Frydenberg: if he loses, the Liberal Party would be changed dramatically – Crikey

Posted: May 11, 2022 at 11:44 am

In case the images of the treasurer campaigning on the line at an early voting booth werent enough of a giveaway, Josh Frydenberg is in trouble.

A YouGov poll published in The Australian has him on track to lose the Liberal heirloom of Kooyong (represented by Robert Menzies and Andrew Peacock no less) to independent challenger Monique Ryan.

Ryan has momentum, a well-resourced volunteer army, and she put in a strong performance at a candidates debate last week. Our sources tell us there are more Ryan corflutes than Frydenberg ones on the treasurers own street.

At a press conference today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison evaded questions about his future treasurer: Thats not something Im speculating on because I know Josh will be returned.

So were doing the speculating for him.

Frydenberg technically leads Victorias ambition faction thats loosely aligned with Morrisons centre-right grouping. But ideologically hes seen as a more moderate type than many on the Liberal frontbench. His loss would trigger a dramatic shift within the party.

First, lets war-game a few scenarios. If Morrison hangs on and Frydenberg loses, his coveted spot as treasurer becomes vacant. Defence Minister Peter Dutton would firm up as Morrisons heir apparent for the leadership, creating potential for succession-plan tension between the two as the term grows stale.

Dutton as treasurer seems an odd fit considering he enjoys the bluntness of Defence, but given his influence within the party the portfolio would be his for the taking.

Other potential contenders come from Frydenbergs own grouping. Michael Sukkar, a leading Victorian powerbroker and current assistant treasurer and housing minister would be in the mix. So would Trade Minister Dan Tehan.

Alex Hawke, a close ally of the PM and leader of the centre-right faction, would undoubtedly rise under a reelected Morrison government, although his personal brand has taken a hit in NSW after widespread infighting over preselections.

A slightly more likely scenario would be a Frydenberg loss and a Labor win. In that instance, its hard to imagine Kooyong being the only seat swept away in the teal wave. If the teals pick up more than one seat, it would represent a dramatic shift in the partys base, with the most affluent areas of the country no longer assured Liberal territory.

Of course, theres every chance the teal wave could be a one-hit wonder, a protest vote against the Morrison governments foot-dragging on climate change and integrity issues. But with Frydenberg gone, and Morrison an election-loser, it would all but pave the way for Dutton to assume leadership of the Coalition.

Dutton is more conservative and less obviously pragmatic than Morrison. Hes also a highly divisive figure in the cities. Any remaining urban moderates would get nervous about their futures. Dutton would be likely to continue with a turbocharged version of Morrisons suburban strategy, tying the partys electoral future to outer mortgage belts, regional centres and mining communities.

With the partys focus shifting, it would be increasingly difficult for moderates to exert their influence over the party at a federal level. Already underrepresented among its most vocal, senior figures, there is no clear moderate candidate for the leadership, or Treasury.

The most senior figures include two senators Finance Minister Simon Birmingham and Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne whod be unable step into the leadership. That leaves Paul Fletcher, perhaps not an obvious leadership contender, but a potential candidate for Treasury in any scenario.

Naturally this is all deeply speculative. Alliances shift, and election results have a way of bringing about seismic change within political parties. However, its clear Frydenbergs fight isnt just about Kooyong, but the very future of the Liberal Party.

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Frydenberg: if he loses, the Liberal Party would be changed dramatically - Crikey

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