Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
Menu
February 10th 2017 print

Dominic Perrottet

Why We Need a Conservative Spring

We need to paint a compelling vision of a conservative future -- and bring people with us on the journey. It must be positive, hopeful and optimistic, detailing what we are for, not simply what we are against. And it must be built on our core values: freedom, opportunity and human dignity

springAlmost seventy-five years ago, Sir Robert Menzies gave his famous “Forgotten People” address[1] which balanced classical liberalism with social conservatism. He spoke of the middle class as the nation’s backbone, individual enterprise, governing for everyone and family as the cornerstone for society. This blueprint was to become the animating philosophy for the entire Australian conservative movement.

Whether it was Robert Menzies or John Howard, it is Liberal governments, following these timeless principles, who generate wealth, opportunity and progress.

But we cannot rest on our laurels. We live in an age of disruption—and politics is no exception. From Trump to Sanders, from Corbyn to Brexit, the tectonic plates of the political landscape are shifting. There is a loss of faith in public institutions, the political class and its program[2]. People feel displaced by rapid changes in the global economy.

Establishment parties overseas are perceived as being on a unity ticket—of big government globalism, crony capitalism and minority fundamentalism. The frustrated centre is rejecting this elitist agenda and looking elsewhere for solutions—ending up in the arms of reactionary parties. Much of the success of these reactionaries has been their willingness to challenge political correctness and be a voice for the dispossessed.

Here in Australia, we have seen the minor party vote surge. This is a warning shot across the bow of the conservative establishment. There is a real danger here that, just as Uber disrupted the taxi industry, reactionary parties will displace the traditional conservative movement. Unless we adapt and innovate, we too risk the same fate as conservatives overseas. This is not something I want to see happen to my party.

We need to avoid being disrupted—or even better, become the disruptors ourselves. This is a complex issue and I don’t have all the answers—but I take a perspective as a politician and a belief that this is a conversation we need to have.

What we must do

Purpose

I believe our problems start with a lack of clarity about our purpose. No one should be under any illusions as to the goals of the political Left. Their original aim of social justice, through helping the working class, has been left far behind. Today they cloak their politics in the sweet rhetoric of fairness, equality and tolerance—but their agenda is far from benign.

They are motivated now by a burning hostility to our culture and heritage. They are not seeking reform, but revolution. It’s no coincidence they want to redesign our flag, rewrite our anthem, remove Anzac Day, replace our Constitution, repudiate our Judeo-Christian heritage and rename our national day.

This reads like a checklist from my university days, but there are serious thinkers on the Left pushing every single one of these issues. The very things that make us who we are, are the very things they want to do away with. But for all their faults, they know their purpose—and they are ruthless in implementing it. So what is our purpose?

Some fifty years ago, Hayek said that “conservatism cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed in slowing things down, but it cannot prevent them.”[3] A few weeks ago, Peter van Onselen wrote in the Australian that “conservatism in its purest form is about slowing down the pace of change”[4]. This echoes William F. Buckley’s famous quote: “A conservative is a fellow who is standing athwart history yelling Stop!

My personal view is that if our destiny is to be nothing more than the speed bump on the Left’s eventual road to victory, then all we are doing is wasting our time. We are not conservatives because we believe in doing the same things, only slower; we are conservatives because we believe in different things.

Our purpose is not just to oppose the agendas of others, but to propose agendas of our own. I believe conservatives have a dual mission—preserving the core of what is most important, while simultaneously innovating everything else.

What is most important are the institutions and values that make up our culture—freedom, faith, flag, family and free markets. This is our core and we should not be ashamed of preserving it. Our current prosperity is not the result of some giant cosmic accident. It is the social dividend from our conservative past.

We should reject the enlightened arrogance of revolutionaries, who only have the ability to pursue their destructive agenda by living off the capital they did not create. While the Left seek to destroy what they don’t like, we begin with gratitude for what is good, for what works, and then we seek to build on that foundation.[5] What is tradition but inherited knowledge?

This is the essence of conservatism—the Burkean partnership between those who have gone, those who are present and those who are yet to come.

But around this permanent core, we should innovate everything else for the good. We should be leading the charge for renewable energy, boosting the start-up economy and promoting scientific innovation. We should be pushing for environmental stewardship, pioneering new models of service delivery and defining an agenda for the poor. And we should be addressing stagnating wages, providing twenty-first-century healthcare and a delivering a world-class education system.

These should be conservative issues and we are best placed to achieve them. Labor is a legacy party—wedded to outdated structures and weighed down by public-sector unions. In this sense, we are the true progressives, arguing for a future that works, built on the success of the past.

Vision

Part of the reason conservatives struggle with purpose is because we struggle with vision. We know what a future left-wing society would look like because they keep telling us about it. The reality is, the Left do vision well. I was one of the people who panned Kevin Rudd for his 2020 summit. But at least he had one—and it produced some ideas like the NDIS which are being implemented today.

But what would a conservative summit look like? Many conservatives feel more comfortable talking about the past than focusing the future. We need to paint a compelling vision of a conservative future—and bring people with us on the journey. It must be positive, hopeful and optimistic, telling people what we are for, not simply what we are against. And it must be built on our values of freedom, opportunity and human dignity.

