Senator’s Grassroots Campaign to Revive Founding Values of Australia’s Liberal Party

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Liberal Senator Alex Antic has spent the last 18 months working to stem the leftward drift of Australia’s traditionally centre-right Liberal Party.

The South Australian senator is fighting at the grassroots level to grow the party’s membership and steadily steer the party back to its roots.

“They are people who are concerned about the direction of the state and the nation, and who believe in the party’s founding principles such as freedom of speech, religion, and association, and the freedom to choose their own way of living and of life,” he told The Epoch Times.

“These people are now having a say in the election of party office bearers, the formulation of future policy positions, and ultimately, will have a say in the selection of strong principled candidates for parliamentary elections at both state and federal level.”

Epoch Times Photo
Liberal Senator for South Australia Alex Antic delivers his first speech in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday, September 17, 2019. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Why the Grassroots is Critical?

Trying to right the ship of a political party is no small task.

The work begins at the grassroots with the recruitment of members to local party branches.

Generally, members are given the right to vote at Annual General Meetings, join the pre-selection process of candidates to contest upcoming elections, and vote for the position of office bearers—the president, the vice-president, treasurer, and secretary of the state party.

Having enough votes from a particular bloc can have a major influence on the direction of the party.

For example, having more right-leaning voters in a local branch will generally ensure that a candidate with similar values is selected for upcoming elections. Meanwhile, having enough office bearers can influence the party’s operation and direction via voting at the State Council, which also votes for the State Executive—equivalent to a board of directors.

However, over the years, the influence of left-leaning or moderate factions has become more prevalent across the Liberal Party, which has had an impact on the type of policies the party adopts.

Some commentators have argued that the trend is pulling the Liberal party further away from the vision of founder Robert Menzies, who espoused a party built on the values of classical liberalism, anti-communism, and upward mobility of the middle-class via private enterprise.

In South Australia, policies under former Premier Steven Marshall have galvanised religious voters to join the party, including support for euthanasia and late-term abortion laws.

Thus far, the campaign by Antic has paid off with over 1,000 new right-leaning members joining the Liberal Party organisation in the state, bringing the total membership base to over 5,000.

Breaching the Moderate Stronghold

Last year, Antic’s campaign hit a hurdle when the party’s state executive tried to stonewall the onboarding of 500 new Christian members.

The individuals had to undergo an “audit” and agree to “support the objectives of the Liberal Party” and ensure they were not “aligned with any ‘alternative political entities,’” according to a letter seen by The Advertiser newspaper.

The state President, Legh Davis, responded to the incident by saying: “Those who clearly support the party’s constitutional objectives and endorsed candidates will be welcome as members.”

Antic’s campaign to encourage classical liberals and conservatives into the party’s ranks would not have been welcomed by the then-dominant moderate faction of the Liberal Party.

In fact, for 30 years now, the state branch has been headlined by leading moderate political figures, including former Defence Minister Christopher Pyne, former Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, and recently defeated South Australian Premier Marshall.

“For a long time, the South Australian division of the party has been controlled by the party’s left-wing faction, and of course, any period of change brings with it a degree of resistance,” Antic said.

“Having said that, we are now seeing the many new members actively participating in events and meetings, and the influx has revitalised sections of the party which were struggling for enthusiasm,” Antic said.

Moderates and the Right

In the Australian context, moderates generally advocate for free market economics—New South Wales Senator Andrew Bragg (a moderate) has been a vocal supporter of dismantling the compulsory superannuation system—but are socially progressive on issues such as legalising same-sex marriage, abortion, and euthanasia.

Meanwhile, those in the right faction (like Antic) have focused more on social policy, including individual freedom, religious rights protection, and opposing the onset of progressive leftist causes such as gender fluidity and climate change.

Climate change has also been a major flashpoint between the right and moderate factions, which played out during the May 2022 federal election.

Moderates were concerned that failing to push for more ambitious climate change targets would lose the Liberal Party several inner-city electorates. In contrast, right faction members have criticised the climate change movement pointing out the lack of consensus around climate science, as well as the feasibility and enormous cost of transitioning to net-zero.

In a move to try to appease both factions and their voting blocs, the “centre-right” Prime Minister Scott Morrison adopted a net-zero by 2050 target in October 2021, and stuck to a 26-28 percent emissions reduction target for 2030.

The move was interpreted by some as neither here nor there and confusing to the electorate. As a result, the election saw the Liberal Party bleed votes on its left and right political flanks, with the party recording its lowest primary vote in recent times at 35.7 percent (the then-opposition Australian Labor Party won just 32.58 percent).

On its “left” flank, the Liberal Party lost several inner-city seats to “Teal” and Greens candidates who promised major climate change initiatives, including more ambitious emissions reduction targets. It also lost votes to the Drew Pavlou Democratic Alliance. Then on its “right,” the party continued to bleed votes to One Nation and new “freedom parties” like the United Australia Party, and Liberal Democrats.

One senior Liberal Party staffer told The Epoch Times—on condition of anonymity—that the election result was a wake-up call and that the former party of Robert Menzies needed an urgent rebuild.

“There’s still very influential factional elements—responsible for the recent past and where we found ourselves today—that are still trying to cling to power and reshape things in a way that will suit them,” the staffer said.

He revealed that members of branches in New South Wales have been restricted from being able to vote, a situation holding back better candidates.

“We’ve become less and less reflective of the people we are representing, and that comes down to not being democratic—it is an elitist type of approach,” he said.

“It’s a real fight to democratise and create transparency,” he added. “[As for] the public, they see it translating into people they don’t really relate to or trust. We have to produce more grassroots community-driven people and get them through the process.”

Daniel Y. Teng

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Daniel Y. Teng is based in Sydney. He focuses on national affairs including federal politics, COVID-19 response, and Australia-China relations. Got a tip? Contact him at daniel.teng@epochtimes.com.au.



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