Turnbull challenges Abbott, saying party is Liberal, not conservative – The Guardian

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Prime minister’s speech in London anchors party in the Menzies tradition and reminds Tony Abbott of his claim to represent ‘the sensible centre’

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Malcolm Turnbull

Malcolm Turnbull told his audience in London Robert Menzies had gone to great pains not to call the party conservative.
Photograph: Lukas Coch/AAP

Turnbull challenges Abbott, saying party is Liberal, not conservative

Prime minister’s speech in London anchors party in the Menzies tradition and reminds Tony Abbott of his claim to represent ‘the sensible centre’

Malcolm Turnbull has made his strongest defence yet of his government’s policy direction, saying the Liberals’ founder, Robert Menzies, went to “great pains” not to call the party “conservative”.

In a strongly-worded speech to the Policy Exchange, a centre-right thinktank in London, Turnbull said Menzies deliberately anchored the Liberal party in 1944 in the centre of Australian politics because he did not want his party to be reactionary.

He said conservative critics in Australia– such as former prime minister Tony Abbott – must not forget the historical context in which the party emerged, saying many things have changed since the 1940s but the classic tenets of liberalism remained as important as ever.

“The sensible centre, to use Tony Abbott’s phrase, was the place to be and it remains the place to be now,” Turnbull said.

“In 1944 Menzies went to great pains not to call his new political party, consolidating the centre right of Australian politics, ‘conservative’ – but rather the Liberal party which he firmly anchored in the centre of Australian politics.

“He wanted to stand apart from the big money, business establishment politics of traditional ‘conservative’ parties of the right, as well as from the socialist tradition of the Australian Labor party – the political wing of the union movement.

“We took the name ‘Liberal’ because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea.

His speech comes after a toxic spell of infighting inside the Liberals, reignited by a leaked recording of Christopher Pyne caught bragging to colleagues about the rising influence of the moderate faction in the government, and the moderates’ plan to legislate for same-sex marriage.

Abbott has been on the war path since, delivering a speech to ideological bedfellow the Institute of Public Affairs in which he dusted off his conservative manifesto for government, and then proffering numerous public criticisms of Turnbull’s policy direction.

Some former conservative allies of Abbott’s have rebuked him for his destabilisation, and moderates have rounded on him too.

Turnbull’s speech overnight will add momentum to the campaign against Abbott and his conservative media backers.

It has already been welcomed by new Liberal party president Nick Greiner, and deputy leader Julie Bishop. Bishop said the speech “very eloquently articulates our values as the Liberal party” and said “it shouldn’t” antagonise colleagues.

Former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi tweeted his thanks to Turnbull for “confirming why regular Aussies” need to join his new Australian Conservatives.

Turnbull said Liberals and conservatives were still fiercely united by important values, particularly the value of “freedom.”

“From its foundation more than sixty years ago, the Liberal party has stood for freedom,” he said.

“Nothing is more fundamental to our philosophy than a deep commitment to individual freedom and enterprise. The Liberal party stands for freedom or it stands for nothing.

“We in the Liberal party believe government’s role is to enable citizens to do their best – and that commitment to freedom is based in a deep, instinctive respect for the dignity and the worth of every individual.

“We respect each other when we say: you are free to chart your own course, to make your own choices, and strive to realise your own dreams.”