Prime Minister Scott Morrison has returned to a birthplace of the Liberal Party to unite his fractured party by reminding his troops of their common purpose, and to unite the nation by urging all Australians to love each other.
Speaking in the NSW city of Albury, where party founder Sir Robert Menzies convened a conference in 1944 of 18 different conservative parties and other groups to unite against the Labor Party, Mr Morrison reminded the party that five years ago on Friday was when Tony Abbott led the Coalition back from opposition to government.
He paid tribute to the service of Mr Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, both of who pursued a similar policy agenda of free trade, lower taxes, stronger borders and economic growth. He vowed to continue the agenda but also outlined the core philosophy he will bring to the leadership.
“I don’t believe that for you to do better, that (others) have to do worse. I don’t think you need to be taxed more for (others) to be taxed less,” he said.
“I don’t think that, for someone to get ahead in life, you’ve got to pull others down. I believe that we should be trying to lift everybody up at once. That we get away from this politics of envy.”
Mr Morrison took the leadership two weeks ago as a compromise candidate after Peter Dutton launched a challenge against Mr Turnbull.
His party has since been riven by backbiting, recrimination and leaks, leading Mr Morrison to remind his MPs of a higher and common purpose of upholding Liberal Party values and principles.
“This is an important ritual, for us to come here today, where Robert Menzies came, all those years ago,” he said of the 1944 meeting aimed at uniting disparate groups.
“To come here and pledge to that legacy, to that heritage, as a ritual and to show the things that we believe in today are the things that he believed in then and things we will always believe in as a Liberal Party.”
“You can’t just be about what you’re opposed to. You’ve got to be about what you’re for – as a country, as a political party, as an individual, as a family. It’s about what you’re for. Not just what you’re against.”
‘We all love Australia’
Mr Morrison also dipped his lid to trying to unite an increasingly polarised society in an era of disruptive politics and media.
“We all love Australia. Of course we do. But do we love all Australians? That’s a different question, isn’t it?” he challenged.
“Do we love all Australians? We’ve got to. That’s what brings a country together.
“You love all Australians if you love Australia. Whether they’ve become an Australian by birth 10 generations ago…or if you came last week.”
Mr Morrison made no policy pronouncements but dropped hints. He confirmed the government would stay committed to Mr Abbott’s 2030 Paris climate change targets of reducing emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, but without any forced action.
“We’ve been meeting our emissions reduction targets in a canter. We smashed the Kyoto 1 and 2 and, I believe, we’ll absolutely be able to deal with our present target out to 2030 with no impact on electricity prices at all,” he said.
“That’s why we’re focusing on getting electricity prices down.”
At the same time, he hinted at a possible crackdown on plastics and other disposables because as he vouched to be a government for all Australians. This included respecting “our young Australians by listening to them about their hopes for the future and their concerns for the future, whether it’s environment issues in particular”.
“My ears are very alert. The War On Waste, yes, I have seen it,” he said of the ABC program, which highlights the impact of an increasingly disposable society.
“I get it. That’s what’s focusing and concerning them, so that means it matters to me too. That’s how you bring Australians together. You take all of their concerns seriously. And you work with all of them. And you listen to them.”
Acting shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said Mr Morrison was on a doomed mission.
“It’s been an absolute shambles. Seventy-four years ago, Menzies went to Albury to create the Liberal Party; Morrison’s headed back there today to bury it,” he said.
“The Liberal Party’s become a dumpster fire of personal animosity, division and dysfunction and chaos and instability.
“No amount of fancy, scripted words from Scott Morrison today is going to make up for that fact. It’s hardly a new generation of Liberal leadership to give yet another speech about Menzies.”
The ‘sensible centre’
Mr Morrison is the latest Liberal leader to seize upon the Menzies legacy.
In London last year, Mr Morrison’s predecessor Mr Turnbull cause a storm among conservatives by claiming Menzies envisioned the Liberal Party to be a progressive party.
He told Britain’s influential centre-right think-tank, the Policy Exchange, that Menzies never intended the party to be conservative and that its focus should be the “sensible centre”.
Mr Turnbull noted “Menzies went to great pains not to call his new centre-right party a conservative party”.
“Rather, he described our party as the Liberal Party which he firmly anchored in the centre of Australian politics,” he said.
“He wanted to stand apart from the big money, business establishment politics of traditional conservative parties, as well as from the socialist tradition of the labour movement embodied in the Australian Labor Party.
“Menzies said: ‘We took the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea’.”
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