Author: Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra.
The Coalition’s decision to oppose the Voice to Parliament has put its moderate members in a jam. Some moderates are active yes advocates, while others are trying to keep low profiles.
Bridget Archer, the outspoken Liberal MP for Bass, is a vocal yes campaigner. More generally, she is also taking a lead in urging the Liberal party to undertake root-and-branch reform.
Archer is pushing for extensive change in a party that is electorally on the ropes, out of office everywhere except her home state of Tasmania.
Since entering parliament in 2019, Archer has crossed the floor on 27 occasion to vote against her party. She admits there are those colleagues who avoid her, but says her decisions are always based on what is in the best interest of her community, and argues the strength of the Liberal Party historically has been for members to be able to sometimes disagree and to do so respectfully.
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Her independent stance on a range of issues has brought varied feedback from her local community. “It’s mixed, but generally positive. If I get negative feedback, it is sometimes from Liberal Party members or conservative voters that say ‘I think that you should toe the line’ – there’s this idea that if you have a divergent view, that you’re not a team player.”
But Archer believes “it is possible to be part of a team and to have differences of opinion (sometimes), and that it’s my job to represent to the best of my ability everybody in the electorate, even the people who don’t or didn’t vote for you, I guess.”
In a recent Good Weekend profile Archer called for a “revolution” in the Liberal Party, claiming it is currently “unelectable”. She tells the podcast: “I think this was again borne out in the 2022 election with the rise of community independents […] where people, particularly in some of those metropolitan seats, are not feeling that the party is representing their views anymore […] In regional areas that is not necessarily the case. And we’ve seen with the Coalition, of course, the Nationals holding the seats that they had.
“The great challenge for us is to get back to what I think was the strength of the Liberal Party at one stage, which is the ability to speak across the country, to talk to middle Australia.
“And I think that we’ve lost our way in that.”
Archer also argues Liberal Party values need to shift with the times, particularly its ideology on “the family and home ownership”.
“We have historically talked a lot about home ownership, but we don’t focus so much on rental affordability. […] It’s front of mind for many people in those metropolitan areas and for younger people as well, who have also deserted us in droves.”
The moderates in the party were decimated at the 2022 election. It has left the moderate faction in tatters, and Archer often finds herself isolated when she speaks out against the party line.
“I think it’s a bit frustrating for me sometimes that I feel that I know that there are other people who share my views on some things, but they don’t speak up, which I think sometimes does leave me sort of hanging there as this rogue person when I know that that’s not necessarily the case.”
“I also think it really goes to the heart of some of the reasons why those colleagues did lose their seats at the last election and why we have seen a rise of the teals. In those seats, in many cases people were wanting to vote for Liberals, and they were looking around [to] have a reason to vote for Liberals and they were coming up empty handed.”
Asked if she thought the party was “walking off a cliff,” she doesn’t hesitate.
“Oh, absolutely. Yeah, absolutely.”
Michelle Grattan is a Professorial Fellow at the University of Canberra, this article was originally published on The Conversation.