This Saturday, the Coalition government may lose office after nearly nine years in power.
Regardless of how big or small the margin might be, such an outcome's impact on the Liberal Party and the non-Labor parties will be potentially devastating. It could be like when the Liberal Party's predecessor, the (original) United Australia Party, was decimated at the 1943 elections and caused a realignment of non-Labor politics, with the emergence of the modern Liberal Party under Robert Menzies.
This is because the Liberal Party, both nationally and across the states and territories, has never since it was founded in 1944 been in more disarray in terms of unity, ideology and what its place is in a changing Australia.
Nationally, although in power since 2013, the Liberals are on their third leader, and hold power with a slender margin. Across the states and territories, they are only in office in NSW and Tasmania. Elsewhere, Liberal prospects look bleak.
Indeed, the very flaws that Menzies identified about non-Labor parties when he formed the Liberal Party have now re-emerged across all divisions.
These include: declining membership; limited involvement by branch members in candidate selection and developing party policy; domination by factions; and, most importantly, confusion as to what the party stands for, as distinct from what it is against.
The Liberals today suffer from policy temerity, and policy pragmatism of the worst kind - of giving in to every interest groups' demands, no matter how small or how out of sync with the party's fundamental beliefs and values or the good of the country.
This involves responding to every issue with increased spending or increased government intervention, and vacating every policy area to appease these demands.
Witness the Morrison government's playing the bidding game of spend and match with the opposition during the election campaign, thus making it largely indistinguishable from Labor.
Little wonder that a government and political party operating in this way has so little to show for it after nine years in office.
There has been little progress in tackling Australia's stagnating productivity. Suggested reforms concerning GST, industrial relations, taxation and federal-state relations are floated only to be quickly dropped at the first whiff of criticism. Earlier hard-won reforms to school funding have since been watered down to "buy" political peace. Meanwhile, Australia has one of the most marked declines in education performance across maths, reading and science of participating countries in international tests.
Menzies' views that that "no party seizes the imagination of the people unless the people know the party stands for certain things and will fight for those things till the bell rings" is never more true than as it applies to the Liberal Party today.
So, the only glue holding the Liberal Party together these days is being in government - being able to dispense the gifts of office to its members, to pacify the interest groups through government largesse, and to toe the line on the latest policy fad.
Without an overarching framework of agreed beliefs and values, the Liberal Party is being driven asunder as the fissures within its ranks increase and widen. These cannot be contained in the Liberals' once broad church, because there are too many unbelievers of its core creed of small government, fiscal restraint, individual responsibility and freedom, private enterprise and markets, and too many who join the party to further their careers rather than the cause.
A federal election loss will bring all these pressures to bear - the factions and the confusion of the party's identity. The Liberal Party faces the possibility of breaking up into a loose confederation of different parties - some aligned closer than others, but mouthing the same latest fad. Other members will find these parties too politically and ideologically unpalatable, too disconnected from where they live in the suburbs or regions and the jobs they do in building, making, transporting and servicing the community, and supporting their families. They will seek accommodation elsewhere. The Nationals, with an articulate and clever leader, could tap into these dissidents and lead a new non-Labor party.
If the Morrison government falls, the ramifications for the structure of Australian politics may well be greater than anyone is expecting. It may not be business as usual.
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