Liberal party was never conservative, PM says in swipe at critics

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Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken a swipe at Liberal party conservatives, saying he's following in the tradition of party founder Sir Robert Menzies.

Deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop insists Malcolm Turnbull's speech about the Liberal party shouldn't antagonise colleagues.

The prime minister used an address in London to send a message to conservatives, saying Sir Robert Menzies deliberately positioned the Liberal party in the centre when he founded it in 1944.

Mr Turnbull citied Menzies' claim the party took the name Liberal because it was determined to be a progressive party.

"The sensible centre was the place to be. It remains the place to be," he said in his Disraeli lecture to the Policy Exchange think tank.

His comments come at a time of renewed tensions within the Liberal party as Tony Abbott again rears his head and vows to be a strong conservative voice.

Asked whether the speech should antagonise colleagues, Ms Bishop told ABC radio: "It shouldn't."

"It very eloquently articulates our values as the Liberal party," she said on Tuesday.

Ms Bishop said the tradition had continued in what John Howard called the party's "broad church" and in what Mr Abbott referred to as "the sensible centre".

Cabinet minister Josh Frydenberg pointed out to critics of Mr Turnbull's address that the party just celebrated the anniversary of Menzies' Forgotten People speech.

"He made it very clear in that address that we were a party that didn't represent big business and big money," he told Sky News.

He said the prime minister's characterisation of the Menzies approach and the party's philosophical underpinnings was "absolutely right".

New Liberal federal president Nick Greiner insists the party has not lost its way and agrees with Mr Turnbull that the centre is the place to be.

But he admits some current policies are conservative, citing the government's approach to immigration and some of its budget repair measures.

"I think in the real world the Australian public isn't all that ideologically pure. They actually want good government," he told ABC radio.

Mr Greiner shot down some of Mr Abbott's latest policy pitches, including his plan to reform the Senate.

"If you look at Tony's five-point plan, most of that's never going to happen. I mean no one is going to reform the constitution with respect to the Senate."

He conceded the interventions by Mr Abbott have contributed to the government's poor Newspoll results.

Former Liberal senator Cory Bernardi tweeted his thanks to Mr Turnbull for "confirming why regular Aussies need to join (his new Australian Conservatives party)".

Mr Turnbull said "conservative" or "left wing" labels were irrelevant in 2017.

Source AAP

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