The Way Forward – A sad lesson from Australia

Amidst the aftermath of Obamamessiah’s Coronation Inauguration, with the specter of “change” looming over the United States, the Republican Party has been dominated by much introspective navel-gazing. Politicians and pundits cry out for the party to ‘broaden its base’, modernize, appeal to younger voters. The brand needs to be changed, they cry, not by reverting to traditional conservative beliefs, but rather by a refashioning into something ‘modern’, something ‘appealing’.

In determining the future course of the party, it is instructive to not only view the course that we as a movement have taken in the past, but also how other contemporary political parties have dealt with this challenge. Does this desire to ‘trendify’ equate to political success? I would urge as a cautionary tale that we view with sadness the state of the right in Australia, so we may avoid the pit that they have fallen into.

Most of us would be aware that in November 2007, the Australian Liberal Party (Australia’s conservative party) lost Federal Government after 12 years. For many years the leadership of John Howard in supporting freedom at home and abroad, and resisting the religious hysteria of the global warming movement, was an inspiration to conservatives worldwide. Whilst far from perfect, particularly in later years, it was a government rooted in small government principles: taxes were reduced, and budgets remained in surplus. At a time where small government principles seemed to be waning internationally, with those on the right disillusioned (or indeed sickened) with the ‘compassionate conservatism’ (code for quasi-socialism) of George W. Bush, Australia stood out as a beacon of freedom. The global impact of Howard’s intellectual leadership from opposing Kyoto to the culture wars was great.

Indeed, it is a testament to the transformation of Australian society, and the true legacy of the Howard government that the Labor victory of 2007 was made possibly only by Labor reinventing themselves as ‘economic conservatives’ and ‘social traditionalists’ – the only way to defeat conservatives was to become conservative! Despite Labor leader Kevin Rudd portraying himself as a younger version of John Howard, it goes without saying, that, following his election, such ideals fell by the wayside and were replaced by creeping nanny state protectionism, economic intervention and the penalization of initiative and success. As the former singer of the band Midnight Oil, and now Labor MP and (scarily) Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett was heard saying just before the election, “once we’ll get in, we’ll just change it all”.

Such occurrences are, of course, merely part of the political cycle. Unfortunate as it may be, there is no such thing as a permanent majority, and temporary electoral setbacks are in and of themselves no cause for concern in the battle of ideas. We should, however, concern ourselves with the direction that the Liberal Party, post office, has taken. It can be described as nothing less than a tragedy that under the Liberal Party’s new leader, Malcolm Turnbull, much has changed, and in this there is a lesson all conservatives and libertarians should take heed.

Malcolm Turnbull and the center-right movement have traditionally been considered an ill fit, to say the least. From championing radical changes to centralize the Australian constitution, to fighting for Australia’s ratification of Kyoto while Howard was in power, many of Turnbull’s positions have long been viewed as anathema by the nation’s conservative intellectuals. Many have argued that he is little more than a political chameleon, adapting his views to that which is trendy and popular with the inner city elites. Indeed Former Labor Senator Nick Bolkus stated that Turnbull, on more than one occasion, raised numerous genuine inquiries with him on how to achieve Labor preselection (Australian primary equivalent) in the 1990’s. Although denied by Turnbull, such allegations fed into popular conservative conceptions of Turnbull as a value-free opportunist.

In accepting the Leadership of the Liberal Party, Turnbull’s speech to the media laid out the blueprint for a new style of ‘conservatism’; one based not on laissez-faire conceptions of individual freedom, but on government empowerment. Clothed in the rhetoric of individual rights, he presents a model little different to those of nanny state paternalism. Turnbull’s words – “a society can not be free if it is not fair” – say it all. The next day he promoted Christopher Pyne, widely acknowledged as a leading light in the party’s hard-left and a recent attendee at the Democratic Convention, into a senior cabinet post.

For many on the right, there is little doubt that Turnbull is a man of no convictions whatsoever. No convictions, that is, except one: that he should be Prime Minister. No longer is leading the means to an end, it is the end in and of itself. Indeed, insiders say Turnbull never actually believed in Kyoto when arguing for its signing. No, far worse, his attitude was that “while it would do nothing, it isn’t worth suffering political pain for principle”.

