Senate president Scott Ryan has called out the right within the Liberal party and among commentators, declaring that Liberal voters “don’t want views rammed down their throats”.
In a trenchant critique of federal influences in the rout of the Victorian Liberals, Ryan, a former vice-president of the state division, pointed to the swings in seats “that are the cradle of the Liberal party”.
They were areas that were in federal seats like Goldstein, Higgins, Menzies and Kooyong, he told the ABC.
These voters were the “real base of the Liberal party. They sent us a message,” he said. “They don’t want litmus tests for what it means to be a real Liberal”.
Many Liberal voters were fairly conservative in their own lives, raising kids, working hard, running small businesses, supporting strong local communities. “But they’re pretty liberal in their political outlook. They don’t want views rammed down their throat, and they don’t want to ram their views down other people’s throat.
"And that has historically been the Liberal way. We’re often conservative in our disposition - I am – but I’m very liberal in my political outlook”.
He said part of the problem was “tone” - while Victoria was a state election some of the noise that came out of Canberra “did strongly influence the scale of the loss, where it happened”.
Ryan said after the loss of Wentworth some had “tried to dismiss those voters as not part of real Australia … labelling people, dismissing them – that’s not the Liberal way.
"I want to cast the net wide in the Menzies and Howard tradition [so] as to give people a reason to be Liberals, not come up with litmus tests and say if you don’t hold this view on a social issue, or if you don’t hold this particular view on climate change or renewable energy, then somehow you’re not a real Liberal.
"This is not the path to electoral success. And I’m sick of being lectured to by people who aren’t members of the party, by people who have never stood on polling booths, about what it means to be a real Liberal”.
Ryan declined to name names, but his reference to the media was directed at commentators on Sky in the evening and the Sydney shock jocks.
Liberal voters wanted the government to focus on their issues and “I think the federal government is doing that,” he said.
Ryan said that the days before Wentworth “were distracted … talking about what some people call religious freedom”. In Victoria people weren’t raising anti-discrimination law with him on polling booths.
“What we need to do is say the Liberal party has people with various views, and all of those views can be accommodated, and internally the idea of compromise is actually a good thing”.
Too often compromise was seen as a sell out, he said. But John Howard and Peter Costello had compromised to achieve historic tax reform; Peter Reith had compromised with the Australian Democrats to get industrial relations change.
“This idea – and I think this is another thing that a lot of our voters are tired of - that somehow to compromise to address a problem, and move on to one of the other plethora of problems governments need to address – that is not selling out – that is getting the jobs done”.
Tim Wilson, the member for Goldstein, criticised those who were being ideological about energy policy.
“If anybody thinks that there’s this great public sentiment out there that people really deep down hate renewables and they’re hugging something like coal, I say again — get real,” Wilson told Sky.
He said he had sat on polling booths where “every second person either gave you deadly silence, which is a very cold, deadly silence, or there were people mentioning energy, climate, or the deposing of the prime minister”.
Victorian senator Jane Hume wrote in the Australian Financial Review: “Our quest should always be to raise the standard of living - whether through economic policies, energy, health or education. If we allow good policy to be infiltrated by even the perception of an ideological crusade, Labor will win the messaging war”.
After the Prime Minister met Victorian Liberal federal MPs on Monday morning Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who is deputy Liberal leader, said “We had a good, honest discussion about lessons to be learned from the state campaign. As a group we will continue to be focused on delivering for our local communities.”