But don’t get me wrong. One of the reasons I know this is an issue is that it is hard to articulate a conservative vision. We are not in the habit of doing it and but do we need to turn our minds to it. This is something we have done here in New South Wales.

Now our government is not perfect. But when we took office, we said we wanted to “Make New South Wales Number One again”—and we have. We said we wanted to make New South Wales “the new state of business” by building new infrastructure. Infrastructure which will be the foundation for productive communities and social prosperity.

After the last election, the Premier identified a number of initiatives to make our state a better place to live and work: things like keeping our communities safe, delivering better services and doing more to protect the vulnerable, those who have slipped through the cracks—and now we are delivering on these as well.

A vision is more than just the economy—it is a picture of the type of society we want. Culture is important, art is important, heritage is important. These are the things which give us our shared identity. As one conservative writer recently put it, beauty is more important than efficiency.[6] When there is no vision, the saying goes, the people perish. The same applies to political movements as well.

The battle of ideas

The real crisis in conservative politics is our unwillingness to engage in the battle of ideas, to take up the challenge intellectually to our opponents. As John Howard has said, “It is not just important to win elections, it is also important to win arguments.”[7] Too often we accept without question the ideological premises of the Left, unwilling to mount a counter-argument. This is why, often even when we are in government, we are rarely in power.

When I look across the aisle in Parliament, I see passion for new ideas. For example, Labor have established an online news site called the Labor Herald. Their conferences have “Fringe Events”.[8] And their intellectuals are active in other forums like the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. In contrast, there is no Liberal Herald, Liberal Fringe Events or Conservative Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

We are fortunate to have think-tanks such as the CIS, IPA and MRC, and publications like the Spectator and Quadrant, who punch well above their weight. But the reality is the conservative movement is dwarfed by the Left when it comes to intellectual engagement.

In the US, CPAC—the Conservative Political Action Conference[9]—is famous for showcasing candidates and providing thought leadership. Maybe it’s time we held an annual CPAC here in Australia, with conservatives attending from across the country and overseas as well.

Our agenda must be based on and led by, new ideas. We need an “ideas boom” in the conservative movement. It must be proactive, not merely reacting to the ideas of others. And there must be a moral energy to our cause where we talk about values, not just policies.

This cannot just be an abstract exercise. We must look to the work of reform conservatives who are relating conservative values to the practical realities of everyday life.[10]

Language

Our poverty of ideas is reflected in a poverty of language. We used terms like “lifters and leaners”. The “taxed and taxed nots”. These might go down well at a Liberal State Electoral Council meeting—but they strike the average punter as sterile and heartless.

The Left talk about emotion, fairness, hope, change—and we talk about economies, tax rates and GDP. We are not just an economy—we are a community, a nation, a people—but listening to us speak, people might think money is all we care about. By only talking in economic terms, we risk being seen as just the clean-up crew for Labor’s economic mess. And all we become is the funding arm for Labor’s cultural Marxism.

We also talk about “small government”, as if it were some kind of holy grail. This is a classic example of confusing the ends with the means. Yes, we believe in small government—but that’s because we firstly believe in good government. As British Prime Minister Theresa May said recently, it’s time we conservatives started talking about the good that governments can do[11].

Small, lean and focused governments are good because they can deliver the services and programs we need more effectively. They also leave space for what really makes our communities tick—families, civic groups and small businesses. Small government, strong economies and balanced budgets aren’t the end goal. They are but a means to secure more freedom, better opportunity and human flourishing.

We must change our language to speak to hearts, as well as minds. Instead of talking just about the economy, we must talk about people first—how we are empowering individuals, families and communities to reach their potential.

The American political scientist Arthur C. Brooks has written that we must turn from being a protest movement into a social movement—to fight for people, not against things[12]. This is already part of our DNA here in Australia. Let me quote:

 

This country has great obligations to the weak, the sick, the unfortunate. It must give them all the sustenance and support it can … to every good citizen the state owes not only a chance in life but a self-respecting life.[13]

 

That wasn’t a socialist politician. It was Sir Robert Menzies. We must follow the example of Menzies and communicate authentically conservative policies that will improve the lives of all people in a way they can relate to. In other words, as Brooks says, we must share what is written on the conservative heart.

Principles

Sometimes our movement also seems too willing to surrender its principles on key issues. Increasingly what we are seeing today is the mobilisation of state power to attack the sacred foundations of our democratic contract. Things like the rights of freedom of thought, speech, expression and association.

It’s telling that modern-day conservatives can stand by and do nothing about section 18C. What happened to Andrew Bolt, Bill Leak and the students at QUT is not a peripheral issue—it goes to the very core of what we believe in. We live in a pluralistic society and I have zero tolerance for racism. But I also have zero tolerance for people being subjected to secret trials by highly paid government bureaucrats, for simply expressing opinions that other people disagree with.

I am strong supporter of Israel and I know some of my Jewish friends have concerns about section 18C. However, this law is being used for political purposes. While people are blaming the human rights machinery, it is a Liberal government that is presiding over this system and seems unwilling or unable to end it.

The rights to life, liberty and property are the foundation upon which everything else is built. Conservatism gives liberty its virtue. Classical liberalism gives us the freedom to be conservative. If we do not stand for these values, we stand for nothing.

