Matt Kean warns of Trump-like shift in Liberal party if teal independents oust moderates
The New South Wales Liberal treasurer Matt Kean has warned of the dangers of a Trump-like shift to the right within the conservative party, as he pleaded with voters not to boot out moderate MPs in favour of teal independents on 21 May.
The plea was supported by the state’s premier, Dominic Perrottet, who said voters would regret stepping away from the party if independents won seats over moderate Liberals.
Speaking alongside the Wentworth MP Dave Sharma, Kean warned that unseating moderate Liberals would leave the party lacking important perspectives, drawing parallels to the Republican party in the US.
“We’ve seen the impact of what happens when the centre-right parties lose moderate voices,” Kean said.
“Look at the Republican party. The party of Lincoln, the party that has abolished slavery, has now become the party of Trump, the party of Putin sympathisers and anti-vaxxers.
“That’s not in the Liberal party’s interest and that’s why we need strong voices like [federal NSW MPs] Dave Sharma, Trent Zimmerman and Jason Falinski in the Liberal party room to make sure the Liberal party remains reflective of the communities that we’re hoping to serve.”
He said it was important to keep moderates including Sharma around “if the Liberal party is going to continue to be a modern party”.
Sharma is facing a serious challenge from high-profile independent Allegra Spender, who has been campaigning strongly on climate and integrity issues.
Spender hit back against Kean’s claims, saying the party was already “much like the Republican party” and claimed Wentworth would have “more power” from the crossbench than it did from Sharma’s position on the backbench.
She pointed to Nationals senator Matt Canavan’s comments about the impacts of climate change and the debate within the Liberal party about the trans community.
“The Republican party questions climate science and attacks the trans community,” Spender said. “The Liberal party already is much like the Republican party.
“The past three years have shown Dave Sharma can’t stand up to Scott Morrison as his party tracks further to the right.
“Our community will have more power from the crossbench, not the backbench.”
Spender is one of a handful of “teal” candidates hoping to unseat inner-city Liberals across the country, including the federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, in his Melbourne seat of Kooyong.
Perrottet, from the conservative side of the Liberal party, reiterated Kean’s pitch that diverse perspectives were important and urged party members to stick with them.
“Those local communities will be better served having those members in parliament rather than independents. Independents … talk a lot, but they deliver very little,” he said.
“The party is best served whilst maintaining its broad church. It was John Howard’s success as prime minister for many, many years.
“People should not be turned away from the Liberal party because someone shares a different opinion. Our party’s at its best when you respect different ideas.”
Perrottet said he was concerned people walked away rather than engaged in debate when they disagreed, warning he had seen people “regret it” in the past.
“The best way to improve our party is to be part of it,” he said.
When asked if the controversial Warringah Liberal candidate Katherine Deves would enrich the party’s broad church if she were elected, Perrottet reiterated he did not agree with “the way she’s expressed her views”.
Deves apologised last month after a deluge of social media posts discussing the rights of transgender women and girls to participate in sport were uncovered, including claims that “half of all males with trans identities are sex offenders”.