The Liberal moderate Andrew Bragg says after the Liberal party’s rout in its progressive heartland, the incoming opposition must reject the “conspiracy theorists” of the climate wars and return to core values of enterprise and fairness.
With some conservatives declaring that the Liberal party needs to shift to the right in the wake of Saturday’s electoral defeat, the remaining moderates, including Bragg, are rallying to ensure the new opposition leadership doesn’t write off inner-city professionals and lurch into populism.
Peter Dutton is set to lead the Liberal party in opposition and MPs think the Queenslander’s deputy will be the former environment minister Sussan Ley, who is canvassing colleagues – although some favour the Victorian senator Jane Hume.
Dutton and Ley are different political characters but Liberals say the two have a good working relationship, having entered parliament in the class of 2001.
The party’s moderate wing faced a devastating blow in Saturday’s election, with the post-Morrison leadership contender Josh Frydenberg losing his seat to a teal independent, along with moderates in Wentworth, North Sydney, Goldstein and Curtin.
While senior moderates are not opposed to Dutton assuming the leadership – and any opposition wouldn’t matter, in any case, because the Queenslander has the numbers – some Liberals and Nationals are worried that a post-election leadership team of the Queensland rightwinger and Barnaby Joyce could send the wrong message to the voting public.
With this in mind, the former trade minister Dan Tehan has been urged to run against Dutton, but he has told colleagues he sees no point in contesting a ballot when the Queenslander has the numbers. Liberal sources say Tehan is telling colleagues their energies would be better directed to the rebuilding effort.
The Nationals will spill their leadership positions next Monday, with several alternatives to Joyce are positioning for a possible tilt, including Michael McCormack, Darren Chester and David Littleproud.
The Liberals are expected to meet next week, after the results in seats now too close to call are known.
Party moderates are of the view that Liberals will not be able to form majority governments in the future unless they can claw back territory in the major cities from the teal independents and from Labor.
But some conservatives think the pathway back from the 2022 rout is to part ways with some of the Liberal party’s traditional base and secure gains from Labor seats in the outer suburbs and regions – even though that was Scott Morrison’s election strategy – and it didn’t work.
Bragg, a New South Wales moderate senator, said on Tuesday the Liberal party needed to learn the right lesson from the defeat. “I think it’s a clear message that we need to return to our core values of enterprise and fairness,” he told the ABC.
“I think climate change, for example, has been too often captured in a culture war when it’s really about capturing a huge economic opportunity for our country. So I’ll be guided by what the foreign investors are saying about the need for us to send the right signals rather than any sort of conspiracy theorists.”
He said the party needed to embrace the transition to low-emissions energy. “We need to see this as an economic challenge and a huge economic opportunity for our country, especially for the regions where a lot of these new jobs will be – and we just need to get on with the job.”
Bragg – who was one of the MPs who agitated internally for Morrison to sign up to a target of net zero emissions by 2050 – also left open the possibility of crossing the floor to back Labor’s medium-term emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030.
“I have a very open mind about how this particular policy is managed,” he said. “As I say, I will be guided by what the foreign investors and the domestic investors are saying about the need for us to send market signals, because this is a very expensive transition.”
He said if the policy settings were right, the market would fund the transition rather than taxpayers. “I think the market will be happy to fund the transition, and that’s what should guide our judgment.”