The base

As the home of the centre-Right tradition in this country, the Liberal Party is most susceptible to the kind of disruption we are seeing overseas. While many in the Republican Party complain about Donald Trump, he is a product of their own creation. They embraced an elite big-business agenda, shut out their base and did not respond to the growing disillusionment around them.

Here, we are in real danger of forgetting the Forgotten People ourselves, and we must not make that mistake. There is and always will be a centre-Right vote in this country. That doesn’t mean the Liberal Party will always be its natural home. Just like the Republicans, we are vulnerable to disruption if we do not reflect the concerns of our base and represent its ideas.

The establishment has reacted to the rise of alternative candidates like Trump, Sanders and Corbyn by further tightening its grip on power and centralising control. It blames the base for these candidates, taking no responsibility itself for putting the pursuit of power above the pursuit of principle.

To win elections, you have to appeal to the middle ground. But you always lock in your base first. Unless you have the base behind you, you can’t even get through the gate to fight for the middle ground.

We should not be scared of our own base. They are crying out for thought leadership and alternative policies. Conservative politicians are there to serve and represent, not control and exclude.

Some people in our party have said that plebiscites are the answer. I believe in democratisation—but plebiscites are not a panacea for what ails the Liberal Party. Rather they are one of a series of reforms that we need to make in order to avoid being disrupted and displaced.

What we really need now are centre-Right politicians responding to, motivating and inspiring our base. This will lead to the demise of the reactionaries because people will regain their faith in the political class once again.

Conclusion

The world is changing around us. A new political force is rising in this landscape. We can either tap into the energy and the passion of those calling for change—or we can be overwhelmed by it.

We must disrupt—or we will be disrupted. This is not something I want to see happen to the Liberal Party. That’s why we need a Conservative Spring, where the authentic voices of mainstream Australia are heard—especially in the Liberal Party.

We must rediscover our purpose, inspire with our vision, engage in the battle of ideas, speak to people’s hearts, stand for what is true and embrace the dynamism of our base. To channel Menzies, we are at our best when we are striving for what we believe in and governing for the benefit of all. If we do this, the times, once again, will suit us.

Dominic Perrottet MP is Deputy Leader of the NSW Parliamentary Liberal Party. This is the edited text of a speech he gave to the Menzies Research Centre in November, 2016.



[1] http://menziesvirtualmuseum.org.au/transcripts/the-forgotten-people/59-chapter-1-the-forgotten-people

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/02/trust-in-public-institutions-keeps-declining-this-week-the-disdain-went-a-step-further

[3] https://object.cato.org/sites/cato.org/files/articles/hayek-why-i-am-not-conservative.pdf

[4] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/peter-van-onselen/fringedwelling-reactionaries-tarnish-true-conservatism/news-story/84662346c74564581fd974b3d61873df

[5] http://www.aei.org/publication/conservatism-and-gratitude/

[6] https://www.amazon.com/Crunchy-Cons-Birkenstocked-evangelical-homeschooling/dp/1400050642

[7] Liberals & Power, The Road Ahead, 2008, p76

[8] http://www.nswlabor.org.au/fringe

[9] http://cpac.conservative.org/

[10] http://conservativereform.com/roomtogrow/

[11] http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/theresa-mays-speech-conservative-party-8983265

[12] The Conservative Heart, Arthur C Brooks

[13] http://menziesvirtualmuseum.org.au/transcripts/the-forgotten-people/63-chapter-5-freedom-from-want

Comments [25]

  1. denandsel@optusnet.com.au says:

    A very good article thank you Dominic, well reasoned and well written.
    I can only add that socialism largely runs on emotion. Worryingly, most human decisions are made using emotions rather than reason. The strongest of all emotions is jealousy which the socialists play on incessantly and usually successfully. It is not by accident that socialist ‘intellectuals’ and ‘controllers’ are dominated by lawyers and advertising types. Socialist activists/politicians prove the old adage – “When people can’t control their own emotions they need to start controlling other people’s behaviour”. This is born out in every ‘demonstration’ I am aware of, most of which are violent, and by every piece of ‘social engineering’ legislation.
    Conversely, capitalism depends on reason. Reason allows the invention of technology such as electricity, motor cars, computers and airplanes. No amount of strong emotions will keep a plane in the air when the technology [reason] fails. I once read somewhere that reason fills the stomach, and allows civilisation but doesn’t stir the emotion making the intellectual defence of reason/capitalism very difficult.

    It is not only recently that we have lost the battle of ideas/emotions. 200 hundred years ago Frédéric Bastiat stated – Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

    • Wayne Cooper says:

      Re: “It is not by accident that socialist ‘intellectuals’ and ‘controllers’ are dominated by lawyers and advertising types.” Really? Menzies, Howard and even Dom Perrottet were all lawyers. Neither Stalin nor Mao were lawyers.