Turnbull’s response to the global financial crisis can be described as nothing but sickening. He decided to seize the initiative (and the media spotlight). He proposed a quasi-bailout and, attacking the government from the left, argued for government guarantees of all bank deposits; a move met with surprise by economists (as Australian banks remained highly profitable and had no need for a bailout) and conservative commentators (surprised that the Liberal Party would embrace socialism so rapidly). The government of course was delighted at the opportunity to enact carte-blanch socialism. It did so, and two days later the stock market plummeted as everyone withdrew investments to put into bank guarantees, retirees (under Australia’s quasi-privatized social security system) were locked out of savings as institutions froze funds to try and halt the panic, and the dollar collapsed. Smart move, Malcolm. Now long after he attacked Australian banks for profit-seeking (not withstanding the irony of his former position as chair & managing director of Goldman Sachs Australia), attacked ‘rich executives’ and effectively called for government intervention to bring down mortgage rates! The very reason that triggered the global financial collapse in the US, one which Australian banks were spared, the leader of a supposedly conservative party tried to introduce at home! Oh, and Turnbull still talks with pride on how in the early 1990s he bitterly attacked the (then-Labor) government for daring to deregulate our telecommunications industry.

And then we move to Labor Market reform. Nowhere can the mind-boggling cowardly cravenness of the Liberal Party be seen more starkly than here. Note, by the way, that I deliberately do not call them the Opposition, as is their proper title in Australian politics, for they have completely failed to oppose anything. Her Majesty’s Supine and Backboneless Dishrags would be a more apt title. And it got worse. With the Union-beholden Labor Party proposing legislation to return Australia to the 1930s, destroying individual freedoms, eliminating jobs and critically damaging the economy, the Liberal Party – on this, the one issue where some of its greatest achievements have been – did nothing. It refused to stand up for the right to work. It refused to stand up for freedom of contract. It merely bowed its head and submitted. Similarly, when the economic vandals that are the Australian government released a Keynesian big-spending, deficit inducing, market-destroying stimulus package last week, the opposition did… nothing. Oh, it did meekly propose some minor amendments, but once they government didn’t agree, it bowed its head, fearful of popular backlash that it was ‘blocking reform’ and did … nothing. Infrastructure funds and a ridiculously unnecessary auto bail out? Yup, Liberals just let them roll ahead. A policy platform based on no more than perceptions of future opinion polls. No principles. No ideas. Just an empty void.

Such is the state of affairs that a prominent political commentator asked, puzzled: “tell me what the Coalition would do significantly differently on the economy, water, health, education or global warming?” What is the difference indeed. The Liberal Party is no more than a carbon copy of Labor. “When all is said and done, Turnbull and his shadow environment minister Greg Hunt agree with virtually everything that Rudd and his climate change minister Penny Wong say about taxing industry and redistributing the proceeds at potentially huge cost to the economy”.

This is the fundamental cancer that is infesting the conservative movement: the willingness to play to media elites through ‘bipartisanship’ and ‘compromise’. Odiously selling out your beliefs and politically prostituting yourself to climb the greasy poll to success. It is morally repugnant. But, not only that, it does not work. Howard was Australia’s second-longest serving Prime Minister. He gained this honor for a reason. For conviction. For standing up for the values of what is right. Irrespective of what spineless moral relativists might say, there is a right and a wrong. Freedom should ultimately triumph. Bipartisanship is no more than selling out your beliefs. The most successful in the political game have done more than tell the populace what they want to hear. Rather, they have evangelized them. Politics is not only the antithesis of leadership, as Baroness Thatcher once declared. It is, indeed, political death. There is a reason Dante reserved a special level of hell for political fence sitters.

And after all this compromise? the result of Turnbull’s policy of political prostitution? Labor leads the Opposition by 59% to 41%. And Turnbull’s personal support? Rudd leads Turnbull as preferred leader 66% to 19%.

