Victoria a "Strong Market" for Optimistic Australian Liberalism

"It's a tough market for us in Victoria".

That's what the Leader of the Australian Parliamentary Liberal Party, Peter Dutton, said after the April 2023 by-election defeat in the historically Liberal seat of Aston.  Labor’s Mary Doyle enjoyed a primary vote swing of 7 per cent and a two-party-preferred swing of 6.5 per cent, to lead the Liberal candidate Roshena Campbell by 54 per cent to 46 per cent.

Melbourne, Victoria, the birthplace of Australian Liberalism, may be a tough market for conservatives and pessimists; however, it remains a strong market for liberals and optimists.

Greater Melbourne and regional Victoria are the beating heart of multicultural Australia and represent the heartland of Australia's optimism for a better nation and a better world.

When I listen to the Australian Parliament's question time, it almost makes me sick to hear the opposition's repetition, "Why do families pay more under Labor?"

The expression resonates in the echo chamber of the Opposition's questions committee however failed to make a dent in the swing against the Liberal Party in Aston.

Australian Liberalism is not just about repeating ad nauseam partisan talking points in Parliament but about a broader vision of progress and optimism for the future.  

Australian Liberalism is a political belief system that values freedom, a fair go, respect and an optimistic vision for the country and its citizens. It is a centrist ideology that rejects extremes on the right and left and emphasises individual rights and enterprise. The belief in progress through the liberation of living spiritual energy is at the heart of Australian Liberalism.

As Hobhouse wrote, the heart of Liberalism is "the liberation of living spiritual energy", a belief in the potential for positive change and progress in the present and future.

Alfred Deakin's nation-building optimism and Robert Menzies' commitment to progress embody this spirit of optimism and progress.

As Menzies wrote, 'we took the name "Liberal" because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his rights, and his enterprise, and rejecting the Socialist panacea'.

Victorian Premier Dick Hamer's focus on the "things of the spirit" reflected a commitment to a more expansive vision of politics that embraces the full range of human potential and possibility.

This optimism is not limited to politicians but is a core belief of everyday Australians.

I have door-knocked thousands of Australian homes, visited hundreds of Australian businesses and talked to thousands of people on the street.

Asked about their political views, Victorians consistently believe in freedom, a fair go, and an optimistic vision for their country, themselves, and their families.  They respect differences.

They are not interested in the extremes of Nazism, communism and socialism but in a more expansive and optimistic vision of the future.

They are centrists, and the visions of Australian Liberalism summarise their viewpoint.

Ultimately, this vision of Australian Liberalism is about more than just partisan politics or narrow self-interest. It is about a commitment to a better future for all Australians, grounded in a belief in the potential for positive change and progress.

So why did the Liberals lose the Aston by-election?

We'll never know, as the result was determined by the decisions of thousands of voters in a secret ballot.  Perhaps it was the Liberal Party's candidate parachuted from the inner suburbs to the outer suburbs facing a Labor candidate portrayed as a local mum. More likely, the circumstances of Alan Tudge's early retirement so soon after the election and so soon after his evidence at the Robodebt Royal Commission: Generally, there's a group of people who don't like being dragged out for another election.   For some,  the relative popularity of the leaders would have helped determine their position.  

However, one contrast was the optimism and vision expressed last week:

The Labor Prime Minister Anthony Albanese called upon "A chance to show the very best of our national character – our fundamental optimism"

Peter Dutton said, "It's a tough market for us in Victoria".


Read our "Framing an Optimistic National Narrative"

Other Views:

On "It's a tough market for us in Victoria"

Noel Turnbull wrote,  "Dutton explained away the result by saying the Victorian ‘market’ was difficult for the Liberal Party. The comment could be said to exemplify how The Liberal Party sees Australia and Australians.  Essentially it is an expression of the view that Australians are not citizens but rather consumers – consumers who will be motivated by the sorts of approaches soap companies pursue. Australia, under this vision, is not a nation but simply a market-place. It assumes that economic and commercial matters are the defining issues in society. The vision is manifested by the Liberal campaign mode. If a promise is made it normally involves offering money for some personal or local benefit. Blatant pork barreling is common with spending targeted on marginal seats or rewarding safe ones. If policies other than these narrow economic matters are considered, they are seen through the prism of how successfully they drive cultural division and dog whistle to far right wingers and religious fundamentalists. The fact that these dog whistles are out of step with the realities of a modern multi-cultural Australia are ignored. They may shore up the so-called ‘base’ but that base is more Sky after dark than mainstream Australia. Dutton may have just wanted to seem hip, but it would take more than a word to make him that. Whoever advised him on the soundbite correctly thought Victoria was different to the rest of Australia but ignored the fact that every mainland State Government is Labor- governed."

On Negativity

In "Aston the Implications", Tim Colebatch wrote, "Too many opposition leaders have failed because they ignored Menzies’ advice and become simply “the man who says ‘no.’” Peter Dutton is the latest. In that position, he is unelectable, and either he or his colleagues are going to have to do something about it."

On the Party's LIberal and Conservative Wings

Grant Wyeth: "The Liberal Party has always been a weird party, an amalgamation of ideas and interest groups that were bound together by their opposition to the Labor Party but had little else in common. Its creation in 1944 was an attempt to build a stable non-Labor force in the country that could hold power without buckling under the weight of the internal contractions that bedeviled its predecessors. With this objective, the party’s formation proved serendipitous, as the conclusion of World War II would usher in a new global order that would give it a greater sense of purpose and coherence.  The Cold War meant that liberal and conservative forces had an overarching incentive to cooperate. Western conservative parties became committed to liberal principles in response to the ideological challenge of communism. Yet since the end of that era, the loss of these broader objectives and unifying narrative has seen a great upheaval within conservative parties – most notably the Republican Party in the United States. Australia’s Liberal Party, while less dramatic in its ideological disruption, has nonetheless entered into a period of internal turbulence and a great confusion about what the party’s purpose should be."

More Reading:

Alfred Deakin on Liberalism


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