18 Oct 2023
By Belinda Willis
A band of South Australian Liberals thinks it can wrestle green votes from the left side of politics, launching the first branch of the Coalition for Conservation outside of Sydney to “change the political narrative”.
As speculation grows around the Liberal Party’s chances in winning back once blue-ribbon seats from Teal independents around the nation, SA federal Senator Andrew McLachlan helped start the Liberal-aligned conservation charity’s local chapter saying it was time to change the political narrative.
“At the last federal election, the Liberal-National Government could have better communicated its commitment to the environment and its achievements,” McLachlan said.
“I want to create a different narrative in the community because the broader community needs to understand people who are conservative or centre right are very passionate about the environment.
“If we can be criticised it would be that we’re not that articulate about it.”
He and Coalition for Conservation chief executive officer Cristina Talacko officially launched the group in Kent Town last week, with SA Liberal Leader David Speirs along with state liberal MPs Matt Cowdrey, Stephen Patterson and Jack Batty at the event.
“We received tremendous support, I invited every state and federal MP but not all could come,” McLachlan said.
“I think every member of parliament in my side of politics is looking for practical solutions.”
Six former blue-ribbon Liberal electorates around the nation were taken by Teal independent candidates standing on a climate change platform at the last federal election, while Zali Steggall took Warringah from Tony Abbott in 2019.
On the weekend, those seats recorded a majority Yes vote in the Voice to Parliament referendum, triggering widespread speculation as to the Liberal party’s chances of winning those voters back.
Pundits have claimed voters in those Teal seats are not listening to the Liberal Party and Liberal Leader Peter Dutton after his strong campaign supported the No vote.
McLachlan previously voiced his own support for Liberal shadow attorney general and shadow minister for Indigenous Australians Julian Leeser when he resigned from those roles earlier this year to campaign for the Yes vote in the referendum.
This week, McLachlan said the support was around Leeser’s decision as “it was a very noble thing to do”, but McLachlan said he had since made his own “considered decision to vote No”.
In regards to the impact of Teal candidates in stealing Liberal seats, McLachlan said “in South Australia, we did not see Teal candidates achieve any significant success. It is my view that this was because of the South Australian Liberal Party’s strong record on the environment,” McLachlan said.
He said the Coalition for Conservation was an independent “thought leader”, whose supporters include former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and former conservative British Prime Ministers David Cameron and Theresa May.
It already facilitates discussions with its United Kingdom and United States counterparts to shape climate policy.
At a Sydney conference last year, McLachlan also signed a pledge to establish the Coalition Climate Network along with David Cameron, Senator Dean Smith and Senator David Van.
McLachlan drew fire from figures within the former federal Morrison Liberal government for a speech to the University of Adelaide’s International Centre for Financial Service symposium in 2021 on the challenges of Australia’s decarbonisation.
The speech described a need for “greater environmental stewardship and sustainable progress in South Australia”.
McLachlan listed lowering the price of renewable energy in SA with a potential mix of nuclear or next generation solar and ensuring the Murray Darling Basin plan delivers on its 450 gigalitres of environmental water among key current issues that need tackling.
But he was critical about water buyback guidelines now on the table with the Federal Government and said Victoria needs to urgently be re-engaged with the plan.
State Liberal Leader David Speirs supported the new conservation coalition’s SA launch.
“The Liberal Party is the party of practical conservation and we need to celebrate and promote this, ensuring that our record is known and our ambition is understood,” he said.
“As a former Environment Minister and as the Leader of the Party who has chosen to retain the Environment portfolio, I’m passionate about our legacy and excited to take a progressive environmental agenda to future elections.”
Speirs said the Coalition for Conservation’s research, advocacy and policy development would help “the centre right of Australian politics to develop practical environmental policies that move the dial in terms of halting biodiversity loss and ensuring that our landscape is a place where people and nature can thrive.”