  2. Philby says:

    Every organisation requires spring cleaning at some time the problem is the intervals are extended because the “elite” wish to retain position and power so the dirt and disease is allowed to build up in every dark corner and crevice where there is no sunlight. Most people continuously clean their houses on a daily basis with a couple of big “spring cleans” twice a year to ensure a clean environment where disease cannot fester. Your local club has yearly elections to allow the members to bring in new blood and ideas with the result that some cleaning takes place. Why is it that our parliament,judiciary,beauracracy,boards are not subject to the same processes .This liberal government requires a huge spring clean then the same with all our elitist departments etc.The liberal party needs to go back to grass roots control and ditch the elites within the party machine especially faction elites.
    The Labour party machine should just be disinfected with union cleansing industrial strength disinfectants.

    • Don A. Veitch says:

      Maybe the conservative revolution and rebuild has already begun, led by a rough, tough, fighting type like Steve Bannon who wishes to tear down a corrupted system (helped by a rogue oligarch named Trump)?

  3. Wayne says:

    You lost me at we should lead the charge for renewable energy. Perhaps conservatives should at a minimum be the sane adults in the room. Opposing this insanity is not just standing in the way of progress it is opposing an insane progressive agenda. Progress itself depends on reliable affordable energy and to my mind opposing policies such as the RET will do more for the wellbeing of everyday Australians than almost anything else and at the same time make a clear distinction between the Left’s ideological approach to everything regardless of the consequences and a Conservative approach that values rationality and a considered cautious approach to radical change.

  4. Bill Martin says:

    Once again I was unable to resist the temptation of posting a comment before fully reading the article, which I intend doing. (I got to the heading “Language”.)

    The author, good intent notwithstanding, is way off the mark in most of his reasoning. He incessantly emphasises what government should do, whereas the genuine conservative philosophy is that the government should get out of the way and let a free enterprise, capitalist society operate with only the restrictions of the law of the land.

    All those tasks he lists for governments to do can and should be performed by non-government entities, including the support of those who genuinely need assistance to get by. There are many excellent charitable organisations doing outstanding work in that field. It is rather bizarre that when such institutions provide support for the needy, it is considered to be demeaning “charity” to the beneficiaries but when it comes from the government, it is a “right”. That is an excellent illustration of how the left has shaped the popular thought.

    A very good example of the above is Medicare. Prior to its introduction by Whitlam in its original form, the amalgam of private health insurance and pro bono treatment of the needy by medical professionals was working so well that specialist in the field came from other countries to study and learn from it. Look at the mess it is in now, bedevilled by fragrant overuse and abuse by both patients and doctors, becoming ever more difficult to fund. The NDIS is yet another disaster in the making for exactly the same reason.

    One could list any number of other examples why government should restrict itself to govern and not interfere in the functioning of a free society. The only justifiable functions of the government are the protection of its citizens from both external and internal danger (border protection, defence and police) and the enforcing of the law of the land (judiciary), which should be to punish actions involving fraud, force or coercion.

    In conclusion, I’m afraid, this article fails totally in the promotion of genuine conservatism.

  5. Lacebug says:

    Have any of our readers considered joining Q Society? I was thinking of signing up ?

  6. Bill Martin says:

    Having finished reading the article, I found no reason to alter the substance of my earlier comment. Everything the author advocates are responsibilities of the government, either stated so outright or implied. That is inherent in politics of all persuasion, i.e. “the government should do something about it”, whatever “it” might be.

    Where are the conservative politicians willing to openly challenge multiculturalism, inclusiveness and diversity, cultural equivalence, gay marriage, anthropogenic climate change, the islamisation of Australia and the deadly peril that represents and a host of other issues obliterating what used to be Australian values? No, I don’t mean just under parliamentary privilege but in the public forum, willing to be arrested, even jailed for insulting certain interests and individuals. Instead, they are jittery about granting a visa to the likes of Geert Wilders and disallowing the use of public venues for him to address an audience.

    As for the Liberal Party, it is not even a pale shadow of its former self. The knifing of Abbott and the installation of Turnbull was a death blow. How could it be otherwise with a swarm of treacherous individuals bereft of any decency occupying the front bench? Those of any principle ought to follow Bernardi – to where, I’m not sure – and let the rest continue with the decomposing, putrid mess, led by the most despicable of the bunch.

  7. Homer Sapien says:

    Bill, like so often you make more sense then the article itself!

  8. en passant says:

    Dominic,
    It would take an equally long reply to rebuff and rebut the waffle you so proudly presented. If you hit me with a feather for every cliche you rolled out I would have suffered brain damage. Frankly, the Liberal Elite Royalty cannot be reformed and must be swept away by a new Conservative Party – just as Menzies did to the United Party. Wikipedia quotes a 2014 Liberal Party Membership of 80,000. On Bolt, (after the Turnbull coup) Michael Kroger admitted that there had been some resignations, but then added: “But there have been even more people flocking to join …”. I challenged Michael to prove his statement, but naturally he did not. If you reply and tell me that the Party has more than 60,000 Members today I will donate $100 to the Party. Take your time replying …

    So, let’s review and analyse just some of your meanderings:
    “The frustrated centre is rejecting this elitist agenda …” When did this revelation strike you? It struck me more than 10-years ago, but I soldiered on for 7-years before realising the Elite (such as yourself) detested dealing with the prole grassroot members.

