If ever there was a case of political appropriation, this is it. In The Australian on Wednesday, Greg Brown reported that Simon Holmes a Court, the convener of Climate 200, has declared himself to be a “Menzian Liberal” who has lost faith in the modern Liberal Party.
The reference is to Robert Menzies, who was United Australia Party prime minister between April 1939 and August 1941 and Liberal Party prime minister from December 1949 to January 1966.
Menzies founded the Liberal Party of Australia in late 1944-early 1945 following the collapse of the UAP. The UAP of today, led by Clive Palmer and Craig Kelly, has nothing to do with the party that governed Australia during the prime ministerships of Joseph Lyons (January 1932 to April 1939) and Menzies. This is another case of political appropriation.
Holmes a Court, who is an investor in renewable energy and a director of the Smart Energy Council, heads Climate 200, which is supporting various individuals standing as independent candidates in next year’s election. They are targeting Coalition candidates including Josh Frydenberg (Kooyong), Angus Taylor (Hume), Tim Wilson (Goldstein), Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney) and Jason Falinski (Mackellar).
These independents are part of the “Voices for” movement, which is receiving substantial financial support from Climate 200 and some other bodies. The candidates supported by Holmes a Court are not contesting seats held by the Labor Party or the Greens. To this extent they are not real independents but, rather, political activists intent on depriving Scott Morrison of a majority in the House of Representatives. They will receive the preferences of Labor, the Greens and other left of centre or left-wing candidates.
Monique Ryan is standing as the “Voices for” candidate in Kooyong. Interviewed by Virginia Trioli on ABC Melbourne Radio on Thursday, Ryan was not able to answer a question about her political philosophy. She stated that her “political platform is going to be shaped over the next few months”. That’s not the kind of answer Menzies would have given when first running for office.
Throughout his long political career in the Victorian and federal parliaments, Menzies had one consistent political position. He always wanted the Labor Party to occupy the opposition benches.
For a time in the early 1970s, Menzies grew disillusioned with the leadership of the party he had founded and voted for the anti-communist Democratic Labor Party. But he gave his preferences to the Coalition over Labor.
Holmes a Court has appropriated the name of Menzies in his attempt to bring down the Morrison government. However, any fair assessment of Menzies would lead to the conclusion that the convener of Climate 200 is no Menzian Liberal. Holmes a Court is essentially attempting to defeat the Coalition government because he opposes the Prime Minister’s policy on climate change.
He made this perfectly clear in his recent profile in the Good Weekend magazine, his appearance on the ABC television program Q+A and in an interview that he did with Fran Kelly on Radio National Breakfast.
During his (soft) interview with Kelly, Holmes a Court declared the net-zero emissions target by 2050 is “woefully inadequate”.
Now Labor and the Coalition both have a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Holmes a Court regards this as woefully inadequate – but he is supporting only candidates who oppose the Morrison government. In her interview with Trioli, Ryan was not asked if she agreed with Holmes a Court on this issue.
Greens leader Adam Bandt advocates a 75 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2035. So, on climate policy, Holmes a Court is really in the Greens camp while presenting himself as a Menzian Liberal.
It is not clear whether Holmes a Court has any substantial knowledge of Menzies’ position. As told to Brown, Holmes a Court identifies with a political leader who banned the Communist Party of Australia early in World War II during the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939-41, attempted to ban the Communist Party in the early 1950s and committed Australian forces to the Korean War in defence of South Korea.
Later on, Menzies introduced national service (conscription) for overseas service, committed Australian forces in defence of non-communist South Vietnam and against communist North Vietnam, and restricted civil liberties with amendments to the Crimes Act.
Then there is the ABC.
In Letters to My Daughter: Robert Menzies, letters, 1955-1975 (Pier 9), Heather Henderson published correspondence from her father. On October 30, 1967, Menzies wrote to his daughter about having been let down and treated unprofessionally by the public broadcaster with respect to the publication of his book Afternoon Light. Menzies stated, more generally: “I have never been persona grata with the ABC, nor the ABC with me.” Which raises the question: is Holmes a Court such a “Menzian Liberal” that he agrees with his (alleged) hero in regarding the ABC as treating the Liberal Party unfairly?
However successful the independents may be at next year’s election, they will not be running the country. The prime minister will be Morrison or Anthony Albanese. To the extent that the Climate 200 group is successful, it will enhance the chances of Labor and diminish the chances of the Coalition.
Former Liberal Party prime minister Malcolm Turnbull was reported as saying at an Accountability Round Table on Wednesday that the forthcoming contests in relatively safe Liberal Party seats were a “very, very healthy development”.
But Turnbull did not always hold such a view. When, as Liberal MP for Wentworth, he was criticised by wealthy Sydney businessman Geoff Cousins over the Howard government’s environment policy in the lead-up to the 2007 election, Turnbull did not sense anything healthy. Rather, interviewed on the ABC PM program on August 22, 2007, he spoke about Cousins’s wealth and said he would not “be bullied by anybody”.
For his part Cousins said “he couldn’t care less” if the Coalition lost government.
But he did not present himself as a Menzian Liberal.