The Misplaced Paeans for Andrew Peacock

A better example of academic misinterpretation of non-Labor politics could not be more found than in Griffith University Paul William’s article on the late Andrew Peacock who led the Liberal Party from 1983-85 and from 1989-90 (Courier-Mail 23 April 2021; paywalled).

The surfeit of praise for Peacock, who never achieved one major reform of worth, is amazing. Of course, for left-of-centre academia, just being a so-called ‘moderate’ means everything, yet such praise misunderstands the complex nature of the Liberal Party.

Peacock was intelligent and charming, but he was there for a ride, not for the policies, He stood for little but his own promotion. Despite first joining the ministry in 1969 as Army minister, Peacock never held a major domestic portfolio until October 1980, when he became minister for industrial relations in the Fraser government, and then only for a few months before unsuccessfully challenging Fraser and soon finding himself sacked. Peacock did return to the ministry in the last five months of the Fraser administration, holding the Industry & Commerce portfolio.

For most of his time he held ministries of external territories (1972 only) and foreign affairs (1975-80) – places where any Australian minister can look good, as the present incumbent shows.

Peacock, unlike Howard, never articulated a reform agenda in the important domestic policy areas. He was never prepared, like Howard, to stand alone and lead the Liberals anywhere.

Williams neglects to mention how Peacock, this great ‘moderate’, was best mates with Queensland’s National Party then-minister for everything, Russ Hinze, and spent a lot of time with the rich horse racing set. Nor does Williams mention how Peacock undermined the Coalition and John Howard’s leadership with his flirtation with the mad Joh for Canberra campaign in 1987 that destroyed the Coalition and caused the subsequent federal election loss.

Also overlooked is Peacock’s involvement in the attempted recruitment of then corporate business leader John Elliott as Liberal leader. Peacock was well connected alright – especially to the Big End of town!

When that did not work out, Elliot, by then Federal president of the Liberal Party, gave his support (and staff) to the Peacock coup against Howard in 1989. It was slickly done, but soon came undone when two of the plotters went on 4 Corners to crow about their success. That completely undermined the legitimacy of the leadership change and deepened the schism between Howard and Peacock. Further, one of the plotters, John Moore, was reported in the media as saying that Howard should ‘fade away’.

Of course, all would have been forgiven had Peacock won the 1990 election – but he didn’t. Peacock was not helped by the fact that another of the plotters against Howard, Peter Shack, who had become health spokesman, had to confess during the election that the Liberal Party did not have a health policy.

So, Williams thinks on this basis of this record, on the basis of these people around Peacock, on the basis of these mistakes, on the basis of this vacuum of policy ideas, that somehow Peacock would have made a great prime minister?

Williams inaccurately says the Peacock ‘would find it difficult to secure preselection in today’s conservative Liberal Party’. To call the Victorian Liberal Party ‘conservative’ you must be kidding. Peacock would have had no trouble in being pre-selected in the present Victorian or, for that matter, the NSW Liberal Party. Indeed, the current Liberal member for Kooyong, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, is so soft and moderate that it beggars belief.

Further, Williams suggests the Liberal Party under Menzies was a Victorian party and that is has somehow ‘moved from its roots’ in not having leaders from that state. What nonsense! The Liberal Party founded by Menzies was not just a Victoria-based party but a national one. Howard, from NSW, won four elections. Abbott, also from NSW, brought them back to office in a landslide election after only six years in opposition.

Peacock never won an election, despite two goes.  He was never a threat to the Labor Party.

Dr Scott Prasser is the author of Menzies: Man & Myth and numerous articles and chapters on the Liberal Party and Coalition politics. He also edits Connor Court’s Australian Biographical series

7 thoughts on “The Misplaced Paeans for Andrew Peacock

  • pgang says:

    “Peacock was intelligent and charming, but he was there for a ride, not for the policies, He stood for little but his own promotion.”
    Like MalMo v1 and v2?

  • Harry Lee says:

    Yes, some very true points that count heavily in the negative column for Peacock.
    And yes, the current Liberal Party has slid down the Leftist drain, following the voters who have been enticed that way by the ALP and Greens whose ideology is anti-freedom, anti-wealth creation, anti-truth, Big Statist, and pro-UN/pro-China.
    Separately, but related, consider Howard’s confiscation of firearms from law-abiding farmers and other law-abiding citizens, while doing nothing to reduce the incidence of violently insane people who walk the streets, drive violently under the influence of alcohol/other drugs, and reside in houses next door to us.
    Bad, very bad.
    And Howard’s stopping the boats, while flinging open the airport doors to anti-Westernist parasites who will cost us plenty, nett nett in perpetuity, in surveillance, policing, human rights lawyers, social workers, task forces, community grants, welfare, and medical expenses.
    On the Good-Bad dimension, that is far, far Bad -a point that must be made to assist the comprehension of those a bit shaky on the Good versus Bad thing.
    And for people who demonise the Big End of town, note this:
    Investors, entrepreneurs and managers make it possible for everyone else to eat, drink, be medicated, and be housed as well as they are. And now that the anti-Westernist Left has won the Civil War, those wealth creators are fast giving up their efforts that previously ensured that non-nett-wealth-creators got their victuals for free. The Left has endorsed, encouraged and rewarded parasitism in Australia. So the actual hosts are disembarking.
    Let us let the scales fall from our eyes.

  • David_Blake says:

    The Queensland copper Bill Hayden once described Peacock as the “fag end of the Peter Stuyvesant Jet Set.”

  • James Franklin says:

    Near the end of Peter Coleman’s remarkable essay on the frenzy of political life there’s something about being part of the “demoralized rabble” of the Federal party in Peacock’s time http://www.the-rathouse.com/2012/peter-coleman-leaves.html

  • Harry Lee says:

    James Franklin, thank you for the Coleman piece.
    What Coleman did and what he says in his essay tell us something important, viz: In a democracy, if politicians only oil the machinery, the machinery goes all the way Left. After Askin, Bolte, Hamer, Joh, Court left the scene, everything slid to the Left. But it was not for want of leaders, not really. It was for want of Proper Ordinary Australians. The majority of voters had come to reject any suggestion that they could not have everything they wanted -material goodies, virtue, anti-marxism, civil safety, proper education -for nothing. The Whitlam fiasco opened the floodgates, and the Fraser boat was simply swept leftward by the rushing waters. And here we are today, fully animated by Leftist anti-Truth, bullied by anti-Westernist commissars and their agents in all institutions. Many of these commissars and their agents are recent entry non-Europeans. And Australia is soon to become a quarry&farm slave-holding of China, under the local supervision of the ALP.

  • Geoffrey Luck says:

    The Peacock panegyric also fatally over-praised his initiatives in Papua New Guinea, crediting him with gar-sighted support for early independence. Not so. Peacock merely hopped on the tail of Whitlam’s disastrous interventions in support of Tolai malcontents and Sepik chancers to yell: “Me too!” It reinforced the suspicion that he never really understood anything about anything.

  • whitelaughter says:

    time to stop referring to the white ants as ‘moderates’. They aren’t. They are extremists.

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