Grassroots Democracy

It’s tough being a Liberal right now. In fact, many consider the recent events in the Liberal Party to be the most difficult period that the Party has encountered. Having been around the Party as a volunteer for more than 20 years, I have to agree.

While I never hope to have to undergo this experience in my political life again, I do see a silver lining on the dark clouds.

What we have witnessed over the past couple of weeks is an unprecedented grassroots campaign that has actually changed the activities and actions of MPs and Senators. It might have even changed the future of the nation.

Last week, when the Liberal leader declared support for Labor’s great green tax (against the will of the Party room), tens of thousands of Liberal supporters found their voice. To put it mildly, we were bombarded with more emails, phone calls and letters than we have ever seen.

These were unique and personal emails in which our supporters explained why they didn’t want Labor’s big taxing Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

This is in marked contrast to the automated spam campaign run by the environmental movement. In one recent enviro-campaign, I received emails purportedly from my Senate colleagues urging me to vote for the ETS. This was an orchestrated campaign using faked email addresses and is actually illegal. It also demonstrates that much in the extreme green movement is not all that it appears to be.

The result of the anti-ETS campaign was to convince many of my colleagues that the passage of the ETS was contrary to the wishes of many of our supporters. As representatives of our electorates that are expected to act in the national interest, there was no choice but to listen.

There are two brief points I would like to make in response to what has occurred.

Firstly, we have seen the emergence of a conservative grassroots movement for the first time in my memory in this country. This is a healthy step along the path to increased activism and political engagement among the Australian people. The political left have long been organised with various groups and activists but the political right have often been too quiet. Perhaps they were saving their voice for when it mattered.

My second point is this. Recent events have been difficult for the Liberal Party, my colleagues, our members and supporters. We have had to confront some difficult issues in a very public fashion. It was neither pretty nor pleasant. That said, it was very necessary. For the Liberal Party to blithely pass Labor’s ETS would have set in place a radical reorganisation of our economy that could never be undone.

It would have seen the establishment of a hopelessly inefficient, ineffective and expensive scheme that would have done nothing for the environment but a whole lot to expand the role of government. The fact that it is now going to face more critical examination means our system of government is working as it should.

Further, the engagement of tens of thousands of Australians in the debate is democracy in action, and we should all be pleased with that.

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