Conservatives pull punches as Malcolm Turnbull faces post-election party room

Eric Abetz the sole MP to raise superannuation in ‘happy’ meeting of MPs and senators that included dissection of party’s electoral losses

Malcolm Turnbull has told his party room the election raised “fundamental issues” about democracy, signalling he was looking closely at rules around robocalls and text messages following Labor’s Medicare advertising campaign.

The meeting heard a full presentation on the Liberal campaign after criticisms raised in the past week. But Coalition conservatives pulled their punches. Only one MP raised concerns over superannuation reforms and just four other MPs spoke from the floor at all.

Turnbull told the partyroom the election campaign at large “raised certain fundamental issues about the way our democracy operates”.

“For example, the issue of fundraising ... the use of newish forms of communication, such as robocalls and text messages without the requirement that other political advertising has of there being an authorisation [by a political party],” he said.

As a result the government could consider changes which would force political parties to include authorisations on texts and in robocalls – similar to the authorisations on television and print advertising.

Of the Medicare text sent to voters days before the election, Turnbull said “if it wasn’t a crime, it should be”.

In the first party room meeting since the election, the Liberal party federal director, Tony Nutt, and pollster Mark Textor addressed concerns that the party had not used enough hard-hitting negative advertising during the campaign, which delivered the slimmest of majorities.

Nutt countered, suggesting the tradie ad had been successful as it provoked a “furious reaction” from Labor.

Nutt accepted responsibility for the campaign but attacked Labor’s strategy. Turnbull said the Coalition’s opponents were no longer Labor – the party of Bob Hawke – but a few “cashed-up militant” unions. Nutt announced there would be the standard full review of the Coalition’s campaign.

Explaining the party’s “jobs and growth” message, Textor said the jobs issue was of primary importance to voters, well beyond health and education, which in previous elections had been of similar importance.

When asked why the Liberal party had lost so many seats in western Sydney, Textor said the redistribution of seats had caused a number of Liberals to lose the benefits of incumbency in sections of their electorate. He also named the expensive nature of Sydney television advertising as a cause.

Furthermore, he said due to lifestyle pressures such as mortgages and commuting, voters in western Sydney had a “greater level of cynicism” than other Australian voters.

Although conservative MPs such as Eric Abetz signalled before the meeting that there would be a full and frank discussion on issues including superannuation, it is understood Abetz was the only one to raise the issue.

Abetz told the meeting that the superannuation reforms, which wind back generous tax concessions, had upset the Liberal party’s supporter base. But Textor countered that at the very height of concerns in the election campaign, it only polled as a top issue for 6% of people.

Tony Abbott used the opportunity to call for the introduction of plebiscites into the New South Wales Liberal division to attract more members to the party. His comments came one day after the party’s deputy leader, Julie Bishop, suggested plebiscites could be a way to get more Liberal women into parliament after the losses of the election.

Abbott told the party that the system in NSW had discouraged people from joining the Liberal party and Turnbull agreed members wanted to have a say.

In a meeting described by a Coalition spokesman as “happy”, Turnbull gave an “emotional” speech marking the 19 July anniversary of the battle of Fromelles, in which 2,000 Australians died on the first night. He urged members to spend time “with the ones they love”.

But he assured MPs the 45th parliament would be the one in which the Coalition delivered on its promises.

“We won’t hit the ground reviewing, we will hit the ground doing,” Turnbull said.

Turnbull welcomed 15 new MPs to the party room, all of whom spoke briefly about their prior experience.

Bishop, who was re-endorsed as deputy leader, told the party room she would serve MPs. She committed to work on diversity, given the loss of women MPs but said diversity was not just a function of gender.

Cory Bernardi asked Bishop whether the government would endorse Kevin Rudd’s bid to be United Nations secretary general. Bishop said a nomination was not an “endorsement” but the request from Rudd would be considered by cabinet.


Gabrielle Chan

The GuardianTramp

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