The Ever-Narrowing Church of Victorian Liberalism

Well that makes it official: Victoria’s conservatives no longer have any mainstream party at the state level in which to invest their votes and confidence. The confirmation came on Friday morning (May 6) from the angry lips of Opposition Leader Matthew Guy, who launched into a spittle-flecked rant — there is no other word for it — about what he evidently regards as an odious and thoroughly unpleasant member of the upper house, fellow Liberal Bernie Finn (above).

Mr Finn’s offence? Stating in a Facebook post that he is praying for Roe v Wade to be overturned by the US Supreme Court. Quizzed about the post a day earlier, Guy shrugged it off. “Bernie has his own points of view,” he told reporters. “I’m not interested in commenting on social policy in the United States. The Liberal Party in Victoria is focused on matters in Victoria.”

Fair enough and as it should be, one might think — a Liberal leader defending, albeit with characteristic limpness, the right of a colleague to hold and advocate views unpopular with many. Ah, but that was Thursday. By Friday morning, Mr Guy was displaying a measure of vitriol many Victorians wish he would direct at Daniel Andrews and the various public institutions the Labor Premier and his government have corrupted, perhaps beyond redemption.

Where might he start? Perhaps with Victoria Police thumping, firing upon and pepper-spraying critics of the Labor government and its COVID lockdown regime that, amongst its other impacts, has reduced Melbourne’s CBD to a hollowed-out shell of its once vibrant self. That would be grist for a competent Opposition leader’s mill, the sort of leader who would likely be inclined to demand a royal commission into policing in Victoria. If nothing else, the fact that VicPol found chicanery aplenty in Labor’s ‘Red Shirts’ scandal yet declined to prefer charges or, in some case, even interview the politicians implicated should be the sealer. But Matthew Guy is not that person.

What about VicPol’s persecution and tactical leaking against George Pell, an innocent man? Bernie Finn demanded an independent inquiry into the stitching-up of a prince of the Church, but Guy hasn’t made an issue of that outrage. Without telling tales out of school, the reason for Liberal silence became apparent a year or so ago, when I happened to be lunching with a senior Victorian Liberal, a member of the shadow cabinet no less, and put it to him that there was ground to gained by pounding the issue of, again, VicPol’s malfeasance and, at a higher level, the gross incompetence (the charitable explanation) of the two Court of Appeal justices who rejected the cardinal’s appeal out of hand.  The reaction from my companion was one of horror. “Pell is a very divisive figure,” my host said with what verged on a shudder. “There’s no gain in us going anywhere near that.” An opposition leader worth his salt might have looked beyond the individual, Pell, to focus on the diseased ethics of a police force capable of perpetrating such a travesty. But the party of Matthew Guy is not that entity.

Guy, one could reasonably conclude on the basis of his overnight about-face, is a weather vane, in this instance reacting to a Twitter mob’s pile-on which included fellow parliamentary Liberals’ bollocking of Finn. State member for Brighton James Newbury,  for instance.

Other Liberal MPs raced to assure reporters that Finn is a wretch, out of step with party values, and to assure the press pack that, speaking for themselves, they are devoted absolutely to “a woman’s right to choose”. It seems the state Liberals’ “broad church” has narrowed considerably. Tactfully, unlike Newbury, who at least has the courage of his convictions to go public, their comments were non-attributable.

Matthew Guy for whatever reason, then did his 180-degree somersault. It was quite the turnabout.

“I think we’re all sick of Bernie Finn’s social media posts … I think the Parliamentary Liberal Party is absolutely sick of it,” Mr Guy thundered on Friday, less than 24 hours after his defence of Finn’s right to be a party contrarian.

“I am frankly sick of it and I think my colleagues are sick of it. I’ve not encountered a single one in the last 24 hours who is not as sick of it as I am. We are all over it.”

In case Finn didn’t get the message — or more likely to make sure reporters grasped that real Liberals are of one mind and safe guests at any inner-city dinner party — Guy then mentioned that preselections were imminent, the inference being that the maverick’s political career could well bear an immediate and perhaps terminal cost.

A state election is due in November, and if you didn’t know the character of the leading players in that contest, believing that the Opposition holds the upper hand would be the immediate presumption. Victoria is mired in debt and sinking further with every spendthrift day of the Andrews government. Projections arising from the latest state Budget, delivered mere days ago, is that the state will owe somewhere in the vicinity of $170 billion by the end of 2025. That’s the official guesstimate, one anyone who has noticed how not a single Labor project comes in at the promised price will take with a truckload of salt. Having squandered a billion-plus dollars by refusing to build the much-needed East-West tunnel lest the Greens of Fitzroy and Carlton get in a snit, Team Andrews announced it would build a West-East tunnel instead. That project is now three years behind schedule and at least $3 billion-and-rising over budget.

