Liberals from Australia’s capital cities have formed a group to consider ways to win back urban voters and avoid an Aston-sized swing that would sweep the party out of Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth at the next election.
Members of the informal pact, who include Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, housing spokesman Michael Sukkar and manager of opposition business Paul Fletcher, are working on policies aimed at transforming the housing market to give young people a chance of owning a home. The group also seeks to rebuild the party’s relationships with white-collar women and the Chinese diaspora.
The Coalition is reeling from a byelection loss in the previously safe outer-metropolitan Melbourne seat of Aston, where Labor secured a 6.5 per cent swing that South Australian Liberal MP James Stevens said would take the Liberals off the map in several major cities if replicated nationwide at a general election.
Stevens, who spearheads the new metropolitan grouping with Menzies MP Keith Wolahan, said the party needed to pursue “aggressive” changes to boost housing stock and consider handing Commonwealth funds to state governments in return for dumping taxes such as stamp duty.
Members of the group have also discussed changes to a wide range of tax policies, including controversial taxes such as negative gearing and the capital gains tax discount. The conversations have been informal and policy proposals, which are not necessarily supported by each of the group’s members, have not been approved by shadow cabinet.
“Our focus has been on being cohesive and talking about how we’ve got to the position we are, using fact-based decision-making to dramatically address a loss of connection with a huge, formerly reliable part of our constituency,” Stevens said.
“Supporting or not supporting government policies is far less important than having our own suite of ideas that make people say, you know what, I want the Liberals, that is going to make me feel better about my economic security.”
He said the Coalition’s previous election policy allowing people to use some of their superannuation balance to purchase a home would not be enough, in isolation, to reverse the declining rate of home ownership. Research has shown home owners are more likely to vote Liberal.
Aaron Violi, a first-term MP who won the Melbourne urban fringe seat of Casey at the last election, said Australia was becoming more diverse and it was important city-based MPs discussed issues they shared.
He said stamp duty deterred people from buying a home and achieving the security and sense of belonging that comes with that.
“It’s important to the fabric of the country,” Violi said.
Wolahan, discussing the metropolitan MP group on Monday, said the party’s membership was ageing.
“We need more younger people, more women, more people from migrant backgrounds to join our party, because if they do, then that will better feed in to the preselection of candidates and we will be a better party that better represents Melbourne,” he said.
The group is also designed to allow MPs to learn from colleagues who have overcome challenges in city-based seats. For example, David Coleman in Sydney and Jason Wood in outer eastern Melbourne are known for their strong relationships with the Chinese and Indian communities, respectively.
The Coalition holds four out of 45 inner metropolitan seats and 14 out of 42 outer metropolitan seats, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. Ten years ago, the Coalition held almost the same number of inner metro seats as Labor and more outer metro seats. Across the federal parliament, the Coalition holds 56 out of 152 seats and Labor holds 77.
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