Oct 292009

I came across Glenn Milne’s article attempting to claim a division in the Australian Liberal Party, between true Liberals and the Conservative elements in the party.

Milne – described by the Prime Minister as the Liberal Party journalist of choice – attempts to make out that now that the Conservatives are in Opposition, the genuine Liberal elements will do their utmost to hammer them down as a part of the important reform that Liberalism in this country must undertake. He cites Senator George Brandis’ Alfred Deakin Memorial Lecture at Melbourne University, a week ago today.
Brandis singles out his “friend and colleague” Tony Abbott for critique over the latter’s book, ‘Battlelines’, in which Abbott extols the ideals and policies of his former leader, the now thankfully departed John Winston Howard. I’ve not read Abbott’s book and have no desire to do so, but can imagine the tone of the tome. Abbott’s apostolic reiterations of the Howardian ethos are often seen and heard in the media these days, as Abbott seems desperate to ensure the Howard legacy does not vanish in a landslide of Liberalism, as true Liberals now recognise that Howard’s ideology lost them government.
Milne does his best to draw on Brandis’ speech to make the case that a brawl within the party is brewing and won’t soon go away unless addressed. I believe Milne is wrong. I believe the party is already awake to the reasons for their bollocking in November 2007. The party doesn’t particularly like the lessons that election delivered, and are still struggling to come to terms with it, but the message is clear to them. John Howard’s brand of bastardised Liberalism – which is neither Conservatism or Liberalism but an eclectic hybrid of the two which Howard used very cleverly to appeal to the often quoted ‘broad church’ of which he was the self-appointed high priest. Abbott sees himself as the apprentice, now ready for ascension to the alter in a bid to continue the Neo-Liberal religion. All in all, Abbott sees far too much, from the viewpoint of the zealous disciple. Tony Abbott is not a realist.
George Brandis is a realist, at least, a Liberal realist. I found his speech a fascinating read, as he drew heavily on John Stuart Mill, Alfred Deakin and Robert Menzies. Fascinatingly though, when one bones up on these exponents of the ultimate liberty of the individual over the needs of the society, one finds that each had a different view of what liberty, it’s expression, political doctrine and ethical practice, mean. In my view, Brandis also glosses over the fact that each man lived in a different era. Mill in the 19th century, with a view which is rudimentary Liberalism, since refined by many challengers. Deakin’s brand of Liberalism can safely be said to be of the small ‘l’ type we saw expounded by the now retired Members of the House of Representatives, Bruce Baird and Petro Georgiou. Even to his enshrining of rights in the workplace. Something Howard and his ilk did their level best to do away with. Deakin espoused Liberalism with a social conscience and an awareness of the society in which we all live and exercise our liberty.
Menzies was a different beast again, expounding upon “The Forgotten People” in a long series of addresses, all the while surrendering Australia’s sense of individualism in an obsequious obeisance to England, King and Country…..the Mother Country, not the one he was Prime Minister of. Menzies legislated against the Communist Party, and instated conscription to meet the requirements of the United States in her misguided anti-communist tilt at Indo-China. Let’s also not forget that Menzies sold iron to Japan, while Japan was at war with China, and shortly thereafter, with Australia following the fall of Singapore. All in strident opposition from the society of the day. Actions which all fly in the face of the Mill or Deakin brand of Liberalism. Something which George Brandis completely neglects in his address.
Liberalism in it’s truest form is a sparkling ideal, just as Socialism and Conservatism in their truest forms are admirable ideals. What exponents of any one ideology fail to recognise is the evolution of the human collective, which in advanced democratic societies operates in accordance with the rule of law. Law which is created by society, for society, in order that the greatest good is derived for the greatest number. That is neither Socialism, nor Conservatism, nor Liberalism. The greatest good for the greatest number is the goal of every democratic society, and acknowledges the simple fact that pleasing all of the people, all of the time, is an impossibility. As much an unachievable dream as are the true forms of any single ideology. All have their merits, and all, their drawbacks. This is why developed cultures have elected representation appointed by a presumably informed majority. The greatest number. It’s why elected representation is pluralistic, so that the elected minority might monitor and hold to task the decisions of the elected majority. Neither side is good or bad and neither side are perfect in their expression of their arguments. Both sides are necessary for responsible government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Ideologies as expressed by George Brandis and Tony Abbott are not the people’s ideologies. They are the politician’s ideologies and in crude terms, as removed from what the common people’s realities are, as our modern society is from the hunter-gatherer tribe mentality. I can find agreement with all ideologies from certain perspectives in certain circumstances, but one size does not fit all. I recommend a read of Brandis’s speech. It’s well formed, informative and challenging. I have no favour for the man, but his delivery of his beliefs is compelling, if blinkered.

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