For an Opposition up to the task, one blessed by core principles, a touch of tactical nous and a cop-it-sweet contempt for Twitter’s peanut gallery and the local ABC and Nine newsrooms, Victoria would be a target-rich environment and the Opposition’s triumph in November assured. That is not Victoria’s Liberals, however, who along with a policy of going along to get along don’t seem to grasp their state’s demographics beyond, say, the well-heeled voters of Mr Newbury’s upper-crust Brighton, where so-called ‘Independent’ and former ABC hack Zoe Daniel is giving Tim Wilson a hard time in the contest for the federal seat of Goldstein.

Finn’s electorate, the Western Region of suburban Melbourne, is cut from different cloth. In Brighton, the teal ladies rallying to Ms Daniel favour fashionable and pricey Lululemon active wear; in the west it’s trackie dax and not just for exercise class. It’s a bit rougher in those outer suburbs, a bit unkept. Areas such as Tarneit, Melton and Trugannina are heavy with migrants and, at a risk of generalising, the values and  bread-and-butter concerns in those suburbs differ markedly from the catastropharian preoccupations in places where teal now holds an appeal beyond Liberal blue or Labor red.  That Finn has commanded the loyalty of locals in election after election might convey to an astute mind that here is to be found the future of the Liberal Party — the suburbs of John Howard’s “battlers” rather than the comfortably secure residents of climate a’feared, green-tinted precincts who fret about Gaia’s miseries rather than interest rates, violent crime and trusting their kids to a state education system where boys can be girls and penis-tucking is an advanced elective. It is a divide captured in a few short words by The Australian‘s state parliamentary correspondent John Ferguson, “the high-vis curtain”. Ferguson continued: “For months, political polling has been picking up a trend of deep voter anger in the outer suburbs and interface seats where people are more likely to work in a small business, a trade or have insecure work.” This is Bernie Finn’s stamping ground, his home turf, and yet his party leader leaves no doubt that he wouldn’t consider it any great loss were he to vanish or be banished from the upper house ticket. Go figure.

On Friday it emerged that Premier Andrews has been grilled twice by the state’s anti-corruption body, apparently about two separate matters, one of which is said to involve his relationship with a property developer. When asked to specify the subjects of these inquiries, Andrews simply refused to answer and the presstitutes of Spring Street obediently closed their notebooks and returned to assailing a Liberal for opposing legal abortions. True, Guy had a few stern words for the Premier and demanded that he stand down. No doubt Andrews had a good chuckle at that one.

There is much less to amuse garden-variety Victorians, who the polls still suggest will quite likely return Labor in November. It can’t be because they favour the institutional corruption that has reduced a police force sworn to ‘defend the right’ to the paramilitary wing of the Labor Party. It can’t be because voters approve of Victoria incurring a greater public debt than NSW and Queensland put together. Nor can it be, as the state Budget papers state, that Labor intends to gouge yet more hundreds of millions of dollars in fines from motorists snapped 3km over speed limits set absurdly low in order to entrap them.

No, none of that, for there is only one explanation: in order to vote the Opposition onto the government benches there first of all needs to be an Opposition built upon principles more enduring than a whining passivity. That leaves only one alternative to Andrews & Co., a solution already embraced by tens of thousands of Victorians and reflected in the state’s shrinking population: hit the Hume Highway heading north, cross the Murray and quit this shambles of a state for good. If only Matthew Guy would make the same trip.

Roger Franklin is the editor of Quadrant Online

11 thoughts on “The Ever-Narrowing Church of Victorian Liberalism

  • STD says:

    Roger , if you go to Paul Collits last post, here you will find a link from Alistair- it explains the nihilism embedded in mainstream politics to a T- the whole joint has no ticker for the truth , to quote Archbishop Anthony Fisher from the Catholic weekly a week or two back”Truth, what is that”?
    Nice work, blunt and straight down line as usual , thanks Roger.

  • Lewis P Buckingham says:

    Planning a trip to Victoria for the funeral of my late Aunt we discussed going to Melbourne.
    On balance we decided to stay away and just stay local country, briefly. If the police system is stacked against you and the judiciary have problems picking out the honest, best spend our money elsewhere.
    If I lost extra points in Vic they would go on my interstate licence and I could eventually lose my access to work.
    As for the abortion issue, no wonder the Libs don’t like Pell.
    Should be supporting women and Mothers on Mother’s day.
    Particularly those who want and have children.
    The opposition leader always looks shifty and inept on TV, they need someone who can lead and unify the party and its coalition.
    Attacking party members just looks like disunity and projects weakness.
    Time for root and branch reform.

