It’s fair to say that the Coalition has few leader options to choose from since its election decimation on Saturday.
Scott Morrison stepped down on Sunday following the result. Former Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg who was touted as a frontrunner to take over, lost the seat of Kooyong in spectacular fashion to teal Independent, Dr Monique Ryan. While a host of other senior, so-called moderate Liberals like Tim Wilson, Dave Sharma and potentially Michael Sukkar were all wiped out.
Now, as new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and freshly appointed Foreign Minister, Penny Wong take to Tokyo for meetings with the Quad, the Liberal-Nationals are sitting at home, scratching their heads and pondering their future as a Coalition.
Certainly, the political tide has shifted and they can never return to what they were formally perceived to be. For too long they’ve struggled with disunity. Infighting and scandals wreak havoc on a once proud institution. There is no collective ideology or shared aspiration in a coalition of mavericks and cowardly moderates.
Men like Matt Canavan feverishly stand up to endorse the future of coal, while others like Simon Birmingham promise they’re making inroads to net zero. Liberal Senator Gerard Rennick spruiks dangerous disinformation on COVID-19 while others encourage Australians to follow public health advice and government orders. Trans kids are targeted in cruel campaigns by candidates like Katherine Deves, while others like Senator Andrew Bragg deem the culture wars as “regrettable, undignified and hurtful”.
It’s been nothing short of a hot mess.
Surrounded by rubble, the LNP must now rebuild. But before doing so, they need to choose their direction.
If Peter Dutton picks up the leadership this week, as is widely reported, the Coalition will never return to moderate roots. They will have to concede that those inner-city seats (Kooyong, Goldstein, Wentworth, North Sydney and the like) will never fall to Liberal hands again.
They will be the party of the far-right. Staunch on defence but never on climate action. Supportive of religious freedom but not of vulnerable minority groups. Proud but never progressive. Exclusive, insular, bigoted and hard– the core tenets of a reborn coalition.
Of course, there is still appetite for this approach from large cohorts of the electorate. They will not exist without cut-through. But they will be fundamentally and irreversibly changed.
The upside of course, is that the two major parties will never converge in the middle. Voters will never again be able to utter the sentiment “they’re all the same”.
So will this future be embraced when Dutton is chosen this week? The moderates might make things messy for a time, but the writing’s on the wall.