    “… we have seen the minor party vote surge. This is a warning shot across the bow of the conservative establishment. There is a real danger here that … reactionary parties will displace the traditional conservative movement. Unless we adapt and innovate, we too risk the same fate as conservatives overseas. This is not something I want to see happen to my party.”
    This waffle is embarrassing. It is not a warning shot: the SS Turnbull Team Titanic has been holed below the waterline and is sinking. It can no longer be saved.
    “Unless we … we too …” & “…Not something I …”. So, there is You, We & I and then there are the little people who are there to serve you. THAT is the elitist problem that has killed You and Them – and it is not one the current crop of hacks can adapt to and resolve. The Liberals need a clean slate from the MP’s to the management – and that is impossible, so you are a lost cause. Fortunately, WE conservative proles now have a whole menu to choose from. Remind me of the ‘Deplorable-like’
    comment by Textor that WE do not count as WE have nowhere else to go. That is worth a good chortle, isn’t it?

    “We should be leading the charge for renewable energy, boosting the start-up economy and promoting scientific innovation.”
    Were you asleep when you wrote this? WHY does Oz need to be leading any ‘renewable charge’ to unreliable and expensive power. That is the mindset of an unthinking lemming. WE should be leading the charge to the cheapest coal-fired generators and demanding an INCREASE in CO2!
    Perhaps you can answer two questions I have asked politicians, scientists, ‘environmentalists’ and the public. Only Patrick Moore answered.
    1. What is the ideal global temperature we seek? and
    2. What is the ideal concentration of CO2?
    If you cannot answer those questions, then we have no idea what we are trying to achieve. CO2 is at 404ppm, but Patrick suggested 2,000ppm would be much better.

    “… when we took office, we said we wanted to “Make New South Wales Number One again”—and we have.”
    Are you serious? ‘Number One’ at what? Terror capital of Oz? Greyhound racing back down? I lived for several years in Sydney and never lost the view that it was Gotham City, but without the redeeming feature of Batman. OK, I accept it was just a cliche and you did not really mean it and had no idea what it meant.

    “… section 18C. … it is a Liberal government that … seems unwilling or unable to end it.” & “… liberalism gives us the freedom to be conservative. If we do not stand for these values, we stand for nothing.”
    I seem to remember a vacuous comment by someone of no account that “The standard you walk by is the standard you accept”, which sums up the Liberal Waffle Party perfectly. Was this the impression that you intended to project?

    “To win elections, YOU have to appeal to the middle ground. But YOU always lock in YOUR base {OF WORKER PROLES} first. Unless YOU have the base behind YOU, YOU can’t even get through the gate to fight for the middle ground.

    WE should not be scared of OUR own base. THEY are crying out for thought leadership and alternative policies. {HOW ARROGANT IS THIS. ‘WE’ LEAD AND THE PEASANTS FOLLOW. THIS IS EXACTLY THE ELITIST APPROACH THAT CAUSED SO MANY TO LEAVE THE IL-LIBERAL PARTY} Conservative politicians are there to serve and represent, not control and exclude. {TRUE, BUT WHAT HAS THIS GOT TO DO WITH THE CURRENT CROP OF ELITIST IL-LIBERAL ROYALTY THAT BELIEVES THEY WERE BORN TO RULE AND THAT OTHERS JUST FOLLOW?}

    “What WE really need now are centre-Right politicians responding to, motivating and inspiring OUR base. This will lead to the demise of the reactionaries because PEOPLE will regain their faith in the political class once again.”
    US & THEM. Let me interpret for the little folk, the deplorable peasants: “We, the political class need to throw a few crumbs to the proles to let them think they are valued. By so doing we will be able to continue our rule over them, forever.”
    Sorry, but this little black duck just moved to an alternative and will never be returning to the party of the Royal Elitists.

    • en passant says:

      Once again I touched the send key before tidying up and finishing.

      I meant to ask a rhetorical question to the vapid cliche in the text:
      “What WE really need now are centre-Right politicians” – Does this mean that the current crop are really Green, Left Infil-Traitors masquerading as conservatives?

      Luckily for Dominic he did not present this article to me for marking when he was at university. He might either never have graduated, or he might still be there struggling along as a student.

      • Warty says:

        A comprehensive response, en passant. I was considering a tetchy response to a thoroughly confused article, but you managed to say it all for me. One of the lines that left me particularly incensed was Dominic’s suggestion that conservatives should be ‘leading the charge’ on the issue of renewable energy. After the South Australian debacles, I don’t even begin to understand how any even vaguely conservative person could come up with such a statement. Perhaps Dominic is a little confused as to what a conservative stands for, because when I last looked a conservative was certainly not a progressive.

  9. Ian MacDougall says:

    But around this permanent core, we should innovate everything else for the good. We should be leading the charge for renewable energy, boosting the start-up economy and promoting scientific innovation. We should be pushing for environmental stewardship, pioneering new models of service delivery and defining an agenda for the poor. And we should be addressing stagnating wages, providing twenty-first-century healthcare and a delivering a world-class education system.

    Sorry, Dominic, but this site is run by a cheer squad for fossil carbon interests, and they are dead-set against renewables. Why? Do I hear you ask why? Good question. The only answer I can think of is because renewables as they chew into an increasing hunk of the energy market, threaten fossil carbon’s profitability.

