THE change of Canberra Liberal leadership from Jeremy Hanson to Alistair Coe completes the transition from a liberal party to a conservative party.
In “coming out” they should simply and transparently rename themselves as the “Canberra Conservatives”.
The long transition within the party from the time of Kate Carnell and Gary Humphries to the ascendancy of the two party conservative leaders Senator Zed Seselja and Opposition Leader Coe is part of a successful long-term drive by conservatives to take over the party.
Vicki Dunne and Giulia Jones, along with Alistair Coe, were the most prominent of the conservatives elected to represent the Liberal Party in the previous Assembly. They managed with the moderate Jeremy Hanson as their leader, who was supported by other more moderate MLAs such as Brendan Smyth and Nicole Lawder.
Now Deputy Leader, Lawder describes herself “as far left as possible for a Liberal”. However, the other Liberals from the same electorate are proudly conservative. Andrew Wall also served in the previous Assembly and former radio announcer Mark Parton has, while on radio, taken a conservative approach to business and social issues.
Elizabeth Lee, from the Kurrajong electorate, identifies more liberal concepts such as “affordable and accessible childcare, greater support for flexible work, fairer paid parental leave, equality, housing affordability and inclusion” as part of the reason she has run for the Assembly. She sells herself as a liberal rather than conservative. Steve Doszpot, from the same electorate, is not as liberal as Lawder or Lee, perhaps more centrist but liberal enough.
In Ginninderra, long-term party member and Speaker of the Assembly, the proudly conservative Vicki Dunne, has been elected with Elizabeth Kikkert. Both are mothers of five children. Kikkert, who has made a significant contribution to charity work, is identified by a news release from her own Church of Jesus Christ of Latterday Saints (Mormons) stating: “We demonstrate honour to our families, city and future when we actively participate and advocate for that which is good and right.”
In the past, the Canberra Liberals used Jeremy Hanson to counter concerns about a conservative social agenda with statements such as: “Why would they have elected a pro-choice atheist as leader?” Assembly reporter Kirsten Lawson pointed out in “The Canberra Times” that Coe is opposed to same-sex marriage and abortion, but insists he will raise neither issue in the parliament.
“If they come up, I’m going to be true to myself, but this is not a barrow I’m pushing,” he said.
He has previously said that his conservatism “shapes him as a person, but is not what motivates him as a politician”.
Conservatism does not rest with social issues. Small government and minimal bureaucracy has been championed by the conservatives in the federal government. James Milligan, who has been elected with Alistair Coe in Yerrabi, emphasises on his own website his commitment to the individual, to family values and to small business.
Social issues are important. Vicki Dunne and Giulia Jones have taken a stridently conservative approach on social issues such as prostitution legislation, abortion and same-sex marriage.
As part of the election campaign the ACT Right to Life Association identified that Andrew Wall, Steve Doszpot, Vicki Dunne, Elizabeth Kikkert, Giulia Jones, Alistair Coe and James Milligan oppose a woman’s right to choose on the matter of abortion.
Those who are not so conservative understand the issues raised in Sir Michael Marmot’s recent Boyer Lectures on the ABC around the “cause of the causes”. These issues require a greater focus on good government stewardship rather than a narrow focus on what can be achieved simply through the efforts of an individual.
Jeremy Hanson was able to provide a façade of liberalism to a party that has become increasingly conservative with the Canberra branch leading the charge. The pretence has gone! The irony is that by allowing the conservative ascendancy, the Canberra Liberals have severely reduced their chances of being in government within the foreseeable future.
Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.