Australian Liberal leader Brendan Nelson was in London on Thursday and Friday. His time in the UK included meetings with Australian business representatives, the Bank of England and Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague.
Questioned by this website Mr Nelson said that he had "looked closely" at David Cameron’s leadership of the UK Conservative Party and had been "impressed" with what he had seen. The motorbike-riding Australian paid particular tribute to the bike-riding UK Tory’s environmental policies (modified in recent months) and Mr Cameron’s description of himself as a "Liberal Conservative". Mr Nelson and Mr Cameron were unable to meet because the Tory leader was still on his summer holiday.
Since becoming Liberal leader in November 2007 Mr Nelson has launched a massive review of the policies of his predecessor, John Howard. The most significant shifts have been:
- Support for the Kyoto Treaty on global warming. Mr Nelson identified John Howard’s opposition to Kyoto (targeted in this effective Labor general election ad) as one of three significant factors in his party’s defeat by Kevin Rudd. A prolonged period of drought has been popularly blamed on climate change. The second factor in the defeat, said Mr Nelson, was simple longevity and the third, John Howard’s labour market reforms.
- Ending of the workplace reforms that many believe were the decisive factor in John Howard’s undoing.
- Support for the Australian withdrawal from Iraq. Kevin Rudd’s promise to quit Iraq was strongly opposed by John Howard but was endorsed by Mr Nelson, who had served as PM Howard’s Defence Secretary. Mr Nelson appointed Tom Switzer, former OpEd editor of The Australian newspaper and a staunch opponent of the Iraq war, as a key adviser.
The Liberals remain well behind Labor in national opinion polls and Mr Nelson has been subject to constant leadership speculation after only narrowing defeating the more modernising candidate, Malcolm Turnbull for the top Liberal job.
The Liberals’ best hope of ending Labor’s monopoly rule of federal and every state government had been thought to be looming elections in Western Australia. The ruling Labor administration has, however, called early elections in a bid to take advantage of a forced change in the state’s Liberal leadership. Labor are expected to keep power.
Asked by conservativeinternational.com if the most significant lesson of the British Tories was that recovery took many years, Mr Nelson replied that he was "very determined" to be ready for victory at the next Australian general election and pointed to by-election swings in Victoria as evidence that his party was already advancing. He said that his review of policy would be completed early so that he would have time to persuade the Australian electorate that the Liberals had changed and were ready to lead again.