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Liberal or Labor, you're probably sitting comfortably in the 'Sensible Centre'

Last week I was left wondering just how much crazier coverage of politics could get. Our Prime Minister is given an award and makes a set piece speech in London accepting the award. It does nothing more than state the obvious. Suddenly there's a bout of media frenzy as to why the Prime Minister would aggravate Tony Abbott.

Please. The speech was a "named oration" not some off-the-cuff political biff-biff. It's not news to point out that Menzies, the founder of the Liberal Party, brought together the disparate groups that were centre right.

It doesn't take a genius to realise that these groups had some different views. But they endorsed common principles and a shared belief that together they would provide better government than the left of centre. That's equally true today.

How can stating the obvious be possibly regarded as antagonistic to any normal, well balanced person? Breakaway groups wanting a party in their own image simply start to undo Menzies' great achievement. Abbott made some comments around the time of Cory Bernardi's departure that indicated he understood that very point. It's perplexing therefore as to why Abbott now appears to believe that it's in the long-term interest of the Liberal Party for him to attack it publicly.

Of course, everyone wants members of parliament who will champion their views in the party room. That's where the disagreements and debates belong. That, however, is a very different thing from airing your disagreements publicly and in doing so undermining your own team.

There are, of course, some conservative people who are so out of touch with reality that they think something along the lines of: "If only the Liberal Party would adopt my view (emphasis on my) they would win power easily." I've met people who think that way. Clearly they have a high degree of self focus, a disinterest in and intolerance of the views of others, don't mix in the broader community or have much acquaintance with the voting patterns of Australians.

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Australians just aren't radically right or radically left. The very best chance for people with views to the right of centre to win government and get some of their ideas implemented is to work together in that cause.

Equally perplexing is why Abbott now advocates either against some things he did in government or in favour of some things he didn't do. The list is uncomfortably long. Nonetheless, no prime minister should resile from stating their case, from stating the obvious and the truth. I mean, really, can we honestly say to the Prime Minister, "Don't say that, you might upset Tony", when all the PM is doing is stating the obvious?

I always thought there was something of a modus operandi to Abbott's pronouncements during the Howard government years. Being the equivalent of the teacher's pet emboldened him to express his views on a range of matters not on the government's agenda. To stop a debate on his pet issue distracting the government from its agenda everyone else would zip their lips. Good for keeping on message, hopeless at teaching Abbott to be a team player.

The Prime Minister should be congratulated for, after a week of Abbott sniping away, nonetheless giving him credit for having coined the phrase "The sensible centre". That's where the majority of Australians sit comfortably. Of course, there will be differences at the margin, but that's no big deal.

Perhaps the most famous quote of Menzies used by the Prime Minister is: "We took the name 'Liberal' because we were determined to be a progressive party, willing to make experiments, in no sense reactionary but believing in the individual, his right and his enterprise, and rejecting the socialist panacea."

It's an inconvenient truth for some of those who are more to the right than the centre. I say some because not all conservatives see conservatism as simply preserving the past. That's a good thing because if history teaches us anything it is that change is inevitable. That's essentially what history is ... a record of change. The challenge is to greet it head on and shape it. The lost cause is the one that seeks keep things as they were.

Nostalgia is a potent motivator. Blended with stupidity it's a nightmare. For example, the lucky among us remember the Australia of our childhood in a positive light and wish some things could stay as they were. How great it would be if kids still had the experience of watching just one fruit tree over the seasons. They would see the buds, the blossoms, the fruit set and then ripen. Finally they would have the experience of the freshest fruit. Not everyone has such positive memories but in any event that world has gone. I miss it but recognise it's not coming back.

Similarly, the Australia that had a predominately English and European migrant intake has gone. I don't miss that and I'm glad it's not coming back. Every new migrant intake confirms who we are ... an immigration nation. Unless you're a full blood Indigenous Australian you've got migrant blood in your veins. It's probably from that migrant DNA that we get our willingness to face the new, to face change for the better, as our forbears did.

I know some people hanker for the days when we had a predominately British outlook but they've gone. We will always have strong bonds but we've grown up. Some people just don't recognise it. What we need in a leader is someone who recognises the inevitability of change and welcomes managing it. We need someone who recognises as Menzies did that we are not a reactionary people looking to the past, to turn back the clock. We need a leader who sees us as a people with the courageous DNA of migrants, which is always looking to the future to make things better. That's the leader we've got.

Amanda Vanstone is a Fairfax Media columnist and a former Coalition minister.

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