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Labor needs the Liberal Left

  • 01 April 2014

The fact that Liberal blue is the colour of Australian politics at the moment makes it all the more important that the Liberal Left speaks out. Call them what you like — social Liberals, moderates, progressives, centrists — the left of that party represents a distinctive strand in Australian politics. But they are very quiet at the moment while the voice of the Liberal Right is loud and confident.

The Liberal Left, by definition close to the centre of Australian public opinion, are the hope of everyone further to the Left of them, including Labor and Green voters, for this decade. The latter should not just hope that the Liberal Left is heard loud and clear, but they should respect and nurture this strand of liberalism.

Many of these centrist Liberals believe in the values encompassed in the various social movements that have so influenced Australian politics over the past 40 or 50 years. They are part of the environmental, women's and Indigenous rights movements, to name just a few.

These movements have been non-partisan and have drawn people from across the political landscape, not just from the political left. That is often forgotten.

In a party in which conservatives are dominant life is rarely easy for centrist Liberals. They are a cultural minority within their own party and can be criticised for rocking the boat when their party is on a roll. There is also some self-interest in promotion which may lead social Liberals to consciously want to fit in rather than stand out. The wider party membership is rarely much help either because they are more conservative than liberal.

At the moment conservative Liberals are taking free shots at the social ideals held by a minority of their own party. This is being led from the front by the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. He praises foresters, not environmentalists, as the ultimate conservationists, and reintroduces knighthoods without consultation. It is almost as if the Liberal Left doesn't exist anymore. However, although some like Petro Georgiou and Judy Moylan have left Federal Parliament, plenty of its representatives do remain both at the federal and state level.

At the federal level, while George Brandis, Scott Morrison and company stride the limelight, those on the Liberal Left, like Malcolm Turnbull, must be hurting. So too must Joe Hockey and Christopher Pyne, whose hard line on the budget and education respectively mask their Liberal Left credentials on a range of