Tom Switzer, former Opinion Editor of The Australian, recently noted:

In this environment, why should Liberals lurch left when Labor could only win power by moving right? Why should a right-of-centre party run to the left of a church-going, family-values Labor leader almost as conservative as the prime minister he replaced? Indeed, Kevin Rudd – first as opposition leader and then as Prime Minister over the past 13 months – has had a lot more in common with John Howard than he has with Phillip Adams.

As opposition leader, Rudd not only styled himself as an “economic conservative” but also mimicked Howard on virtually everything from opposition to gay marriage and teacher unions to support for anti-terrorism laws during the Haneef debacle and the federal intervention in remote indigenous communities. Such tactics worked a treat. He convinced key segments of the socially conservative working and lower middle classes in marginal suburban and regional electorates to vote Labor again after their 12-year affair with the Coalition.

He concludes by saying:

As Peter Costello argued on these pages recently: “The Liberal Party should remember it is the guardian of the centre-right tradition in Australia.” If Liberals cede the nation’s heartland to Rudd, they might as well kiss the next election goodbye.

Indeed. Yet this is precisely the course Turnbull is taking. All the while the mainstream media lavishes praise upon him, salivating at the concept of the change he brings. And indeed, why should they not? For Turnbull is essentially one of them. One of the Elite. Popular on Facebook, and photographed with celebrities and societies glamorous. Agreeing with every left-wing policy directive. And this is the trendy model that many here want us to emulate. Sick of attacking the culturally left elite, many conservatives simply want to join them.

So what are the implications for the broader conservative movement? No longer can we look to our Australian cousins for leadership, where it would seem de facto socialism has found bipartisan political support. But more importantly, the lesson is of the importance to stay true to your beliefs. To do otherwise is not only moral suicide, but political.

Many conservatives recite the words of Ronald Reagan uttered in 1970 after the defeat of the Republican Party: “I don’t know about you, but I am impatient with those Republicans who, after the last election, rushed into print saying ‘We must broaden the base of our party’ when what they meant was to fuzz up and blur even more the differences between ourselves and our opponents… A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency, or simply to swell its numbers… if there are those who cannot subscribe to those principles, then let them go their way”.

If only this lesson was remembered in Australia today.

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21 Responses to “The Way Forward – A sad lesson from Australia”

  1. Catriona Rafael Says:

    My father used to beat up Turnbull with his Prefect cane when they were at school at Sydney Grammar.

    True story.

  2. Scott Farlow Says:

    Things aren’t that bad Timothy – this week’s Newspoll has the Coalition at 46, Labor at 54.

  3. Tim Says:

    Only after Turnbull and Rudd both took a month off for Christmas. And Turnbull’s personal rating is still abysmally poor.

  4. Jerms Says:

    Tim, you make an important point when you mention the necessity of Rudd to move to the right during the election period to ensure political success.

    In the absence of public perception being that the ideology of an incumbent has miserably failed (as – rightly or wrongly – it was with Bush), it is often a necessity for an opponent to attempt to mirror such ideology. It is considered by political parties as expedient to copy that which is successful.

    There was certainly no overwhelming public belief that the Howard era had doctrinally failed, and it was for that reason that Rudd needed to move to the right – that much is obvious. But I reject that it is necessarily purely a testament to the lasting impact of Howard politics, much as I would like it to be.

    The issue, however, is when public opinion is misconstrued or political judgements miscalculated. Enter Cameronite conservatism. There is an enormous difference between reanalyzing some of your less popular, non-core policies in the face of significant voter discontent – discontent that would see your likelihood of election non-existent if retained – and the bloody sacrifice of ideological purity in a manner akin to a psychologically-impaired murderer with a blunt pair of scissors.

    The latter often entails changes made on-the-run, without any introspective as to the long-term doctrinal ramifications of one’s actions and a chop-and-change attitude to policy formulation based totally on public opinion. Often, the effect on same is the opposite to that desired.

    Rudd managed to present an alternative which, while appearing to be somewhat conservative to many, did not dissolve Labor’s key articles of faith, such as the eradication of effective and viable industrial relations legislation. This compares to many conservative parties in the western world who don’t care about articles of faith – they care about being elected, whatever the price… they care about selling out.