    Scientific innovation? Clear all those AGW doomsayers out of the CSIRO! Shut the lot of them down! Withdraw their funding! Environmental stewardship? As the revered John Howard said, that’s OK, but whatever else, it must not affect the economy.(!) And the rest of it can be left to well-meaning and dedicated souls in charities like Vinnies and the Salvos.

    When he became PM, the great guru Tony Abbott said, “the future is coal”. Except that it ain’t . The coal will steadily run out and become steadily more expensive, to mine, to process, and to deal with in terms of the warming effect the CO2 it produces has on the atmosphere. (Notice that right now we are not being served up yet another in the endless series of QO articles on the ‘AGW scam’. That probably will have to wait till it starts to get cold again.)

    ‘Conservatives’ are about defending everything they hold to be right and proper. And nothing can be more right and proper than their income streams. And those of their patrons and mates.

    • Wayne says:

      The only reason? What a joke.

    • en passant says:

      Ian MacD,
      I see you still do not know the destination you seek, but are redoubling your efforts to get there. Why can you not answer the two simple questions posed. Oh, yes, because you are a cultist troll chanting Ad Hom! ad Hom!.
      I am a climate realist who sees great benefits in increased warming and more CO2. I used to work in the energy industry so that gave me knowledge. I have never owned a share in any company that mines coal, oil or gas but my knowledge of the industry, its costs and how it works.
      You say: “The coal will steadily run out and become steadily more expensive, to mine, to process” Really? Well, here is another trick question you can google. How many years supply does the world have of coal, oil and gas at the present and projected rate of offtake? Tell me if my great-grandchildren should worry … Another of your alarmist off the cuff fantasies unsupported by reality and facts.

      Let’s play the transfer game: you tell everyone three benefits in a doubling of CO2 and a 2C increase in temperature I I will give three downsides. This will show you have a logical open mind, or not.

      Finally, I am happy the close down coal and move to nuclear. Uranium for now, but probably Thorium when the technological issues are solved – as they will be. I take it we agree on this?

  10. Salome says:

    You lost me at ‘my party’.

  11. Keith Kennelly says:

    Another educated elitist who holds all the truth and who knows nobody else could possibly hold any of the truth.

    Dom when I first encountered and became involved with Liberal Party people it impressed me that they would stress to new members or people thinking of joining, and even booth volunteers, that they were conservative in principle and practise. They always suggested that if anyone had variations to their values then the should really assess whether they were in or approaching a party that reflected their ideas.They, with absolute intergrity, would suggest to those people, with left leaning ideas, or ideas at odds with conservative values, that they would perhaps be better off joining another party.

    Seems they missed you.

  12. Keith Kennelly says:

    You and your ilk keep thinking and proclaiming the Liberal Party is centre right.

    Tell me how that is conservative and how it won’t cause a deviation from conservative values?

    What you need to understand is that the Liberal Party was once Conservative and that centre votes are not needed to be won by ‘centre right policies’.

    That just makes you the same as the centrist left Labour Party, which can because of its left wing ideology rarely retain wavering centrist voters.

    The Liberal Party would always attract the centrist voter without needing to become centrist. You don’t understand that.

    The last thing the Liberal Party needs is more centrist right politicians. They have too many already and look what you have done to the Conservative Party of Australia.

    It needs to adhere strictly to conservative values. Centrist votes would flock to it. That’s what Menzies did. That you suggest he was in any way centrist is absurd and a misunderstanding of him. He knew conservative values would always trump the leftie ideologies in the labor movement. He also realised conservative values would make life far better for most than any leftie of the charades especially from those pretend centrist who benefited from taxpayers money.

    Keeping those beneficiaries in as small a number as possible is the key. Today you fools have allowed that to balloon to more than 50 % of the voting population. Now produce policies that reduce that. You don’t have the balls.

  13. padraic says:

    An excellent and timely article, particularly the setting out of an action framework to be examined in light of its general criteria and to link them to specifics. However, in reading through it I was minded of what philosophy students are advised – “Define your terms”. The definitions of two terms bandied around these days, namely “working class” and “conservative” are a bit like beauty – “in the eye of the beholder”. It was not always thus with “working class”.

    In the 1830s the definition of “working class” was quite clear after the passing of the UK Reform Act in 1832 which introduced a qualified franchise for both country and urban voters. The main change was in the urban boroughs where the basic voter was the ten-pound occupier – the man who either as owner or tenant actually occupied premises of a clear yearly value of 10 pounds provided he had been resident for a year, was liable for the payment of poor rates, had paid all taxes and rates due from him when he came to register, and had not himself received poor relief for the preceding year. These changes came about from pressure on the Government by both ‘middle class” and the Chartists (representing the “working class”). The newly enfranchised became the “middle class” and those that missed out were the “working class”. Simple. The “upper class” were still acknowledged as the big aristocratic landowners, wealthy urban “nabobs” and others like top clergymen, military etc. At that time UK laws applied to its colonies in Australia so the class system was alive and well here at the time, and with those clearly defined boundaries. After the passing of that Reform Act in 1832, the Chartists objected and for their sins were transported in relatively large numbers to Australia where, over time, they had more success in obtaining the vote for all citizens. So the class system was essentially based on economic differences and was easy to define because it was enshrined in legislation. Linked to the economic differences were different types of employment activities.

