Such Is Politics: Josh Frydenberg Departs As Jacinta Price Arrives

Written by:
26 September 2023
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In this article, John Roskam contextualises and disseminates the findings of the IPA’s research into the Voice to Parliament.

The IPA has been researching the consequences a potential Voice to Parliament would have to the political freedom, liberty, and equality of Australians since the Uluru Statement of the Heart was first being drafted.

Such is politics. One potential prime minister departs, another potential PM arrives – and support for the Voice referendum continues to fall. The Yes vote is now just 33 per cent, according to the AFR/Freshwater Strategy poll and 36 per cent according to Newspoll.

Josh Frydenberg’s announcement last week that he wouldn’t stand for the once blue-ribbon Liberal seat he lost to teal Monique Ryan surprised few observers. Likewise, few are surprised Senator Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is being talked about as a future Coalition leader.

At the National Press Club in Canberra after what’s been described as one of the most significant speeches in recent Australian political history, Senator Price was asked by a journalist about her leadership aspirations. Although Price has only been in parliament a little over 12 months, is in the wrong party and in the wrong house to lead the Coalition, no one hearing the question thought it was inappropriate or out of place.

If this is indeed the end of Frydenberg’s political career, he will be a great loss to the public life and public policy of the nation.

He was the best political communicator since Peter Costello and a master of his brief, but politicians can’t pick their time, and it was happenstance that Frydenberg was forced to devote his talents to managing the government’s economic response to COVID. Beyond the treasury portfolio, Frydenberg’s clear-eyed foreign policy understanding will be particularly missed by the Coalition.

As so often happens in politics, it could have all been very different for Frydenberg and the country. If he’d yielded to the urgings of his colleagues and launched a leadership challenge against Scott Morrison at the end of 2021, Frydenberg probably would have defeated Morrison and become prime minister. As a sitting PM he most likely would have held his seat, and while the Coalition might not have won the election it probably would have lost fewer than the 17 seats it did.

The way Morrison reciprocated Frydenberg’s loyalty was by Morrison not telling him he’d been secretly sworn into Frydenberg’s treasury portfolio.

Price has all of this in front of her.

Technically, Price is not a Liberal, she’s the Country Liberal Party senator for the Northern Territory and she sits in the Nationals party room. Price has captured the imagination of her supporters in a way that has rarely been seen in recent decades in Australia.

For this she’s been called a “populist”. When politicians on the centre-right generate the enthusiasm of their followers they’re labelled “populist”. When the teals do exactly the same thing they’re praised for gathering the support of the community and the grassroots. In any case, surely there’s nothing wrong with making the plight of Indigenous children and women a “popular” cause.

After years of conservative politicians refusing to engage in the so-called “culture wars”, Price has proved what can be achieved when a centre-right MP speaks confidently in defence of the country’s values and its way of life.

Regardless of the referendum outcome, Price has changed Australian politics.

In some ways Frydenberg represents the old politics of the Liberal Party and Price the possible new politics of the Coalition. Frydenberg’s rise was inside and through the Liberal Party. Price’s ascent to prominence is the product of “people power”. She might be steeped in local and Northern Territory politics, but in Canberra she’s an outsider. The word most often used to describe Price is “authentic”.

The hard-heads in the Liberal Party didn’t know what to make of Price when she first entered parliament, and they still don’t. They’re confounded by the thought that if the Voice referendum is defeated, it will have been Price and Warren Mundine who almost single-handedly secured that result.

It’s important to remember that the initial opposition to the Voice came not from the two mainstream conservative parties, it came from a small number of centre-right voices outside of the political system, and before she entered politics Price was integral to that process. She disturbed the cosy consensus on the Voice of the political class and big business. Those elites are now beginning to worry about what other issues of consensus might be disrupted by Price and the forces she’s unleashed.

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