Like the TV audience in the Peter Finch movie Network, who were urged to open their windows and shout, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more’’, Victorian voters have delivered an emphatic repudiation of a sleazy, bottom-feeding campaign designed to play on their fears.
What they have voted for is a flawed Labor government that is conspicuously grappling with the state’s infrastructure challenges and appears to be in sync with local aspirations as residents of what Premier Daniel Andrew describes as Australia’s “most progressive state’’.
Speaking of “network moments’’, we witnessed one such moment on TV on election night when former Liberal premier Jeff Kennett called on state Liberal president Michael Kroger to fall on his sword by midnight.
Kennett was, you might say, “mad as hell’’ and “not going to take it any more’’ in an exchange that exposes toxic divisions in the Victorian branch.
Kroger will go.
However, the maverick Kennett – and like-minded Liberals – need to put his (Kennett’s) large mouth where his convictions are in advocating for reforming and recalibrating the Liberal Party along more centrist lines.
Not a bad place to start would involve scaling back an obsession with the culture wars in which phrases like “political correctness’’, “virtue signalling’’, and “identity politics’’ have become weaponised in a debilitating conflict between left and right.
The so-called culture wars are no substitute for patient and intelligent policymaking on issues like climate and energy security shorn of an ideologically-driven debate that has taken us nowhere for the past decade.
While Victorians might not have fallen in love with Andrews they have acknowledged he is doing his best in a state that is bursting at the seams in the sense that its economic success is dragging in more people and thus putting pressure on services and infrastructure.
All that said, the bigger message from the Victorian election result is the cold, hard lesson it has delivered to the Coalition federally and, more pointedly, to an extraordinarily destructive rump in the Liberal Party aided and abetted by its bullying friends in the conservative media.
This corrosive partnership has fostered a delusional attachment to a so-called “base’’ that is at best a furphy, and, worse, corrupts sensible policymaking from the centre.
What is irrefutable is that infighting between conservatives and moderates that destroyed Malcolm Turnbull reverberated in the Victorian poll count.
Anecdotally, I can tell you that lifelong Liberal voters said they could not support a party that was being dragged further to the right in its efforts to outflank One Nation.
Anger among Liberals in Victoria at the destructiveness of Turnbull coup plotters can’t be overstated.
“The Liberal Party lost itself in stupid internecine nonsense and damaged its brand by its federal acts of self-immolation,’’ a Turnbull supporter in senior Liberal ranks tells me.
That would seem to be an understatement given the diabolical outcome for the Coalition in Victoria, where it is on course to squander about 10 seats, and see its primary vote slide into the mid-30s.
What is the case is that the Coalition could lose government federally and comprehensively in Victoria alone.
On the federal pendulum there are 12 Coalition seats in Victoria on margins of 10 per cent and less, including those of the anti-Turnbull coup plotters: Alan Tudge in Aston (7.4 per cent); Greg Hunt in Flinders (7.1 per cent); and Michael Sukkar in Deakin (6.2 per cent).
By any measure, Victoria was a dreadful result for the Liberal Party. Scott Morrison’s “run to the base’’ strategy at the expense of the centre will come, justifiably, under more searching scrutiny.
Prominent Victorian Liberal Tom Harley, a former federal vice-president and sworn enemy of the Kroger forces, has called for an extraordinary state council meeting to review the election debacle and put in place a fighting strategy for the forthcoming federal election.
His concerns would seem to be justified.
Unless and until the Liberal Party ceases to allow itself to be pushed from centrist positions on issues of concern to the wider community, there will be more Victorian-type results.
Voters fed up with climate denialism and resistance to reasonable social change will have their say in seats like Warringah and North Sydney in New South Wales, Sturt in South Australia and Curtin in Western Australia held currently by former deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop.
Anyone attending a panel discussion organised by La Trobe University in Melbourne last week in which Bishop discussed challenges facing the Liberal Party will have wondered why she was not still part of the Morrison leadership team.
The short answer is that disgusted by what transpired in the Turnbull leadership putsch she has withdrawn from the fray.
Bishop is a moderate who found herself washed away by a conservative wave.
What would seem to be required for a Liberal Party in thrall to its conservative wing would be for moderates, like Bishop, and the maverick Kennett, to stand up and shout from the rooftops: “we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.’’
Unfortunately, I’ll believe this when I see it – or hear it.