Liberal future?

What is the future of the Australian Liberal Party? When John Howard finally leaves the stage, what will remain? There is much evidence to suggest an organisation controlled by far right thugs. Enter Alex Hawke, Federal President of the Young Liberals.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported in May 2004 of a physical altercation between moderates within the party and hardliners. Hawke is backed by his boss, conservative upper house member David Clarke, a Christian against abortion, gay marriage, harm minimisation and drug law reform.

“The right were accusing the others of being pro-gay marriages, of being poofter lovers and pro-abortion. They were telling people to f— off out of there and pushing and shoving,” said one eyewitness, a moderate. One right-winger said: “These people brought people along who have written articles against the government, a lot of people who are Muslims and who are listed on the site” The result was scuffles and police involvement.

Today we learn that the NSW Liberal Party is likely to soon have on its state executive a conservative Right wing in leadership. Conservatism isn’t the issue here, their tactics and attitudes are. The SMH explains: “It might all seem like another internal storm in a teacup except that the Right’s rise to power could change the face of the NSW Liberal Party from a secular party with liberal social values to one with strong links to Christian church groups and a conservative social platform.” Threatening tactics has been alleged by all sides as the party appears to be moving towards a more exclusionary future.

Hawke is a former staffer to Federal Communications Minister Helen Coonan, a so-called liberal within the party. What does all this mean? Quite simply, that although many commentators have recently argued that Peter Costello as Prime Minister would soften the party, direction at the grassroots is already proving that to be a mirage.

The situation is reminiscent of current debates in the USA. With the Republican Party moving further to the Christian Right and dissenters being shut out, moderates within the party are struggling to find a place. Let’s hope both the Republican and Liberal Party implode within the decade.

UPDATE: This was highlighted in comments but it’s worth repeating here. The Liberal Party, and Tony Abbott, has a long history of attracting far-right extremists to the party. Crikey reported the goings-on in 2003.

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