs to return to principled conservative leadership. The only way to do that is not to vote for Turnbull & Co.
The real question is, how to do that without the horrendous cost to Australia of three years (at least) of Shorten and Plibersek?
There has already been a substantial member-level backlash against those who voted to replace Tony Abbott with Malcolm Turnbull. Our latest PM is simply not a conservative. He is a big spending, trendy issue, promise anything to get re-elected salesman. This is not what Liberal Party members, or Australians generally, want or need.
No traditional Liberal voter should feel guilty about giving first-preference votes to other conservative candidates. In my electorate of Mayo, for example, Bruce Hicks of Family First will get my first preference. I know Bruce. He is a good guy — hard-working, a successful businessman in a very difficult industry (dairy farming) and a school principal. He knows about balancing budgets and is a person of intelligence and integrity. He won’t be elected though. The seat will likely be retained by Liberal Jamie Briggs.
There is nothing much wrong with Jamie. The press has been monumentally unfair to him on occasion, but he has generally done a good job for his electorate. Apart from supporting an idiotic $20 million white elephant airport on Kangaroo Island, so that airlines can run routes from capital cities other than Adelaide direct to Kingscote. Except that each of the major airlines has already said it has no interest in such routes nor any intention of flying them.
Then there is Briggs’ refusal to get behind the Kangaroo Island water gap/ferry as part of the national highway network. This is the single change that would do more than anything else to boost the island’s economy, make King Island the jewel of South Australian tourism, and help reverse the state’s declining appeal to overseas and interstate visitors. Depending on the deals being offerred, it is often cheaper to fly from Adelaide to Bali for the weekend than to take a family and car from Adelaide to KI for the weekend. Absurd. Jamie’s reason for refusing to support making the ferry part of the highway network (thus equalising transport and freight costs) is that it would give an unfair advantage to Kangaroo Island producers. This is equally absurd. How does partially removing a substantial disadvantage suddenly amount to an unfair advantage?
In addition, Jamie has given his support to what is surely the biggest pork barrel project in Australia’s history: the construction of submarines in Adelaide. Never mind that the contract is to build submarines whose extensive re-design, required to convert a nuclear vessel to an untested diesel-electric version, has not yet begun. Never mind that the planned subs will be so much slower than surface navy vessels, they will be unable to carry out escort duties, or be effective in intercept-and-denial operations. Never mind that it will take fifty years to build a fleet that will be outdated before the first one hits the water. Never mind that we could lease fast and tested Virginia class submarines from the US and have a functional fleet in five years at half the cost. And please don’t tell me we can’t use them because they can’t be serviced in Australia. A fully equipped service centre could easily be set up in Adelaide, with the subs returning to the US every ten to twenty years for an RCOH (Refueling Complex Overhaul).
Of course every Australian should mind all these things. Defence personnel take enough risks and make enough sacrifices without having to worry about slow, second-rate equipment. Taxpayers make enough sacrifices and should not be burdened by paying an extra $20 billion for second-rate French submarines, just so they can be built in Adelaide. The argument is that this will create jobs in Australia, but that is hogwash. The wages and on-costs paid to those employees will be money taken from other businesses and wage earners. Does it need repeating that government is vastly less efficient than private enterprise at almost everything? That costs money and productivity. Then there is the weight of tax collection and compliance costs, and layers of bureaucracy on top of that. Every job the government “creates” comes at a cost of 2.2 jobs in private enterprise.
What the “build the subs in Adelaide” boondoggle will do is create about 5,000 jobs in key marginal Liberal seats, at a cost of 12,000 jobs elsewhere. That is appallingly bad behaviour by a government that has placed its partisan self-interest ahead of the national interest. For this alone no Liberal member should be rewarded with a conservative’s vote.
In the Senate, the options for conservatives are fairly clear. We need to give Turnbull and his cronies a good thump, while not risking a balance of power held by Xenophon or the Greens. Xenophon is a charismatic character with absolutely nothing to say. He is, like Turnbull, a principle-free, headline-seeking, big-spending populist. Vote for such a creature? No thanks.
And The Greens? Well, if you could run steel factories on unicorn farts, the world would be a lovely place. Until then, we live in a real world, with real profits and losses and vital energy needs. So again, no thanks.
My advice would be to vote under the line. The Liberal Democrats, the Australian Liberty Alliance and Family First are all thoughtful, well-rounded and principled conservative parties. They may get up one candidate each in each state. Two would be brilliant. Then give the rest to the LNP. The result, fingers, arms and ankles crossed, should be a Senate where the balance of power is held by real conservatives whose principles fill the vacuum created by the Turnbullians’ electoral venality.
The above is one voter’s summation of the dilemma facing all conservatives. If Miranda Devine wishes to brand me and so many others delcons, her contraction of delusional conservatives, let her continue with the ridicule. At the end of the day it is principle that matters. Indeed, has to matter most of all.
Peter Wales is a former Anglican clergyman who now runs an IT consultancy business on Kangaroo Island in South Australia