    The public perception of this is that they are parties without ideology, and this is true. The way in which, for example, Rudd Labor was perceived, however, was a party prepared to reinvent itself whilst remaining true to it’s key policies. The changes were fair more minor than they looked – the rest was in the marketing.

    This is notwithstanding the fact that, in many cases, such an ideological shift by conservative parties at this time is unnecessary. It certainly was with Rudd, where the prevailing view was that Howard had brought many years of economic prosperity, and most believed he would continue to do so. The alternative, ironically, had to be more of the same.

    Rudd, on the hand, has barely been elected a year. Though he is popular, he has not proven himself to the public to the extent that Howard did. He has not proven the infallibility of his ideology. So, at this stage, it is unnecessary to present significant shifts in Liberal policy let alone rewriting the entire little blue book. Subtle changes and rejuvenation of the brand, driven by shrewd marketing are all that is necessary at this stage, despite the polls, which will eventually subside.

    As for Cameron, Labour isn’t even popular and yet he’s being he as he is. Rather than being politically expedient, it’s clear he’s just a trot.

  5. Paul Ell Says:

    I am saddened that you appear to have abandoned our country and party so willingly and quickly… “our Australian cousins”- is that all we are to you now?

    It’s clear to me that you’re not interested in being a constructive player in the Liberal Party or in helping us find a new direction- Frankly Tim, I believe your opinion on this matter has no value whatsoever. This article is merely the ramblings of someone who no longer possesses any credibility on this subject.

    We in the Liberal Party have been working very hard to keep the Rudd Government accountable. It is very sad that you now declare the Liberal Party to be “Supine and Backboneless Dishrags.”

  6. Duha Says:

    Hear hear Tim!! I am disappointed by the direction the Liberal Party is heading right now. I feel that it’s doing what makes it popular rather than what is RIGHT for the people and for the nation. I was shocked that nothing has been said nor done to stop the new IR laws which moves all power to unions and is against freedom and against individuality and these are the core values and principles of the liberal party.

    Also nothing was said for the new so called “Emission Trading Scheme” which should actually be called Carbon Tax System. This scheme is tripling the cost and pressure on our biggest industry. The energy industry is suffering increasing cost and pressure because:
    1. Economic crisis
    2. Renewable energy targets
    3. ETS
    To meet the renewable energy target by itself the gov has to invest $26 billion over 10 years! However, it doesn’t mention how and where all this investment going to come from. Also add admin costs on ETS. Also cost for maintenance for electricity networks around the country which exceeds billions of dollars..

    Ooh and the stimulus package. It’s not even a short term fix for the economy. Millions and millions of the last stimulus package was spent on drugs, alcohol, and gambling. The next budget is going to run on a deficit in an economy that is full of uncertainty and adding to all this the gov is planning to penalize successful industries and throw cash to people instead of SIMPLY REDUCE TAX!!!

    Last night I was at a dinner and I said the same thing that you mentioned in your article. We are the opposition now, shouldn’t we oppose something? What happened to freedom, individuality, and free markets?

  7. Beccy Says:

    Tim, I don’t even think I can add anything to that except for the fact I think you’re brilliant, that this article sums up everything I think is wrong with the Liberal Party, both at a state and federal level, and that I think we need to hold fast to our party’s principles, not divest them at any shot. We currently don’t stand for anything, and that’s a surefire way to alienate your supporters, who joined because they had strong beliefs and principles.

    I’m linking this on Facebook – I think this is the best post you’ve written.

  8. Miranda Says:

    So how are we going to get your opinions heard on a larger scale? Because, as I’ve told you before, you mirror the sentiments of many Liberals…

  9. Natalie Says:

    Good post, despite the numerous typos, grammatical errors and malapropisms within it 😛

    I agree with your sentiments whole-heartedly, a party (or politician for that matter) that attempts to “broaden its base” with policies that are repugnant to its ideological roots, has no political acumen.

