Mark Vaile said it was time for generational change when he announced he was stepping down as Leader of the Nationals.

“It’s an appropriate opportunity for renewal and a fresh face to lead the party,” was how he put it.

And so it comes to pass that the 51 year-old Mr Vaile is about to be replaced by the 59 year-old Warren Truss. Going for an older generation of politician – generational change Nationals style.

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Over in the Liberal Party, Peter Costello, the anointed successor to John Howard, also made a thing about generational change when he decided not to accept the leadership mantle.

“It is time for the young people of talent and ability, of whom there are many, to be given their go,” Mr Costello said.

So yesterday it was not a 50 year-old who became Leader of the Opposition but the 49 year-old Dr Brendan Nelson with the 51 year- old Julie Bishop as his offsider. Not much sign of generational change there either.

Perhaps more important than the generation of the new Opposition leadership team is what they stand for.  Here again, little appears to have changed.

Dr Nelson owes his victory over Malcolm Turnbull to the reluctance of significant parts of a Liberal Party much reduced in size to admit that there is any need to change the policies rejected by the electorate last Saturday. Before the leadership vote, Mr Turnbull signalled he wanted to make some cosmetic adjustments, allowing the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and saying sorry to the stolen generation of Aborigines.

These signs of liberalism were too much for Howard conservatives. True believers like South Australian Senator Nick Minchin found allies to oppose Mr Turnbull in the West Australian Liberals, who believed the success in their state in holding off the wave of support for Labor was the result of WorkChoices and Australian Workplace Agreements. Mr Turnbull’s acceptance of the majority view held by the eastern seaboard Liberals that WorkChoices was to blame for the Coalition loss was not going to be tolerated by the Sandgropers.

When Dr Nelson indicated he was prepared to maintain support for WorkChoices and hold out the prospect of voting against Labor’s changes in the Senate, his victory was assured.

Just as assured is the inevitability that the fight between the liberal and conservative wings of the Liberal Party is not over.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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