Dunkley Is The Liberal Party’s Chance To Advance On Morrison

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1 March 2024
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Originally Appeared In

This article was originally published in Australian Financial Review on or about 29 February 2024 and was written by the author in their capacity as a contributor for that publication. 

It has been republished on the IPA website with permission. The views expressed are those of the author alone.


The timing of the former PM’s departure with the byelection is coincidental but symbolic of potentially a new form of politics on the centre-right that’s democratising democracy.


If an ASX100 company had gone through six CEOs in 17 years (including one having two stints in the role), it would be safe to assume it was a company lacking a long-term strategic direction.

That’s been the federal Liberal Party since 2007. If the Liberal Party was in the business of selling things to the public (which it is in a way), one minute it was selling tractors (under Tony Abbott), one minute it was selling chocolates (under Malcolm Turnbull), and under Scott Morrison it wasn’t quite sure what it was doing.

Morrison’s dignified valedictory speech to parliament this week hopefully brings to a close an unedifying era for the Liberal Party.

After the defeat of the Howard government and the departure from parliament of the likes of Peter Costello, Peter Reith, Alexander Downer, David Kemp, Amanda Vanstone, and Richard Alston, the Liberals ended up politically and intellectually exhausted – and it showed.

Tony Abbott might have won 25 seats for the Coalition over two elections and taken them into power, but he did so almost single-handedly without much support from his colleagues.

From the mid-2000s, as Australian culture and the business community drifted to the left, so did the Liberal party room.

The timing of Morrison’s departure and this weekend’s by-election in the Melbourne seat of Dunkley is coincidental but symbolic.

It’s a politics that, of course, still involves the Liberal Party but also third-party groups such as Advance.

Morrison was the epitome of the traditional Liberal method of politics and campaigning. It was a top-down, command-and-control approach with little room for the involvement of other organisations or anything organic or grassroots. Before social media and when 90 per cent of the electorate had an allegiance to one of the two major parties, such an approach worked for the Liberals – it doesn’t now.

The Voice referendum campaign and now the Dunkley by-election represent potentially a new form of politics on the centre-right in Australia. It’s a politics that, of course, still involves the Liberal Party but also third-party groups such as Advance (formerly Advance Australia). The Labor Party has long had Get Up!, the unions, and sympathetic NGOs to campaign for it, directly and indirectly. Until Advance, the Liberals had no one.

Advance has 34,000 financial donors, an email distribution list of 300,000 people, and is spending $300,000 on its Dunkley campaign.

Advance is making both major parties nervous.

The Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has complained Advance is “way beyond the acceptable norms of, you know, sensible Australian politics” – but he couldn’t explain how. He also said he didn’t “want to see this kind of money decide elections”. Presumably Chalmers has forgotten the more than $160 million that according to The Centre for Public Integrity, trade unions gave to the ALP over the 20 years to 2022.

Some Liberals are only slightly less uncomfortable with Advance. Anonymous “party sources” speaking to The Sydney Morning Herald “downplayed the group’s influence and claimed its role in the Voice campaign was exaggerated”. Which is an interesting interpretation of history. It was Advance who first provided a platform to the two key spokespeople for the No campaign – Jacinta Nampijinpa Price and Nyunggai Warren Mundine. If not for Price and Mundine, Yes would have won.

Influence set to grow

Advance organised 18,000 volunteers, sent out 3.7 million advertising leaflets, made 90,000 phone calls, and distributed 8,000 booth kits. The Liberals didn’t do that. When Advance started planning its referendum campaign 12 months before the vote, according to an SEC-Newgate poll, only 19 per cent of Australians opposed the Voice.

Advance is still relatively new and its influence is set to grow, regardless of the outcome in Dunkley.

GetUp! and Advance allow people to engage in politics directly without joining a political party. Unlike the Liberal Party sometimes, Advance makes no apologies about what it stands for, and it doesn’t rely on the mainstream media to get out its message.

Thousands of the volunteers who Advance mobilised to hand out “No” how-to-vote cards on October 14 last year had never previously been involved in any sort of political activity.

GetUp!, Advance and the organisations like them that will emerge in the future should be welcomed as part of the process of “democratising” democracy. Undoubtedly, they’re also a threat to the established political parties and how they do business.

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This article was original published in The Australian Financial Review and was written by the author in their capacity as a contributor for that publication. It has been republished on the IPA website with permission. The views expressed are those of the author alone.

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