    The voters who are attracted to progressivist, fiscally irresponsible views, will always be inclined to vote for a leftist party, regardless of the feeble attempts that centre-right parties make to appease them. And even if these people did vote for a conservative party, they are not followers of the party’s philosophical teachings, and will abandon the party the moment that it is not ‘fashionable’ to vote for them or when the party inevitably reverts to their traditionalist policy platform.

    Turnbull is essentially prostituting himself out, unfortunately he is not having much luck soliciting votes. Instead, as Beccy rightly pointed out, he is turning away the people that are true believers of the conservative cause.

  10. Josh Says:

    If you look at the Liberal parties 2PP it hasn’t changed much between between the election and now. People generally know what a party stands for, it takes a long time, more than few months or years to change that. But when considering the person they are voting for they look for they represent, not simply what they stand for. Just look at today.

    John Howard, Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan are some of the most successful politicians in the English speaking world. The people voted for them because to the average person they represented aspiration and a better life, not because they believed in Monetarist Fiscal policy and were big fans of Milton Friedman.

    There’s no denying Malcolm on the surface would be great Prime Minister, he certainly has the skills. But to the very same people that have elected essentially conservative Prime Ministers for the past 12 years, what does he represent? Its much easier to change policies, change leaders than it is to change the population, their beliefs, what they believe the Liberal Party stands for and what they want their leader to represent.

  11. Eric Hood Says:

    I too agree with this article. I feel the Liberal party has abandoned those who voted for it and have become another Labour party.

    We need a leader with backbone. Margaret Thatcher had it right and perhaps it is time for an Australian leader to act on it. Here is the relevant quote about Thatcher.

    Shortly after Thatcher became Leader of the party, she “reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Friedrich von Hayek’s The Constitution of Liberty. Interrupting [the speaker], she held the book up for all of us to see. ‘This’, she said sternly, ‘is what we believe’, and banged Hayek down on the table.

    @ Paul Ell
    I may be teaching grandma to suck eggs here but Classic Liberals are not Liberals in the Australian Liberal party sense. Belief in small government, personal liberty and economic freedom.

    The mainstream Australian political parties are socialist.

    As to holding the Rudd government accountable, sitting on their backsides bleating about mandates and doing nothing is not holding government accountable.

    Why are we unhappy?

    A weak opposition is detrimental to our country I sincerely hope the opposition had backbone transplants over the parliamentary recess or we will be facing an early election and four more years of Rudd, or Gillard if she puts the knife in.

    The trade unions are flexing muscle and demanding wage increases in a recession.
    If all we can expect from the Liberals is more spineless dribble about mandates then we are in for a bad time.

  12. Ronald Kitching Says:

    The daily news fills us with the hope that it will soon be business as usual. But hope cannot transcend reality.

    The reality is that debts are always paid. If not by the debtor, then the creditor has to shoulder the debt. But the British government acquired debt and hoped to re-market it “when things improve.” This policy has brought Britain to the brink of bankruptcy.

    PM Rudd and Treasurer Swann also promise a bigger and better “stimulation” package. President Obama, has made similar promises. Surely a capable orator, but reality transcends all unrealistic expectations.

    Neither PM Brown, President Obama nor PM Rudd and their associates are magicians. Political expectations, no matter how well intentioned, cannot turn water into wine.

    Sound monetary theory dictates that all banks which have made unsustainable loans, or companies which are producing products which will not sell, should be allowed to fail.

    Bad economic practise and or decisions, at all times everywhere, should be allowed to fail. Given sound government policy, secure private property rights, very low taxation, and free trade internally and externally, the economy will reach a level that can be supported by the productivity of the market.

    Providing honest money is available, it is savings invested competitively in high production at competitive prices which makes a person, a company and a nation rich.

  13. Kyle Says:

    Tim, i of course agree whole-heartedly.

    if you look at all parties in Australian state and federal elections that got back in after 1 term, they all had a common blueprint: stick to your principles and attack the new government’s record.

    this should have been a lay-down misere for Nelson/Turnbull. they could have continued to argue the success of the Howard Government’s policies on everything whilst they watched Rudd stuff it up. and if he doesn’t fluff it completely, they could say it was because the Howard Government laid the groundwork to protect us from the worst of what is happening to the US/UK.

