So Cory Bernardi has finally made his move and put his career where his mouth is. A brave move whatever one might think of his politics, but one where at least his job won’t be at risk for another five and a half years.
He leaves the Liberal Party no worse off really. He’ll still support them. But it’s not a good look, electorally. At the moment it’s easy to watch the Liberal Party imploding. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise to those of us who have witnessed the party’s evolution over the past 50-60 years.
The decay has come from within. It has come because the ultra-conservative wing of the party, Cory’s wing, feels the party is losing its grip on values it believes are central to its raison d’être.
The irony though, is that those values, now under threat, were never part of the party’s original platform, not Menzies’ party. They came in by stealth and quite recently at that. They are essentially Catholic Church values. They are Opus Dei values.
Around 30 years ago, the Liberal party began a covert transformation, so covert in fact, that few inside the party even noticed it was happening.
It began with a disproportionate influx of Catholic members that traditionally, would have been more comfortable in the Labor Party.
This new membership came primarily as a result of encouragement from within the Church, which saw its traditional influence in the Labor Party falling away. It was coming from within Opus Dei.
Traditionally, the Liberal Party was a bastion of Protestantism. At one point when Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister there was only one Catholic Liberal member in the House of Representatives.
By the time Tony Abbott became the first Catholic Liberal Party Prime Minister, nearly 50% of his cabinet was Catholic; all this added influence, when only 25% of Australians claimed to be Catholic.
The disproportionate nature of this representation is even starker when one realises that only 15% of Australian Catholics are actually practicing Catholics, i.e. those who attend church regularly.
Church teaching opposing communism, divorce, abortion, gay marriage and euthanasia has been progressively under threat since the 1970s and as local parish congregations continued to dwindle, the need for the Church to have strong parliamentary influence became paramount.
To the Catholic Church, power is everything.
The current disproportionate representation is by no means accidental or coincidental. But lately, things have not been going well for it. The elevation of Malcolm Turnbull to the leadership has upset the cosmic order of things and the conservatives (aka, hard-right Catholics), see themselves on a collision course with irrelevance.
The defection of Cory Bernardi from the Liberal Party is a symptom of this malaise. This image of him as Australia’s Donald Trump is misplaced. Bernardi is nothing like Trump. If anything he is the opposite of Trump.
But he can see where the populist shift is going. And that is what concerns him.
Bernardi is not a populist, he is a committed Christian conservative concerned that a populist movement in Australia, as might be witnessed with the rise of Hansonism, is gaining momentum.
Primarily, Bernardi is concerned with the threat Australia’s secular lifestyle and the influence of Islam, means to traditional Christian values. His defection won’t weaken Catholic influence within the Liberal party but he did not think it was doing enough.
What he thinks he can achieve out on his own is not known, possibly even to him. But clearly his idea of where Australia should be heading is at odds with Liberal party agenda.
What we do know, is that the Catholic agenda within the party comes at the expense of rational policy decisions, something that will do the party no good at all.
Therefore, we can expect that the crumbling of the party will continue.