Josh Frydenberg’s short-lived political comeback points to long-term Liberal Party problem

Josh Frydenberg’s short-lived political comeback points to long-term Liberal Party problem
  • PublishedJune 5, 2024

You don’t have to look very far to find Messiah complexes in politics. 

Nowhere has that been more on show of late than in the 30-hour Josh for Canberra campaign, which ran out of steam early on Monday afternoon. 

The former Liberal deputy leader and treasurer Josh Frydenberg has long been told he’d be a prime minister one day. You get the sense it’s something he’s been telling himself for quite a while too. 

Those plans, at least for now, hit a teal-coloured roadblock when he lost his once blue ribbon, safe Liberal seat to independent Monique Ryan at the last election. 

In the years since, it’s seemed like a matter of when, not if, Frydenberg would re-enter the political arena. 

Ryan is sitting, smiling as she looks across the chamber.
Monique Ryan has represented Kooyong since the 2022 election.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

It’s little wonder some in his party want him back too — young, often dubbed moderate and from a state where the Liberal brand has been on the nose in recent election cycles. 

You can see the campaign: My name is Josh, I’m from Melbourne and I’m here to help.

Frydenberg had a gifted run in the federal political arena. 

A former John Howard staffer, he was pre-selected to a seat previously held by two Liberal leaders. Elected in 2010, Frydenberg was quick to climb the parliamentary ranks, reaching the peak of his powers when Scott Morrison replaced Malcolm Turnbull as prime minister in 2018. 

Josh Frydenberg looks across to Scott Morrison as they give a press conference in the Prime Minister's courtyard.
Josh Frydenberg served as Scott Morrison’s Liberal deputy.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

A prolific texter, Frydenberg has no shortage of supporters in the media eager to stoke a Josh for PM campaign.

The laughable part of Frydenberg’s announcement that he won’t be returning to federal politics (yet) was how he noted the “recent speculation about Kooyong”, as if to suggest his possible return had been put forward by someone else.

Frydenberg made it known he was considering a return, the news was reported, there was no shortage of reaction and a little over 24 hours later, he makes his first public comments, hosing down the speculation he’d fuelled.

It’s a dance that’s happened thrice now since the 2022 election — first when Alan Tudge announced his resignation early last year and again when pre-selection played out in Kooyong earlier this year.

Every time it flares it serves as another reminder about the lack of depth within the federal Liberal ranks. Leader Peter Dutton, seen as someone who has served well as leader, maintains that position without any serious threats from within. 

Just weeks ago, the outgoing Liberal MP Karen Andrews talked of the frustration that women felt trying to enter politics, arguing the pre-selections were often “all stitched up” by the blokes. The mere suggestion of Frydenberg’s return had Andrews quick out of the gates supporting him, with little regard for the 31-year-old female candidate already pre-selected for the seat. 

It’s not that Andrews is selling out what she believes in, it’s a sign of the electoral despair some in the party feel they’re facing. 

It’s also not just individuals with Messiah complexes — their parties seek Messiahs out and enable them. Why do the hard work of pre-selecting candidates who embody your parties’ values and reflect their communities when you can put your stocks into a Messiah to win the election for you. 

The faltering Josh for Canberra campaign also shows signs the Liberals are failing to learn the lessons of the last election.

Liberals were turfed from office, Frydenberg included, because voters felt the party they’d long stuck with no longer represented them. By and large the teals they voted for (socially progressive, business and medical professionals) could have been Liberals had the party not drifted so far to the right. 

A woman in a blazer smiles as she talks to a man.
Amelia Hamer will contest Kooyong for the Liberals.(Facebook)

Enter Amelia Hamer — an Oxford-educated, financial technology executive with Liberal blood coursing through her veins. She was willing to muck in and seek pre-selection in an electorate where she faced a tough battle.

It hasn’t been lost on some that Frydenberg’s sudden interest in Kooyong came immediately after the electoral commission put forward draft boundaries that some argue could make it an easier seat for the Liberals to win. 

The optics of a party — having long struggled to recruit female candidates, let alone woo women’s votes — pushing aside a young woman for Frydenberg’s return would itself have written Monique Ryan’s campaign lines for her. 

Hamer herself seemed to have a veiled dig at Frydenberg on Sunday, posting on social media from a local athletics event that “here in Kooyong the community loves to support strong women”.

In the end, as it so often has been, the comeback never was, with Frydenberg again withdrawing from a campaign he never officially entered. In doing so, he said he was backing Hamer’s campaign.

Should she be successful, that Josh for Canberra campaign will become even harder. 


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