    Today, the term “working class” still exists but here is no consensus on who constitutes the “working class”. Everybody “works” these days. Over the years with universal franchise and universal education and the opening up of career opportunities to all, the former legislation based boundaries are no longer relevant. Politicians and journalists recognise this problem and some have gamely put forward suggestions. In America recently I noted one journalist defined the “working class” as “those without a college degree”. I thought that in the American context that was probably a good contemporary definition, but then she was topped by a politician who defined them as “deplorables”. Here in Australia there are similar attempts. In a recent article by a serious and respected journalist the “working class” was provisionally defined as “sales reps, drivers, tradies, gardeners and so on”. If that is the case, then “working class” is no longer defined by economic boundaries because many “tradies” and heavy machinery “drivers” earn much more than doctors, journalists and so on. On another occasion several years ago I was surprised to hear a journalist on the evening commercial TV news claim that “Parramatta was a working class suburb”. Real Estate agents have some form of confected class distinction. Even more puzzling these days is how to define the “middle class”. What are the criteria? And what happened to the “upper class” which must be there if you have a “middle class”. If we can’t define a term, we shouldn’t use it. We need something new.

    I think that today groups of voters are better classified by their social values and attitudes, and certainly not by the suburb in which they live. In the times when economic boundaries defined the classes, they mostly shared the same social values on such things as family, integrity, honesty, common sense, the need for a religion, patriotism and nationalism and respect for the rule of law ad other related values. These are seen as conservative values that cross economic boundaries. So the Greens should be defined by their values such as acceptance of drug abuse and euthanasia, “lawfare” against economic development, etc. Labor covers a broad church of social values ranging from keeping out illegal migrants to allowing them in. With the Liberals and Nats there is also a broad church and a recent article by Paul Kelly sums it up “As liberal leader, Turnbull’s core task, in John Howard’s words, is to manage both the liberal and conservative traditions that constitute the party…” In the light of those preliminary comments I offer the following comments on Dominic’s framework.

    Purpose – He’s right about the “lack of clarity about our purpose”. There needs to be some sort of feedback mechanism (not focus groups) for the Liberals and National parties to have their policies informed by what the majority of people with traditional social values want or can live with. I can live with our current flag, but like John Key, the ex “conservative” NZ PM I would prefer to have a more nationalist one. Just because you would like a flag change does not make you a rabid leftie. I don’t believe as does Dominic, that “we should be leading the charge for renewable energy”. But that does not make him a rabid leftie either. When he says that our current prosperity “is the social dividend from our conservative past” he is correct because it was the socially conservative elements on both sides of economic class politics that worked together to (whether they liked it or not) to come to sensible compromises. But even the word “Conservative” is not a good look if you consider his comments on its definition by Hayek, Peter van Onselen and William Buckley. We need a new word for what he clearly defines as “..around this permanent core, we should innovate everything else for the good”. The trick here would be to establish what constitutes “this permanent core”. Not being a seer I have difficulty with “arguing for the future that works”. It would be better to concentrate on a “present” that works and that is a good foundation for the future.

    Vision – A “vision” in this political sense must have detailed examples, not just generalities. The average voter is turned off by expressions and words like “nimble”, “delivering better services”, protecting the “vulnerable”. They want exact details so they can evaluate your platform. I agree with him that “Culture is important, art is important, heritage is important”. I would add to that “National pride and identity is important”, and more to the point “Votes are important”, so you would not want to subsidise groups such as graffiti ‘taggers’ as “art” and who would not vote for you anyway or share your values.

    The battle of ideas – I agree with everything he says.

    Language – We need a new word other than “Conservatives”, another word that has universal appeal, and yet reflects our basic human values that have wider appeal. The word “Conservative” conjures up visions of old anglo-celtic whitemen dinosaurs like me or some aristocratic sounding Brit talking down to people.

    I agree that “Lifters and leaners” is a bit genteel – “Workers and bludgers” would have more impact in the Australian context. “Small government” is another turnoff for the average voter – “A government that listens and responds to your concerns” is better if you want a general slogan. I am not in favour of “empowering” (another weasel word ) “families, civic groups and small businesses”. You either govern or you don’t in a democracy. It is a compact between Parliament and individual citizens. Such groups should stick to their roles in the community and stay out of politics. It was bad enough for Qantas and the banks to tell me I was a bad boy because I don’t support “gay marriage” but to be told by the St Vincent de Paul in a recent full page advertisement that I was somehow immoral because I oppose illegal migration was the limit.

    Principles – Again I agree with this criterion but feel some more details would be helpful. I realise that this article is to stimulate debate and if we followed his suggestions of national get-togethers etc the details will follow.

    The base – The base of the Liberal-National Party has changed. Many people who voted Labor because of family tradition, can no longer stomach the corruption and sucking up to the Greens and the trashing of traditional family values rampant in the Labor Party and see the social values of the Liberal-National Party the same as theirs and have switched. Also many of the newer migrants identify with Lib/Nat values. These are now part of the new “Middle Ground” identified by Dominic as critical to electoral victory.

