Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with former Australian Prime Minister John Howard in conversation at The Wesley Centre in Sydney on Monday evening. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian
Former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with former Australian Prime Minister John Howard in conversation at The Wesley Centre in Sydney on Monday evening. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian

The radical Right has trashed the Liberal Party

THE protests by a parade of senior Victorian Liberals, from deputy leader and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg down, that the weekend electoral disaster in the Garden State had nothing to do with Canberra have been exposed as their hollow gosh they always were.

It's true state elections are overwhelmingly fought on issues relating to that jurisdiction and the weekend Victorian election was no different.

However, these contests are never conducted in a vacuum and the Victorian contest played out against the leadership shenanigans of August and its fallout.

That fallout has not run its course as the dramatic resignation from the Liberal Party by Victorian backbencher Julia Banks at noon yesterday demonstrated.

Ms Banks, the only Liberal to win a Victorian seat from Labor at the 2016 election, foreshadowed her action soon after Malcolm Turnbull was toppled.

She said she'd been bullied and treated badly by the backers of Peter Dutton who launched the destabilising tilt at Turnbull - one in which they couldn't count and were so bad at launching a challenge Scott Morrison came down the middle and snatched the leadership.

Since then Dutton and his Dad's Army of devotees to the "Liberal base" have watched the fruits of their suicidal actions.

The gap between Labor and the Coalition, which was two points when they felled Turnbull, has widened to a regular 8 to 10 per cent chasm.

The government lost the Wentworth by-election - forfeiting its House of Representatives majority at the same time - and have now felt the whiplash of one of the biggest anti Coalition swings and seat losses in Victorian history.

While Frydenberg said on Saturday night and Sunday the state election had nothing to do with Canberra - despite "the noise" being unhelpful - it was of great enough concern to summon a crisis meeting of Victorian federal MPs first thing Monday.

During that meeting Industrial Relations Minister Kelly O'Dwyer confronted her colleagues with what she said were common perceptions about the modern Liberals.

Julia Banks joins the new independent Member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps on the cross bench after Banks’ stunning resignation from the Liberal Party. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
Julia Banks joins the new independent Member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps on the cross bench after Banks’ stunning resignation from the Liberal Party. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Ms O'Dwyer said most voters last weekend thought the Liberals were "homophobic, anti-women, climate-change deniers" and couldn't support the party.

Ms Banks backed that perception with her own action, walking away from the Liberals, going to sit on the cross bench and reserving her right to stand as an independent in her east suburban Melbourne seat of Chisholm.

At the weekend the state seats within Chisholm suffered double figure anti-Liberal swings rising to 15 per cent in come cases.

Ms Banks holds Chisholm by just 1.25 per cent, a margin that couldn't be defended if she stayed with the Liberals. As an independent she might have a chance but Labor has this seat high on its list of Victorian target electorates.

If those landslide results were replicated approximately at next May's federal poll, the Liberals could be looking at the loss of five or six seats.

The deep seated problem is that the Liberal is at war with itself and there's no sign of a resolution this side of the federal poll.

John Howard was the last Liberal leader who could claim to represent what he calls the "broad church" seen on his side of politics.

That broad church is not recognisable today and if anyone can actually find it, the Museum of Australian Democracy should make a bid for it and install it as an exhibit.

That "broad church" covered a range of personalities and beliefs - from Nick Minchin and David Kemp on the conservative right to Robert Hill and Petro Georgiou on the moderate left.

John Howard joined Matthew Guy on the hustings during the Victorian state election campaign, but it was to no avail. Picture: Stuart McEvoy/The Australian
John Howard joined Matthew Guy on the hustings during the Victorian state election campaign, but it was to no avail. Picture: Stuart McEvoy/The Australian

Hill was a senior minister in Howard's governments as were Minchin and Kemp. They represented the range of views and core beliefs from social and economic conservatism to classical liberalism and progressive liberalism.

None could be described as radical. They also all had a core belief in the Liberal Party and would never have thought of putting themselves before the party.

Today the moderates in the Liberal Party - a much diminished group in number and influence - look like those from Howard's broad church.

However, the conservative right wing has atomised into a bunch of delusion, narcissistic and radical spear carriers.

The conservatives in the Liberal Party, especially those who can be characterised as traditional conservatives, need to reassert themselves and put those radical fundamentalists - represented by Tony Abbott and his cronies - in their place, which is back in a corner for an essentially unwanted rump.

Dennis Atkins is The Courier-Mail's national affairs editor.