Hubris, the Liberal Party and the tale of two Tims

I spent some of our recent cold snap culling overloaded bookshelves. As I weighed up what was to be sent to the opp shop, I stumbled on the definitive history of Richard Nixon’s flawed presidency The Arrogance of Power by Anthony Summers.

The arrogance of power also describes the disarray in the Liberal Party, federally and in Victoria. The party’s plight can be embodied in the tale of two Tims – Wilson and Smith.

Tim WIlson, with husband Ryan Bolger, conceded defeat in Goldstein on May 22.Credit:AFR

Both Tim W & S have considerable ability, energy and political nous. They were each pre-selected instead of women due to Liberal circles believing the men had more to offer. They leave their respective parliaments prematurely – disappointing their sponsors and personally soured – after being seduced by the trappings of office.

Politicians are surrounded by forelock-tuggers and door openers. Long-term survival requires a healthy disregard for such nonsense. But both Tims succumbed to hubris, losing the capacity for self-doubt and believing their own b-s. This affliction is not unique to the Liberals, but it is generously rewarded within the party’s internal culture. It is how the party has defined success, enabled by a Murdoch media cheer squad that celebrates bluff, bluster and bullying.

In the early 2000s, ABC senior management directed me to “find more conservative voices” to put to air on my morning radio show. With my then producer Chris Uhlmann, we offered the secretive arch-conservative Institute of Public Affairs a regular spot on the “Friday Wrap”, where talkback callers could exchange banter with guests from opposite ends of the political spectrum.


John Roskam, the IPA boss, was our initial right-wing champion, and would faithfully deliver his combative contributions to a typically hostile reception from the ABC audience. After a few years, a battle-weary Roskam dropped off as he said it was personally counter-productive, hindering his attempts at pre-selection. He recommended his then-unknown sidekick, Tim Wilson, to replace him.

Tim Wilson was charming, smart and unafraid. We invested a lot of time training him and giving feedback, despite his IPA view that the ABC was a waste of public money. As his confidence grew, and he became sought after by other media, he developed his own political brand. The then attorney-general George Brandis soon offered him a job at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission as a “freedom commissioner”, notwithstanding the IPA advocating for the abolition of the organisation.

Despite arguing that the Liberals needed more women in parliament, in 2016 he successfully contested preselection for Goldstein against Georgina Downer. Now, after two terms, his career has been derailed by his enthusiastic participation in the Liberal Party’s capitulation to what some have described as the Trumpian instincts of Scott Morrison.

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