  • DougD says:

    Victoria police seem to still be under political protection. Remember the High Court’s denunciation of senior police’s use of the lawyer Gobbo? Remember the Royal Commissioner’s report of November 2020 that recommended the appointment of a Special Investigator to prepare briefs for the DPP because Victoria Police couldn’t be trusted to prepare prosecution briefs against senior officers? Remember the appointment of retired High Court judge Nettle as Special Investigator in July 2021? Remember the Andrews government passing the Special Investigator Act that gave Nettle the powers he needed to do his job in December 2021? Do you remember anything else about the path of senior police to the jury box because of their involvement with Gobbo? No? – wait, two weeks ago Andrews’s Justice Dept got around to advertising for applications for a Senior Investigator ”to provide a critical role in the Office of the Special Investigator”. That’s all that seems to have happened so far. Prosecuting Cardinal Pell, not prosecuting Andrews’s Red Shirt rorters, arresting the pregnant dissident in Ballarat ,and letting the rubber-bullet firing police riot squad loose on the illegal anti-lockdown protesters were wise decisions by those who run Victoria Police.. When do you think any top police involved with Gobbo still then alive will face court, if any are charged by the DPP? 2030? Earlier? Don’t worry the fearless Age [“Independent. Always.”] will keep everyone honest

  • norsaint says:

    Guy displayed his tin-eared incompetence at the previous state election when he ran an asinine “law & order” campaign in what had already long been a Police State.

  • pgang says:

    I think the contemporary politician is simply in love with being a politician. They don’t seem to care who forms government. In fact I’d suggest that many are happier with the lower expectations of being on the opposition benches. It’s the only explanation I can think of for their clear repudiation of the ‘Abbott Effect’.
    The latter is the overwhelming electoral success a conservative party achieves when they present a prime ministerial candidate who clearly holds and defends conservative values. This is similar to the ‘Trump Effect’.
    Conversely , the effect holds that when conservative values are less clear in the candidate, electoral success will correspondingly diminish.

  • whitelaughter says:

    Only one choice?

    Why is it that preparing to head north – a choice made by 45,000 Victorians since the start of the wuflu – is considered easier than voting independent/minor?

    If you *are* considering moving, remember that you can legally and legitimately vote in every state election simply by moving your primary place of residence after each election; this is something the Grey Nomads in particular should consider. Move to Victoria now, NSW next; make sure you are in a swinging electorate with a decent candidate to vote for.

  • Ceres says:

    Spot on article. First Michael O’Brien who seemed decent but couldn’t/didn’t cut through when police brutality and rubber bullets were flying. They got rid of him and Matthew Guy is more of the same. Never saw him near all the huge protest marches in Melbourne, never addressed any of the big marches – too divisive apparently and then you end up pleasing no one Matthew.
    The de facto opposition leader turned out to be David Limbrick of the Lib Democrats who was at the coalface, at the protests, got arrested, addressed rallies sat on the steps of State Parliament and repeatedly spoke out against the obvious abuse and oppression by Daniel Andrews. Virtually every Victorian in some way felt this tyranny yet the limp statements, if any, from the Opposition suggested they didn’t mind too much.
    Take a leaf out of Ron de Santis’s book not Scott Morrisons and have core principles win or lose.

  • SB says:

    No, none of that, for there is only one explanation …
    Or two reasons. Let’s not forget that the leftist media carefully filter all of the information getting out to the voters.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    A corrupt government, a politicised and corrupt legal system and a hospital system which can’t cope in a state heading towards bankruptcy. To any Opposition with principles and even minimal competency this should be a gift. However the Liberal “Moderates” believe in nothing but expediency and are operationally useless. They don’t oppose so much as enable Australia’s worst state government.
    Given the current state of Victoria and the lack of any real hope of improvement, the Hume Highway north must look very attractive.

  • Patrick McCauley says:

    Did the Hume Highway and ended up in Winton QLD. Then they closed the borders and I couldn’t visit my family, or have them visit me. Daughter got sick and had to sell my house and get semi homeless in a caravan – reluctantly returning with my tail between my legs. There was nobody on the road going the same direction as me coming down the Newell and I was not stopped for a check of my ‘permits while crossing two State borders. First day back I got a twenty minute lecture on how to wear a mask from a ‘concerned citizen’ woman in the queue (4 hours) to get tested for Covid at St V’s, got a ticket for parking my caravan in a suburban street too long, and the Local Council fined my ex $500 for having more than seven chooks.

  • Sindri says:

    I wish you would sharpen your pen here more often, Roger.

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