Turnbull under attack for saying Libs are 'sensible centre'
PROMINENT right-wing Australians have seized on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's claim the Liberal Party was never meant to be conservative.
It's been claimed Mr Turnbull's comments will lure Liberals to emerging minor parties like Cory Bernardi's Australian Conservatives and One Nation.
The Prime Minister made the remarks in a speech in the UK overnight, arguing the party's founder Sir Robert Menzies deliberately positioned the Liberal Party in the centre when he founded it in 1944.
"Menzies said: 'We took the name Liberal because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea," he said in his Disraeli lecture.
"The sensible centre was the place to be. It remains the place to be."
Mr Turnbull went on to say he was continuing the tradition of the party, and claimed "conservative" or "left wing" labels were irrelevant in 2017.
Liberal MPs have this morning denied the comments will flare tensions within the party and upset its members, but it's been widely received as a swipe at the party's conservative base.
Defected Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi, who left the party to start his own for the precise reason that the modern Liberal Party was not conservative enough, seized on Mr Turnbull comments.
The Australian Conservatives leader tweeted his thanks to the Prime Minister, saying he had confirmed why "regular Aussies" need to join his new party.
Senator Hanson enthusiastically embraced Mr Turnbull's comments, claiming One Nation was now "Australia's largest conservative party".
Prominent conservative commentator Alan Jones predicted Mr Turnbull's comments would push Liberal Party supporters to flock to Bernardi's party or One Nation.
Jones argued Mr Turnbull had no idea what his party "really stands for", and said anybody with "Liberal Party DNA" would agree it was a "radical conservative party".
"The Prime Minister says we're not conservatives, well that probably suits him, but he's thrown away everything the party stands for," he said, going on to predict the comments would hurt the leader's already ailing popularity. "The Turnbull Government is in total denial of the reality of polls, and now telling the rank and file of the Liberal Party they're not conservatives."
The veteran shock jock described Mr Turnbull's criticised speech as "indecipherable" and said "it wouldn't have passed muster in my day".
He said Mr Turnbull could have added one more line to his speech: "We're almost Labor".
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is among senior Liberal figures who have supported the PM's comments.
She told ABC radio the speech shouldn't antagonise her conservative colleagues.
"It very eloquently articulates our values as the Liberal Party," she said. "It is a historically accurate articulation of how the Liberal Party gained its name."
Ms Bishop said the tradition had continued in what John Howard called the party's "broad church" and in what Mr Abbott has referred to many times as "the sensible centre".
Australia's Liberal Party is commonly described as being socially conservative and economically liberal.
The debate follows come at a time of renewed tensions within the party as Tony Abbott continues to be outspoken, vowing to be a strong conservative voice for its members.
The former prime minister is championing himself as the standard-bearer for conservative values.
Previous speeches have emerged where Mr Turnbull himself has referred to the Liberal Party as a "conservative political movement" and "a conservative government".