When Don Chipp quit the Liberal Party in search of more liberal pastures it was to escape men like Petro Georgiou who back then was the apprentice to that supposedly conservative sorcerer Malcolm Fraser. Chipp wanted the freedom to speak his mind whereas his Prime Minister was surrounded by disciplined apparatchiks like Petro concerned with grabbing and holding on to power. These were the kind of men who had to be kept honest.

Fast forward 30 years and I read in The Age this morning a piece by Greg Barns that “the question then for Georgiou and his fellow dissenting Liberals is whether they should form a new political force to give these voters a natural home.” How times have changed.

Changed indeed when Malcolm Fraser has gone from being seen as an arch conservative to a positive moderate and his henchman is touted as a new Don Chipp!

Yet on reflection it is probably not Malcolm and Petro who have changed at all. Their liberalism was hidden back in the 1970s by the brutal way they came to power but it was there. Since then there has been a role reversal in the Liberal Party of the party’s dual influences of liberalism and conservatism.

Fraser, with Georgiou’s urging, was the social liberal who fostered multi-culturalism and set up SBS and an economic conservative who was in no hurry to abandon the protectionism that had dominated Australian business life for a century.

John Howard’s Liberal Party has seized on the economic liberalism of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill but turned back to conservatism on social issues.

Perhaps what the country would really benefit from is a new party that was intellectually consistent and liberal on both economic and social questions.