When is a conservative not a conservative?

As a British colony emerging as a self governing democracy, Australia followed the Westminster system of government that had developed over centuries in Britain.

Australia has tweaked the traditions of that system to suit its purposes; the principal difference being that we operate under a written constitution where Britain has built its structure principally by tradition and precedent.

Under the Westminster system each electorate sends an MP to parliament and the majority group determines who the Prime Minister will be. This differs from the presidential system operated in many countries, including the United States and France.

Over the years the groupings in the Westminster system have solidified into rigid party structures with leaders that may survive across several parliaments. Under most presidential systems the president/leader has a fixed term and must change after a maximum period.

In some respects, Australia’s adherence to Westminster has moved on in the eyes of the people.  They see the party leaders campaigning and they form opinions based on the campaign, the policies the leaders espouse and the performances they have observed in the months and years before the election.

Even though they cannot vote for the party leader directly and must cast a vote for a local MP most voters see themselves voting for the party if not for the leader. The voters see themselves ‘owning’ the leader they vote for.

It is not surprising that the average voter disagrees with the Prime Minister being overthrown by the politicians in Canberra.  It is his or her job to cast judgement and they resent that decision being made by others.

A basic principle of conservatism is respect for institutions and one of the most important institutions in Australia is the office of Prime Minister. 

A Prime Minister, once elected, deserves the respect of his colleagues and should be supported during the life of his government. Westminster system or no Westminster system.

Many of the ministers and members of parliament who participated in the removal from office of Malcom Turnbull are described as conservatives. They may be conservative in the sense that their policy preference is towards the right but they are not conservative in their respect for one of Australia’s most important institutions.

Stephen Lusher, former MP for Hume

Port Macquarie

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