Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has staked the Liberals’ claim as the party of the centre, in a speech which also took aim at Labor over energy policy and its ties to the unions.
Addressing the Liberal Victoria state council meeting in Melbourne on Saturday morning, Mr Turnbull evoked the spirit of Sir Robert Menzies.
“Menzies was proudly liberal and conservative and he understood that you build on the continuity of the great institutions which gave our democracy birth, you build on that, but above all, you build from the centre,” he told the party faithful.
By contrast, Labor was anti-business and “controlled by militant left wing unions”, Mr Turnbull said.
“You have seen in Victoria, the way in which (Premier) Daniel Andrews took on 60,000 volunteer firefighters at the behest of the one militant union,” he said.
He then turned his sights on energy policy, accusing Mr Andrews of inaction over the closure of the “very good” Hazelwood brown coal power station.
Mr Turnbull ridiculed the South Australian Labor government for pursuing high renewable energy targets, and Victoria for its moratorium on gas exploration.
“The SA Labor government allowed the situation to develop where they had 40 per cent of their state’s total generation coming from wind power,” he said.
“Fair enough. That wind power is able to provide South Australia at any given time, in excess of 100 per cent of their electricity demand, or when the wind drops, zero per cent.”
Mr Turnbull also extended his sympathies to former Howard government minister Peter Reith, who was meant to challenge current state president a Michael Kroger.
However, Mr Reith withdrew from the contest after suffering a stroke.