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'We're not conservatives': Turnbull hits out at party's right

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has sent a message to conservative members of his party, saying Sir Robert Menzies deliberately positioned the Liberal party in the centre when he founded it in 1944.

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“Menzies said: ‘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’,” Turnbull said in a speech in London.

“The sensible centre was the place to be. It remains the place to be.”

Turnbull’s Liberal government has been racked by growing tensions between moderate and conservative arms of the party, with former prime minister Tony Abbott openly stirring dissension on behalf of the conservatives.

But Turnbull has taken a swipe at the conservatives, saying he was continuing that tradition as leader of Sir Robert’s party and “conservative” or “left wing” labels were irrelevant in 2017.

“The truth is that the labels have lost almost all meaning in the furious outrage cycle of social media politics, long cast adrift to be appropriated, often cynically, by one politician or another as it suits their purpose.”

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop supported Turnbull’s comments.

Asked whether the speech should antagonise colleagues, Bishop told ABC radio: “It shouldn’t.”

“It very eloquently articulates our values as the Liberal party,” she said today.

“It is a historically accurate articulation of how the Liberal party gained its name.”

Bishop said the tradition had continued in what John Howard called the party’s “broad church” and in what Abbott referred to as “the sensible centre”.

New Liberal federal president Nick Greiner insists the party has not lost its way and agrees with Turnbull that the centre is the place to be.

But he admits some current policies are conservative, citing the government’s approach to immigration and some of its budget repair measures.

“I think in the real world the Australian public isn’t all that ideologically pure. They actually want good government,” he told ABC radio.

Greiner shot down some of Abbott’s latest policy pitches, including his plan to reform the Senate.

“If you look at Tony’s five-point plan, most of that’s never going to happen. I mean no one is going to reform the constitution with respect to the Senate.”

He conceded the interventions by Abbott have contributed to the government’s poor Newspoll results.

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

– AAP

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