The Liberal Party Might Not Survive Australia’s Elections Intact

The Liberal Party Might Not Survive Australia’s Elections Intact
A man holds a placard mocking Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the May Day rally in Sydney, May 1, 2022 (AP photo by Rick Rycroft).

Australians will head to the polls next week to elect a new government, with the prospects looking dire for the coalition of the Liberal and National parties that has been in power since 2013. During this time, internal divisions within the Liberal Party has led to Australia having had three different prime ministers. Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison has managed to make it through a full three-year term since winning the last elections in 2019, it would be a mistake to conclude that the party has overcome its constant in-fighting. In fact, this election represents the biggest existential threat the Liberal Party has faced since its founding in 1945.

Unlike their political cousins in the United Kingdom and Canada, Australia’s conservative and liberal forces fused together into a single party in response to the strength of the country’s social-democratic Labor Party. As long as the party’s conservative wing saw its role as defending liberal democracy, this alliance was complementary. However, as has been seen in other Western democracies, changes at home and abroad have started to realign interest groups in Australia, and a more reactionary form of conservatism has emerged. As a result, the Liberal Party has started to lose both its cohesion and its coherence.

The party’s own realignment is geographic as much as it is ideological. Six of its first seven leaders were from the southeastern state of Victoria, a state whose service-based economy differentiates it from other states where mining dominates, and the party’s center of gravity was the financial district along Melbourne’s Collins Street. As the party of the “moral middle class, its wealthier members harbored a prominent sense of noblesse oblige. Yet since former Prime Minister John Howard seized control of the party in the mid-1990s, all its leaders have come from New South Wales, a larger state with competing economic interests and a bare-knuckled political culture. This has altered the party’s character away from its previous Whiggish worldview, toward a more grievance-based identarian politics, fueled by the editorial pages of Rupert Murdoch’s Sydney-based broadsheet, The Australian.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article as well as three free articles per month. You'll also receive our free email newsletter to stay up to date on all our coverage:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having your own personal researcher and analyst for news and events around the globe. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of 15,000+ articles
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday
  • Weekly in-depth reports on important issues and countries
  • Daily links to must-read news, analysis, and opinion from top sources around the globe, curated by our keen-eyed team of editors
  • Your choice of weekly region-specific newsletters, delivered to your inbox.
  • Smartphone- and tablet-friendly website.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review