    The failure of Nelson/Turnbull to continue to defend the Howard legacy can therefore be explained by only one thing – that they never really believed in it anyway.

    and it also adds to the sheer contempt with which we should all hold Peter Costello. had he taken over as leader 12 months ago, he would have brought stability and continuity with the Howard years. as Australians get nostalgic for Howard in the next 12 months, they would have automatically turned to the Libs. the fact that Costello spat his dummy and sulks on the backbench is testament to the intelligence of Howard in not handing over the leadership to him earlier – he is a spoilt baby (which we all suspected but now know) and he would have led the Party to an even bigger defeat in 2007.

    if only he would now POQ and take up a job with an obscure UN-related organisation like all the others do.

  14. Eric Hood Says:

    Kyle, I too think John Howard performed one last vital service for our country in not handing over to Peter Costello. It showed, to use Howards’ phrase, that he did not have the ticker.

    Power is never given away it has to be taken.

  15. Eric Hood Says:

    Kyle, I too think John Howard performed one last vital service for our country in not handing over to Peter Costello. It showed, to use Howards’ phrase, that he did not have the ticker.

    Power is never given away it has to be taken.

  16. Nicholas Tam Says:

    The only people in this country speaking sense on the ETS nonsense are Warren Truss, Barnaby Joyce and the National Party. It will cripple the economy and hurt blue-collar working class communities the most, yet Turnbull seems content to let the Labor Party get away with this economic vandalism without being held accountable and completely neglecting the opportunity to win back the same voters who deserted us over WorkChoices. True conservatives will rally against Rudd’s ETS.

  17. Eric Hood Says:

    Do not forget Dr Dennis Jensen MP Member for Tangney.

    If you approve of what these politicians are doing please send them an email letting them know they will appreciate it.

    Here is a cut and paste from Andrew Bolt.

    Andrew Bolt
    Tuesday, December 02, 2008 at 09:15am

    Note what Labor does when Liberal MP Dennis Jensen tries to table evidence in Parliament that directly contradicts the global warming hype:

    Dr JENSEN» (Tangney) (8:10 PM) —I support the motion put forward—in particular real assessment of the scientific data. The global water cycle atlas based on the IPCC fourth assessment report climate models by Lim and Roderick was published this year, using the same dataset for precipitation models as used by the fourth IPCC report. In the 39 models examined, the Australian average precipitation from 1970 to 1990 varied from—get this—190.6 millimetres to 1,059.1 millimetres per year. The observed annual precipitation for Australia over the 20th century falls in the range of 400 to 500 per year. Hence there were large differences between model simulated precipitation and observations.

    Of the 39 model runs examined for the A1B scenario, 24 showed increases in Australian precipitation to the end of the 21st century while 15 showed decreases. The overall average across all model runs was for a small increase in Australian annual precipitation of eight millimetres per year by the end of the 21st century. Within that average, some models predict a drop in annual precipitation of as much as 100 millimetres per year—notably CSIRO—while others predict increases of the same order. Note that CSIRO is one of the most pessimistic models in terms of future rainfall predictions. Guess which model the Garnaut report relied on.

    Much discussion of the Murray-Darling Basin relates to inflows. This is fair enough in terms of examining what is important, which is water in the system, but allows blame to be attributed to climate change. This is baloney, as can be seen by the Bureau of Meteorology rainfall charts, where it can clearly be seen that rainfall in the Murray-Darling Basin is normal. The reasons for reduced run-off are more plantations in the top of the catchments; catchment-wide drainage management plans put in place in the 1980s and 1990s to lower water tables and more efficient water use resulting in less leakage…

    So much for the science being settled; we now have bad policy based on bad science… At present, green ideology is inhibiting the correct definition of the problem, and the Murray-Darling will continue to suffer as a result. Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek leave to table these documents.

    Leave not granted.

    Jensen’s wider point – that the regional models of global warming touted by the CSIRO are useless – have been confirmed by other studies. No doubt that’s something else Parliament will refuse to hear.

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