MALCOLM TURNBULL: The Liberals are not conservatives

Malcolm Turnbull. Photo: Getty Images

Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken aim at critics in the right of the Liberal Party in a speech in London overnight.

Invoking party founder Robert Menzies while accepting the Disraeli Prize for his stance on immigration from the UK centre-right think tank Policy Exchange, Turnbull’s speech was a rejection of nemesis Tony Abbott’s call for conservatives to take back control of the Liberals.

Turnbull quoted Menzies, the party’s longest serving leader, who wanted to create “a progressive party, willing to make experiments”.

After losing senator Cory Bernardi, who split from the Liberals to found the Australian Conservatives, Abbott has led the push to steer the party further to the right.

Turnbull’s speech in London invoked Menzies, John Howard and even Abbott in saying the party belonged in the centre.

“In 1944 Menzies went to great pains not to call his new political party, consolidating the centre right of Australian politics, ‘conservative’ – but rather the Liberal Party which he firmly anchored in the centre of Australian politics,” Turnbull said.

“He wanted to stand apart from the big money, business establishment politics of traditional ‘conservative’ parties of the right, as well as from the socialist tradition of the Australian Labor Party – the political wing of the union movement.”

The prime minister even cited Tony Abbott’s phrase the “sensible centre” as “the place to be and it remains the place to be now”.