Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott has warned frustrated conservative voters not to give up on the Coalition (Liberals or Nationals) for newer right-leaning parties, saying it would simply fracture the centre-right vote and hand government to the Labor and Greens parties.
Abbott also said Australia’s preferential voting system made it difficult for a dark horse candidate to win power and that it was essential to work within the parties to change their direction.
His comments come following the July decision by former Queensland premier Campbell Newman to resign from the Liberal National Party (LNP)—a party that his family members were a part of—saying it no longer represented values like fiscal responsibility and free speech. He was also critical of the party’s “heavy-handed” response to COVID-19.
Abbott said Newman was an effective leader during his tenure as Queensland premier, and that he personally had “a lot of time” for him.
“I am nevertheless very disappointed that he’s chosen to leave the Liberal Party the way he has,” Abbott told the Institute of Public Affairs’ (IPA) “Australia’s Heartland with Tony Abbott” podcast. “I very much wish that he’d gone into the LNP State Council and said all of those things to the Libs in the hope of generating a different response from within the party, rather than simply going away in this ugly public breach.”
“When people split from the centre-right to go further to the right, the consequence is not normally a better centre-right; the consequence is normally a Labor-Green government,” he added.
The former prime minister cited the formation of One Nation as an example, claiming that its formation in 1997 ended up splitting the Liberal-National vote in Queensland (1998 election) and Western Australia (2001), causing the then-governments to lose power to Labor.
While Western Australia has swung between Labor and Liberal governments for the past 20 years, Queensland has largely remained under Labor control.
Abbott also noted that Australia’s electoral system meant newer parties or candidates were unlikely to rise to power, which is a key difference to other systems overseas that have allowed “populist” candidates to win.
For example, elections in the United Kingdom’s Parliament or the U.S. Congress use the “first past the post” system, which means whichever candidate receives the most votes, wins.
However, Australia has a preferential voting system, which allows voters to select their second, third, or fourth preferred candidate. This means that even after a candidate wins the “primary” vote, the remaining votes will be distributed and can change the result.
Abbott said left-leaning Greens’ voters were more disciplined in allocating their preferences compared to right-leaning voters.
“Green preferences invariably go back to the Labor Party at the right of about 80 to 85 percent. Whereas conservative splinter group preferences tend to come back to the (Liberal-National) Coalition at the rate of more like 60 percent,” he said.
“The field evidence is that right-wing splinters eliminate centre-right governments in favour of left governments, and surely no one who thinks that the current state of the Liberal Party is not to their taste really wants a Green-Left government.”
“So my advice to people who are feeling frustrated with the state of centre-right politics right now is not to give up in disgust… but to stay in and fight.”
Meanwhile, Newman has joined the libertarian-leaning Liberal Democrats to run for a federal Senate seat representing Queensland. Some analysts believe the moves places current Liberal Party Senator—and staunch conservative—Amanda Stoker at risk of losing her seat.
Newman said, “(Prime Minister) Scott Morrison has, sadly, let us down with very illiberal big government over-reach.”
“(Labor leader) Anthony Albanese represents outdated socialism that will saddle our kids with huge debt and destroy our culture with woke nonsense and red tape,” he said in a statement. “We need a return to real leadership and strong, sensible government.”