The bold and the delusional

How many more wake-up calls does the Dutton-led Liberal Party need?

Delusional.” That was how former senior Liberal adviser Niki Savva summed up the Liberals’ bullish response to their Dunkley byelection loss on yesterday’s Insiders – and the word quickly began trending on the site formerly known as Twitter. The 3.6 per cent swing away from the government, which could best be described as par, was barely above the intentionally low expectations the Liberals set for themselves. And yet senior Libs have been boldly celebrating their modest swing, claiming that the party is “back”, with a swagger that would make you think they’d won the seat (shadow finance minister Jane Hume’s spinning has been particularly frenzied). Deep down, they must know that they’re not “back”, and there is no clear path to victory in either their old heartland or their new one. This was exactly the kind of outer suburban seat on which Peter Dutton’s electoral strategy hinges, under exactly the kind of electoral conditions that should have seen a decisive swing away from Labor. How much more proof does the Coalition need that its nasty, racist fear campaigns aren’t the way to go?

Despite the outward-facing bravado, quiet recriminations have begun over strategy. Former Liberal MPs Tim Wilson and Jason Falinski, who both lost their seats to teals in 2022, are calling for the party to return to its wealthy inner-city roots, pointing to “blue shoots” in teal-ish areas such as Mount Eliza, which swung back to the Libs. Dutton has since rejected suggestions he has given up on teal seats, claiming he plans to win them back with “credible policies on the economy, tax and climate change”. But it’s unclear how he expects anyone to believe that. As reported elsewhere in the AFR, Dutton last week flew across the country to be the star speaker at Gina Rinehart’s 70th birthday party, attending for around 40 minutes before jumping on a red-eye back to Melbourne. Today’s announcement, meanwhile, that the Coalition will soon unveil a “signature” energy policy centred around nuclear will do little to help its climate credibility, with experts labelling the Coalition’s newfound passion for nuclear a transparent attempt to delay the clean energy transition.

Then there is Liberal deputy Sussan Ley, the figure supposedly tasked with winning back the moderate women the party has pushed away. Ley, however, has given up any pretence of being a “moderate”, and has taken on an increasingly right-wing, post-truth role within the Opposition. Despite widespread condemnation, Dutton’s deputy has still not backed down from Thursday’s overt dog whistle, in which she suggested that anyone alarmed by “foreign criminals” needed to “send Labor a message”. Her bizarre performance in Dunkley on Saturday night would indicate that she is deep in denial, unable to recognise the true message contained within the result. Her party’s xenophobic appeals are not working, and many were relieved to note that Advance Australia’s advertising spend didn’t seem to have much impact.

None of this is to say that Labor has nothing to worry about. A swing is a swing is a swing, just as a win is a win is a win, and the government needs to remain conscious of the serious economic pain in seats like these. But they can breathe a sigh of relief at the comfortable Dunkley hold, and another at the fact that Dutton and Ley seem incapable of changing course. A decreasing number of moderates in the Liberal ranks recognise that the party needs to return to the centre if it is to be a mainstream force, with the outer suburbs sticking with Labor. Unfortunately for them, their leaders have little interest in mainstream ideas, and would rather delude themselves than listen to what the electorate is saying.

“The foreign minister has publicly acknowledged that the only way to stop children from starving to death in Gaza is to resume funding to UNRWA … Reinstating the suspended funding is the bare minimum Australia should be doing.”

Save the Children Australia chief executive Mat Tinkler calls on the government to immediately reinstate funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), arguing that Australia and other donors “have effectively removed the crumbs that Gaza’s children are surviving on”.

“We are at war with Labor. To think this new breed of Liberal thinks otherwise is infuriating.”

An unnamed senior Liberal source expresses fury at Liberal MP for Flinders Zoe McKenzie for posting a congratulatory selfie with the new Labor MP for Dunkley, Jodie Belyea, a fellow woman representing the Mornington Peninsula.

~$1 billion

The amount the Bureau of Meteorology spent on its delayed IT overhaul over about four years – making it one of Australia’s most expensive ever. A January 2023 video shows the BoM chief executive detailing costs, despite later telling Senate estimates such details were bound by cabinet secrecy.

LNP senator calls for CGT discount to be scrapped

Controversial LNP senator Gerard Rennick says he would support removing the 50 per cent discount on capital gains tax as long as existing negative gearing rules remain, adding that he is critical of discounts on passive income. It comes as the Greens dig in over Labor’s “Help to buy” scheme, demanding changes to tax concessions in exchange for their support.

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