A true Liberal explains why Kevin Andrews is a fake

September 23, 2020

A guest columnist and long-time Victorian-based Liberal explains why the member for Menzies is really a "Fake Liberal".

Liberals used to be focused on practical policies. They were all about getting things done. They were concerned with creating the conditions where the economy could grow and families prosper while ensuring there was a strong safety net that caught anyone who fell behind.

This was the approach of Sir Robert Menzies. It's the direction Henry Bolte took in developing the state economy and providing Melbourne with infrastructure from the West Gate Bridge and Tullamarine Airport to Monash and Latrobe Universities in the decades after the Second World War. It's the direction Rupert Hamer followed and updated in the 1970s when Liberals realised policies such as strong environmental protection and good planning laws or public transport projects like the city loop were as important to quality of life as a strong economy. It was the Victorian way.

But over the past two decades a new type of Liberal has emerged, Liberal politicians who are too distracted by the buzzing of bees in their bonnets to focus on what really matters. It's what drives them to enter politics. And while they might look like Liberals on the outside they don't prioritise practical projects and policies in the way traditional Liberals in Victoria have. They follow different agendas. For them, politics is all about the clash of ideas. They focus on their own ideological agendas at the expense of what matters to electors. In fact, you could say that they're not Liberals, but conservatives with often extreme social views.

Kevin Andrews was one of the first of this new breed. He's already had 25 years as an MP. Bob Hawke was still prime minister when Mr Andrews became Member for Menzies back in 1991.

He's served across a range of different portfolios, but after being dumped from the ministry by Malcolm Turnbull last September it's hard to see him ever serving on the frontbench again. He's had his shot. And his time as a minister has been mired in controversy in almost every portfolio he's held.

Mr Andrews was the minister who bought WorkChoices, the extreme industrial relations legislation that helped destroy the Howard government.

When their impact became clear he was shifted to the Immigration portfolio, where he presided over the Haneef affair; the arrest, detention, cancelling of the visa and attempted deportation of an Indian doctor falsely accused of aiding terrorists; a fiasco that ended with a judicial inquiry that found the evidence against Dr Haneef was “completely deficient” and that ASIO had reported to the government two days after his arrest that there was no information to suggest he was guilty of any crime.

As minister for social services under Tony Abbott, Mr Andrews was responsible for some of the harsher cuts in the disastrous 2014 budget, such as making unemployed youth wait six months for Centrelink benefits.

At the end of that year he was moved to Defence where he failed to adequately address political concerns Australian industries such as Victoria's shipyards would get their fair share of multi-billion dollar defence contracts at a time when the looming closure of the Holden and Ford facilities in the state are likely to drive up unemployment and have a major impact on our economy.

But now that he's returned to the backbench, Mr Andrews is unlikely to focus on what matters to the electorate of Menzies.

To begin with, he's not even a local. He lives in the neighbouring seat of Jaga Jaga. And all the evidence from his past record suggests that Mr Andrews will be more interesting his pursuing his own conservative agenda than standing up for local voters.

While his constituents suffer from one of the worst public transport black spots in Melbourne and have been crawling up and down the Eastern Freeway or stuck in the car park that is the top of Hoddle Street (even on weekends), Mr Andrews has been busy with other matters.

Back in 1996 he used the federal parliament's power to override the laws of the territories to overturn the euthanasia legislation that had been passed by the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.

Mr Andrews pushed for an end to trials of the morning after abortion drug RU-486 and opposed legislation that would have removed the power of the federal health minister to block applications for its use.

He has been a constant opponent of stem cell research and not only constantly argued against marriage equality but last year even suggested he would ignore community sentiment if the plebiscite supported a change to the law that would allow same sex couples to marry.

And outside the parliament he's involved in a whole range of groups and organisations that push a hardline, socially conservative position, both here and overseas.

While he's ignored the electorate to pursue his moral crusades Mr Andrews has found time to play a crucial role in Liberal leadership shenanigans.

Back in 2009 he led the first moves to topple Malcolm Turnbull over his support for climate change, challenging him for the Liberal leadership. Mr Andrews failed to get enough support to force a vote. He challenged Julie Bishop for the deputy leader's job last September only to be comprehensively defeated 70 votes to 30.

Kevin Andrews has done his dash. He's held a safe Liberal seat for over quarter of century but he hasn't used the position to pursue the traditional Liberal concerns of a better quality of life and a stronger economy. He's used to pursue his own conservative agendas, agendas that are out of step with his constituents.

The residents of Menzies have come off second best out of this. For the past 25 years they've had a member who has argued for his own interests, not theirs. The electorate has missed out. Mr Andrews has been too busy with his ideological crusades to pursue the projects Menzies needs; better roads, better public transport, better schools, better health care, better sporting facilities and better access to government services.

He's had his chance. It's time to replace a fake Liberal with a real one; one with strong roots in the community, a strong attachment to the area, one who shares the values of the great majority of the people in Menzies and understands what they need – one that will provide them with a voice in parliament, not pursue his own agendas.

Mr Andrews won't be coming back to the frontbench. He's marginalised himself and destroyed what little effectiveness he had as a local member with his fringe agendas.

After a quarter of a century it's time for a change. It's time to put the people of Menzies first.

* If you are as offended by Kevin Andrews as we are, why not do something about it and donate to Stephen Mayne's #KickoutKevin campaign. Details are here on this transparent public register of donations received thus far.