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The Victorian Liberal Party is facing a demographic time bomb that it cannot tackle unless it overcomes its “cultural cancer” of disunity and scrutinises why the party’s brand is so trashed among young voters, the party’s state president has said.
“We don’t offer much any more to young people, and yet young people voting is ever increasing and we’re not doing much about it,” Greg Mirabella said.
Liberal Party state president Greg Mirabella.Credit: Justin McManus
His scathing assessment at the party’s state council meeting in Bendigo on Sunday drew applause from the floor, a day after some Liberal members booed and heckled Opposition Leader John Pesutto over the expulsion of rebel MP Moira Deeming from the parliamentary team.
“We are battling our own cultural cancer, and we saw it again yesterday,” Mirabella said. “This is the instinctive propensity of the Liberals: to play out our animosities and conflicts in the media.
“There was absolutely an elephant in the room, and a small group of members at the back had their feelings known about what they thought, and the result was an instant headline online and footage, ‘Liberal leader booed’.
“I don’t know if any of those people are here today. What did you achieve? What did you achieve? Another story? Another bit of whatever gossip? Another story about the Liberal Party’s antics? We are never going to win if we keep doing that.”
Liberal leader John Pesutto addresses the state council in Bendigo on Saturday. Credit: Penny Stephens
The meeting, attended by about 300 Liberals, was overshadowed on Saturday by a small group of party members wearing Deeming masks who yelled “shame, shame” as dozens of others left the room before Pesutto’s speech. In response to the walkout, many of Pesutto’s supporters rose to their feet, cheering in an attempt to drown out his critics.
In his president’s report, Mirabella urged the party to remain united and focus on defeating Labor at the next election.
He distilled the problems plaguing the Victorian Liberals into three categories: “Brand Liberal”, organisational structures, and an ageing voter and membership demographic.
Mirabella said that after the state election last year he had calculated the Liberals would have won five more seats if 200 people had switched their vote, and there were another five in which fewer than 1000 decided the outcome.
Supporters of Moira Deeming at the state council on Saturday.Credit: Penny Stephens
Labor won 56 seats in November, one more than the 2018 landslide, and the Liberals 19, two fewer than in the previous election. Labor’s primary vote fell by more than 6 per cent, but the Coalition was unable to capitalise on that – its primary vote also slipped by 0.71 per cent.
Mirabella said the Liberals needed to be ahead of the curve in Melbourne’s west and north-west, where there had been swings against Labor, and focus on winning over Millennials.
“There is a demographic time bomb, and it is this problem that we haven’t been addressing for years,” he said.
On the “hurdle that is the climate change question”, he said the party needed to stop arguing over the facts of climate science and begin offering solutions.
Mirabella also revealed that a review of the Aston byelection – which was not conducted by the party but that he said was “pretty solid” – showed candidate Roshena Campbell had the highest recognition and positivity among Liberal names, even when compared with outgoing federal Liberal MP Alan Tudge.
Campbell lost the outer-eastern suburban seat to Labor’s Mary Doyle in a byelection last month.
Mirabella said that while there was some element of truth to the criticism that the party lost the seat because it had not preselected a local candidate, it was not the biggest factor.
“The reason we lost Aston is simply a continuation of the same reasons for the results in the state election and the federal election, and that is our brand in the mind of the consumer,” he said.
“I’ve developed a concept which I’ve called brand fragility. Our brand is not just fragile, it doesn’t take much for people to roll their eyes [when they hear Liberal Party].”
The new Liberal state director, Stuart Smith, who starts on Monday, introduced himself to members at the gathering and said now was the time to focus on federal Labor’s inability to control inflation and scrutinise budget blowouts.
Meanwhile, the state council passed two motions on Sunday to force the state parliamentary team to develop a housing policy and hold the government to account over its response to last year’s floods, which are still affecting regional Victoria.
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