Conservatism in this country is still smarting at being slapped in the electoral face by Australian voters 18 months ago.
Evidence the Op-Ed by Janet Albrechtsen this morning. Albrechtsen entreats all conservatives – especially those in politics – not to downplay or forget about the legacy of John Winston Howard. A legacy only an arch conservative could love. Heavy on support for business, ultra-light on genuine reform of public welfare and social supports for health, education and consumer protections. The legacy which carries the indelible scars of Workchoices. A misnomer if ever there was one, given the only real choices were in the hands of business, and not the workforce.
The legacy of waterfront reform involving armed guards, dogs, arbitrary lock-outs and collusion between government and business at the expense of workers. A legacy which oversaw the virtual destruction of Telstra for its shareholders, support for privately funded education over the public system, abandonment of the universality ethos in health provision and vote-buying on a scale never before, and hopefully never again to be seen in this country. In short, a legacy of bloody-mindedness by a government which between terms, knew it could and did do what it wanted for the sake of an ideology, even to the point of submerging the nation in a war of aggression at the behest of another, because conservative ideology demanded allegiance, like to like. Never mind what the people who elected that government wanted.
Australia will always be, at her heart of hearts, a nation conservative in nature. At least 50% of her population will always vote, or lean in that direction. It’s basic human nature to be conservative, to desire the unchanging, the stable, the recognisable. To want to look after #1 first, last and always. Genuine conservatism, as perceived by Robert Menzies in the formation of Australia’s Liberal Party in 1944, looked out for the under-priviledged, ensuring that none were forgotten by society. He still stood for freedom of trade, unregulated markets in general, but recognised that some regulation was necessary. The lesson taught sternly by the Great Depression and one which seems to need generational re-tellings if current economic times are anything to go by.
Howard’s brand of conservatism deserves to be remembered, but not as a beneficial legacy. As with the Great Depression, conservatism will need to be reminded of the fate of governments which treat electoral mandates with disdain and pursue ideological goals at the expense of the common people. I too would exhort conservatives everywhere to remember Howard, but not for the same reasons Albrechtsen so foolishly promotes.