Skip to main content
All Posts By

CPI Admin

The Victorian Liberals: the Model of a Modern Mainstream Party?

By blog No Comments

What are people to make of the Victorian Liberals and their values now that they have rescued their leader, lawyer John Pesutto, from his self-inflicted crisis by blaming it all on Upper House member Moira Deeming.  Suspending her from the parliamentary party for nine months!

Ms. Deeming was summoned to Mr. Pesutto’s office on a Sunday night, accused of condoning Nazis and associating with extremists. She was directed to sign a confession. Then Mr. Pesutto announced he would seek to have her expelled from the parliamentary Liberal Party because she “conduct(ed) activities in a manner likely to bring discredit on the Parliament or the Parliamentary Party”!

As we know, the basis of Mr. Pesutto’s actions was guilt by association. A number of men wearing Nazi uniforms gate-crashed a rally organised by a women’s support group. This was with the apparent acquiescence of the police. It also appeared to involve an entry in Wikipedia containing false information.

Mr. Persutto’s actions bore no semblance whatsoever to what we have taken for granted in a democratic society: natural justice, innocence until proven guilty and due process. Remarkably there was no explanation as to how such conduct was likely to bring discredit on the Parliament or the Parliamentary Party.

This is Mr. Pesutto’s version of a “modern Liberal Party that is mainstream and embraces diversity”!

The responses of the Liberal politicians split three ways.

First, there are those who would be glad to see the back of Ms. Deeming and any excuse will do. This view is reflected by these comments of a ‘Victorian Liberals insider’ to Murdoch journalist Holly Hayes:

‘Ms Deeming’s hard line stances on social issues is hindering the embattled party from gaining more centrist voters.

‘At end of the day, an MP is a brand ambassador for a political party. Moira knows that. Rather than focusing on helping the team rebuild the Liberal Party for the modern era, she’s focused on herself and everyone blowing up with her.

‘If you’re joining the Liberal Party to implement regressive politics such as repealing abortion or turning back voluntary assisted dying, it’s not the party for you.

This group would endorse The Australian’s John Ferguson’s assessment:

Deeming is…. a religious conservative driven by social issues that don’t resonate greatly in inner-city seats.

‘There is nothing wrong with a politician having strong views on abortion, transgender reform or vaccine mandates.

‘But this world view needs to fit within the ­imperatives of the political party; her views are not Pesutto’s views.

‘It is OK to debate the merits of transgender reform, quite ­another to drag the party into a vote-losing row that embroils the leader and undermines his ­authority. Sure, Pesutto …. was right to be wondering whether Deeming was a carbuncle that needed to be cut out.’

The second group is those who believe that the Liberal Party needs to base its decisions on values and evidence; that there was not any evidence which justified punishing Ms. Deeming, and that the approach of Mr. Pesutto is completely at odds with the Liberal Party’s principles and values.

This group would relate to the views expressed by Liberal luminary Alexander Downer who wrote last December:

The failure of the Liberal Party this year runs a good deal deeper than the management of fiscal policy. The Liberal Party has for many years dominated the values debate in Australia. As the party of selfless individualism, from the 1949 election until the demise of the Howard government, people knew its core values, which they associated with freedom to choose.

‘They associated the Liberals with achievement and ambition….The public also knew that the Liberal Party was the party of free speech and free expression and that it believed in economic competition and debate about everything, from science to literature.

‘The Liberal Party also was the party of nationalism….

‘And even though not every member of the Liberal Party is a Christian, it has been in essence the party of Christian values. And it has been unashamed in its articulation of those values.

‘This was successfully juxtaposed with the Labor Party’

‘It seems the Liberal Party’s arguments for government hinge much more on management than values. Liberals argue they would build a road here or there, or a hospital somewhere else, and that is better than the Labor proposal….

‘The values of selfless individualism and individual freedom and responsibility are timeless. The Liberal Party shouldn’t allow them to be cast as anachronistic, replaced by the idea that the only values worth embracing today are the values of the progressive left.

‘The Liberal Party must be able to summon up the courage and energy to fight the divisive and negative values of the so-called progressive left’

The third group is those who say that principles and values must make way for upholding the leader. Nothing can be allowed to damage the leader. This sentiment was reflected by those saying that the Liberals needed to support Mr. Pesutto’s motion and to move on.

It would seem that that debating whether the Victorian Liberal Party is liberal or conservative is pointless. It appears to be neither.

This raises the interesting question of how to describe the Victorian Liberals in philosophical or ideological terms.

Some might suggest that their management style could be compared with fascism.

Former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright, author of Fascism: A Warning observed that a fascist “is someone who claims to speak for a whole nation or group, is utterly unconcerned with the rights of others, and is willing to use violence and whatever other means are necessary to achieve the goals he or she might have.”

Neither the Victorian Liberals nor Mr. Pesutto would support or condone violence. However, would it be legitimate to substitute ‘peaceful means’ for ‘violence and whatever other means’?

The efforts of those focussed on shoring up Mr. Pesutto’s leadership brings back memories of 1994.

In March of that year the United National Human Rights Committee decided that Tasmania’s sodomy laws breached Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In August Prime Minister Keating announced that the Federal Government would introduce legislation which would override Tasmania’s laws.

The Government argued that the external affairs power in the Constitution could be exercised to implement the recommendation of a United Nations Committee.

Alexander Downer had been elected federal leader of Liberals a few months earlier, but his leadership already was shaky. He announced that the Liberals would support the Government.

In those days, Liberals stood firmly by their values, which included a commitment to states’ rights. However, it was argued that saving Mr. Downer’s leadership had to take priority.

By the following February Mr. Downer was gone anyway and Mr. Howard was the leader.

Although several members had crossed the floor, the price paid by the Liberals for this futile attempt to protect Mr. Downer was that they lost their credibility on their commitment to states’ rights.

Back to the present. Time will tell what the future holds for Mr. Pesutto. At a minimum the price paid last week was to have compromised the opposition’s ability to criticise Daniel Andrews’ leadership.

Far worse, and much more profoundly, the Pesutto debacle headlines the current erosion of many of the fundamental principles with which the name Liberal Party has been synonymous.


This article was published on