  14. Lawrie Ayres says:

    Dom spoke of the organisations of the left that promote leftist ideas and how the conservatives do not have a similar strategy. Well, Dom, the leftist organisations of which you speak all rely on taxpayer funding controlled by leftist bureaucrats who refuse to fund conservative outlets, this magazine for example. There is the greatest mouthpiece for leftist ideas, the ABC, fully funded by the taxpayer, that does not have one conservative presenter or show. The left survive as parasites on conservative largesse and like good parasites everywhere will eventually kill their host. The best way to defeat the left, indeed the only way, is to starve it of funds. Why have a Premiers Literary Award when only leftist writers are considered? The Dangerous Ideas crowd only invite a conservative like Andrew Bolt to their do so they can ridicule him. Their plan backfired somewhat last year when he was given well deserved applause. So if you want conservatives to combat the left you could start by having them both play on the same field by cutting funding to all the leftist groups and have them do what conservatives have always done, spend their own money.

    As for the rest of your article you lost me when you want to lead on climate change. Typical lawyer and scientifically illiterate into the bargain. The only leadership in the climate change fiasco by the Liberals is over a cliff into RET and power shortages.

  15. whitelaughter says:

    Okay, it’s unlikely you’ll ever read this, but on the offchance you do:

    - the pages of comments above show how the Liberal party has lost its’ core supporters. I’m not right wing – I’m pure centre: one of the many Aussies disgusted with being called a racist because I was horrified with the eleven hundred people who drowned because the Pacific Solution was unwound. I can confirm that you need to get your core supporters onboard before you turn to those of us who are swinging voters: after all, if your core electorate can’t trust you, why should we?

    - What we *expect* from a Conservative government is that you will maintain and restore systems that have worked in the past. Your call for renewable energy that has earned you so much ire is amusing because you are forgetting your own history – Liberal governments *did* this back in the 70s and 80s, you were converting the country to hydro; only to be stopped by a misuse of the foreign affairs power so that Labor could protect their coal mining seats. You should be constantly reminding voters of this, that you went for a proven source of renewables a generation ago. At a federal level, the claims of Labor to be the party of equality should be rebutted by pointing out that the first female MP, first Aboriginal MP, first Aboriginal Senator, were all Coalition members, and that a true meritocracy cannot be racist or sexist, so quotas and similar foolishness can be avoided.

    - a totalitarian worldview is easy to describe because it is enforced on everyone whether they want it or not. The way to rebut it is to show choices: would you rather deal with Centrelink, or with Vinnies? Be able to choose your preferred private school for your children, or be faced with identical public schools infested with (un)Safe Schools?

    -finally, it’s time to ally with the minor conservative parties. Yes, they will grow stronger from this: but the Liberal party is more likely to survive as an umbrella organisation than by trying to go it alone.

    • Doc S says:

      My thoughts exactly – I think I’m of the same views. Your point about renewables is a very good one and it should be remembered that its not a zero sum argument – renewables have their place in the natural development of technologies which will eventually see some them develop into sustainable providers of base-load power – but we’re not there yet! Decisions to shut down coal-fire power stations instead of up grading them have had disastrous consequences. So has the virtual abandonment of hydro. Ironically I think its an unintentional consequence of the Greens most famous victories – the reversal of the decision to dam the Franklin. Dams and with it hydro fell out of favour after that. Now that dams are being built again (thank you ‘global warming’) I’m surprised that they’re not all equipped with hydro generators. Then of course there’s nuclear technologies which aren’t even allowed to be discussed let alone considered! More fool us as we see what China is doing with applying the latest nuclear technologies with fast-breed ‘pebble’ and Thorium reactors.

      The other point you make about allying with the minor conservative parties appears to be a rather obvious one – or so you’d think! But leading conservatives still appear determined to ignore it – I note Barnaby Joyce yesterday warning against Barnett in WA giving preferences to One Nation, saying he’d hand government to Labor if he did so. Wrong Barnaby! One Nation is polling 13% – probably at least 15% if the polling booth factor is taken into consideration – that’s the margin between a LNP Coalition or Labor-Greens winning government in WA. The numbers are even greater in Qld for that election so the political future must, you’d think, look at broadening a conservative coalition to win or retain government. It may be the only way to prevent this country falling into the hands of the radical socialists that infest the Labor-Greens ‘coalition’!

  16. Bushranger71 says:

    Dominic really highlights just why the political realm and many associated forums are failing to connect with the people. Simply put, the populace generally responds best to simple plain language and are mostly turned right off by erudite wordsmithing associated with political philosophies.

    Supposed simple aims of Bob Menzies were never adhered to, especially in the Howard era, with the extravagances of middle class welfare and wealth creation indulgences for the affluent.

    Loyalty is a 2-way street. Mr. Average will support a political party with simple basic principles, provided those ideals are adhered to generally in all aspects of governance. But presently, there is no morality at the core of government and voters are more or less treated contemptuously post-elections.

    Preferential Voting is a blight on the Australian political system and could be easily remedied by substitution of Approval Voting, which would prevent gaming of elections and truly reflect the voting will of the people. See the following links for some enlightenment:

    https://conservatives.com.au/approval-voting/

    https://independentaustralia.net/politics/politics-display/approval-voting-a-true-measure-of-voters-will,8726