Disgruntled Liberal voters are “voting with their feet” to support the so-called teal independents, because the influence of the party’s moderate wing at the federal level was “diminished and diminishing”, the former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has said.
Describing the 2022 Australian election campaign in a speech to the Washington Harvard Club, Turnbull said the rise of the independents was “the most interesting part of the election” because “if more of these ‘teal’ independents win, it will mean the capture of the Liberal Party will be thwarted by direct, democratic action from voters. People power, you might say.”
Scott Morrison dead-batted questions about his predecessor on Friday, telling reporters in Perth he “[doesn’t] share his view” and claiming that independents in the balance of power would result in “chaos”.
But the deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, went further, accusing Turnbull of “tossing out his former allegiance to the party that made him the PM” on Sky News.
Earlier, Turnbull said that since his “deposition” in 2018 “the liberal, or moderate, voices have been marginalised and their influence is much diminished and diminishing – especially on the toxically controversial issue of climate change where the political right, supported by Murdoch’s media, have opposed effective action for many years”.
“So what does a traditional voter for, say, the Liberal Party in Australia or the Republican Party in the US do if they think their party has moved too far to the right? They can vote for the other side – Labor in Australia, Democrats in the US – but that may be a bridge too far …
“In Australia, the existence of preferential voting opens up another option and we are seeing it play out in this election. In a number of hitherto safe Liberal seats, residents have organised to support small “l” liberal independent candidates who are typically progressive on climate and social issues, but more conservative than Labor on economic issues.
“If such an independent can get enough primary votes to finish second behind the Liberal incumbent, and if that incumbent’s vote is reduced to about 40% or less, then the independent will probably win on the preferences of Labor, the Greens and other independents.
“In many respects this may be the most interesting part of the whole election, because if more of these ‘teal’ independents win, it will mean the capture of the Liberal Party will be thwarted by direct, democratic action from voters. People power, you might say.”
Turnbull dismissed Scott Morrison’s claim that a hung parliament would result in “chaos”, saying: “Of course the big parties’ arguments against independents is always the same – instability, chaos and so on. But in truth, many parliaments, including in Australia, have operated with stability and good effect with major parties requiring the support of independents or minor parties to pass legislation and, in fact, in our Senate that has almost always been the case.”
In a subsequent interview on ABC radio on Friday he denied that he was “urging” a vote for teal independents, and added that neither major party was in a position to say independents were the cause of instability in Australian politics, given the last decade of leadership ructions on both sides.
Turnbull has previously declined to say whether he would vote for the Liberal Dave Sharma or the independent Allegra Spender in his former seat Sydney seat of Wentworth.
Peter Dutton last year described Turnbull as “totally consumed by hatred and this desire to bring down the Morrison government”. Asked about the defence minister on ABC radio, Turnbull said he was a “headkicker”.
Teal independents are running in Turnbull’s old seat of Wentworth, in North Sydney, Mackellar, Goldstein, Kooyong and Cowan. Liberals believe some of these seats will fall on 21 May.
Turnbull’s comments follow a similar intervention last December. At the launch of an integrity project from the Accountability Round Table he said the rise of climate-focused independents meant disaffected Liberal voters were “now getting the opportunity to vote for the sort of candidates that share their values”.
“I don’t think coalition governments are a bad idea – I don’t think working with crossbenchers is a bad idea,” the former prime minister said last December.
“I can make a case for you that the worst thing that happened to John Howard in politics was getting a majority in the Senate.
“The blood rushed to the head and he decided to introduce WorkChoices … he had no electoral mandate for it whatsoever, he did it because he could do it, and that was a major factor in his defeat in 2007.”
Turnbull said more representative diversity in the parliament meant prime ministers had to explain their positions to other actors in the political system. “Once you start treating people with respect, you get a better result,” he said.
“There is a tendency for people to tell leaders what they want to hear – as a leader you have to work very hard to ensure people tell you what they really think. So it’s good to have to deal with, whether it is a crossbench in the House or the Senate, where you have to actually … explain your case.”
“I think a bit more diversity in our parliaments would actually make a very big difference.”