Political parties are not immortal. The surviving Liberal MPs who installed a leftist cuckoo in the Lodge and brought their party to the giddy brink of losing government thereby might do well to remember this. Kipling once wrote of pre-1914 Britain’s life under the predictable, minimally-varied cycle of Whigs and Tories:
Ancient, effortless, ordered, cycle on cycle set,
Life so long untroubled, that ye who inherit, forget
It was not made with the mountains, it is not one with the deep;
Men, not gods, devised it. Men, not gods, must keep.
The Liberal Party has been a major party and a major feature of the Australian political landscape for longer than most of us can remember. It was founded by Robert Menzies and came to power nationally in 1949, largely by appealing to the “forgotten people”—the middle-class battlers and independent-minded self-employed whose superannuation and financial independence the present Liberal government has been attacking.
Labor in 1949 had run out of steam. Its fatal handicaps included Chifley’s bank-nationalisation proposals and ceaseless strikes (including, I suggest, the memory of wartime strikes) and its overly-close relationship with the Communist Party, in New South Wales at least. Be that as it may, Australia existed for a long time without the modern Liberal Party and could do so again.
The British Liberal Party, in the times of Gladstone and Lloyd George, also looked reassuringly permanent. Its predecessors, the Whigs, had provided British politics with men like Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservative thought. Yet quite suddenly it died in its tracks, to continue as the ghost of a great political party, changing its name, lucky to get double-figure seats in the House of Commons and associated in the public mind with things like Jeremy Thorpe’s sex antics.
In Australia we have recently seen the ALP implode in the Rudd–Gillard–Rudd farce, but the ALP has a life-support system in the unions which ensures its organisational continuity. The Liberal Party does not. All it really has going for it is a reputation for more competent government, better economic management and a commitment to such principles as freedom of expression and anti-totalitarianism. The Liberal Party of Australia could go the way of the British Liberal Party and be reduced to an insignificant ghost, or even, like the American Whig Party, perish altogether.
The Australian Liberal Party is today in a strange predicament: it is led by a man who does not share many of its basic values, who lacks charisma and leadership qualities, and is disliked by much of the lay party which did not elect him to the leadership. This seems a quite possibly fatal condition.
It is not as if the mass of conservative voters have nowhere else to go. There are now a number of Centre-Right parties that offer alternatives.
Donald Trump’s victory, Brexit and Pauline Hanson’s resurgence are signals from across the English-speaking world that the “little battalions” of battlers are mad as hell at the political class and won’t take it anymore.
I doubt the next election will show a seismic shift in the political landscape in Australian Centre-Right politics—the time is not quite ripe for that—but it will show a significant one. There are a number of dark clouds on the horizon.
Section 18C. The government has refused to reform or abolish the infamous Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This is Star Chamber law, and any first-year law student or any person of ordinary common sense can see what is wrong with it. The series of outrageous cases associated with 18C speaks for itself. There are reports of actions brought against students under Section 18C being settled out of court for $5000. This looks like simple extortion and blackmail of people not well-placed to pay it. It can easily translate into ruined young lives. Turnbull has said, showing his contempt for principles of freedom of expression: “It is not a priority with us. With all due respect to the very worthy arguments surrounding it, it is not going to create an extra job … it’s not going to build an extra road.”
This is a statement to take the breath away. Does the man place no value on freedom of expression at all? What part of his moral sense has been amputated? Hitler built a lot of extra roads and did away with unemployment. That it is not going to create an extra job or build an extra road could be said of all manner of worthy and invaluable legislation, including Magna Carta. Of course, abolishing Section 18C might uncreate the jobs of many bureaucrats, lawyers and jobsworths who now draw fat pay-cheques looking for offence or insult in common speech.
This essay, a companion to Alex McDermot’s ‘Saving the Centre-Right House Divided‘, appears in the March edition of Quadrant.
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The staggering case of the memorial to the Japanese sex-slaves shows how hydra-headed and truly Orwellian the application of this Act may become, metastasising like a cancer through society, and preparing the way for even greater assaults on basic freedoms. No party of courage or principle—or political survival sense—should put up with it for a moment.
The tax money saved by the Act’s wholesale abolition could go back into the productive economy. There are any number of senior lawyers and QCs in the public service and Parliament who could do the job of abolishing it. Referring the matter to a committee simply looks like a cynical way of delaying action, perhaps for years, and an electorate who have watched Yes, Minister may be sufficiently acute to see it. Abolishing it would be a good action and the time for a good action is always now.
Other instances of dictatorial political correctness are also allowed to grow and fester unhindered when the Prime Minister, or his ministers, could put a stop to them by picking up a telephone. Why did Foreign Affairs, with an expensive embassy in Tel Aviv and a palace in Canberra, not intervene when it was alerted to the fact that World Vision money was being funnelled into Hamas? Australia is a middle-ranking power and could intervene on behalf of the martyrs awaiting barbaric tortures and execution in Islamic prisons. Even if nothing was achieved the deed would be something for national honour. A Liberal government that at least tried to do something for the likes of Asia Bibi and Dr Afridi in Pakistan, to name only two, could walk taller in the world.
Why did the Defence Minister fail to attend a major international annual conference on defence which Australia has always attended in the past? Was she afraid someone would ask her a question?
A strange passivity, a refusal to fight the culture war or even to acknowledge that it is going on, has recently characterised nominally conservative parties in many parts of the world. As Michael Sexton said in the Australian, “What is the point of being in government if there is not at least an attempt to defend freedom of speech?” In France, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia, “Islamophobia” (which is not a phobia at all) is now subject to criminal punishments and it looks as if Australia is far along the same road (indeed, Bill Shorten made a promise along the lines that “Islamophobia” would be criminalised—Would this include such things as criticising a penal code that included punitive amputation?). Freedom of speech and expression should be locked in now by, if necessary, an amendment to the Constitution.
Superannuation. The government has attacked superannuation, penalising savers and the self-employed, the party’s core of supporters who Menzies mobilised so successfully, and who have turned out to support Liberal leaders and the party infrastructure since. To quote an editorial in the Spectator Australia last July:
Meanwhile, Mr Turnbull, Mr Morrison and their incompetent cohorts, whilst refusing to tackle government excess, can themselves look forward to luxuriating in a gold-plated taxpayer-funded pension as soon as they leave Parliament worth many multiples of what the new super “caps” will allow.
Add the plight of those who, perhaps through no fault of their own, have no substantial superannuation.
The “invasion” myth. By agreeing that Australia was “invaded” in 1788 Turnbull gives the whole game away to the Left. If Australia was “invaded” rather than “settled” by the heirs of the Enlightenment the whole philosophy of Menzies’s party is built on a lie. There are several arguments against using the term invasion.
Governor Phillip, unlike Turnbull’s declared hero Mao Zedong, killed no one wantonly, and for those Aborigines, especially women and children, who joined white society and accepted white ways, white settlement could be seen as a liberation. One wonders if any of the present political class have ever read Watkin Tench’s eyewitness account of the conditions of Aboriginal women when the First Fleet arrived.
The spread of diseases among Aborigines was unintentional and largely a consequence of 50,000 years of isolation depriving them of immunity. The propagation of the “invasion” legend can only harm chances of their betterment in society, and give aid and comfort to destructive agitators. Oh, yes, and knock away one of the main pillars supporting the Liberal Party—its tacit claim to be a product of the best of the British Christian Enlightenment.
According to the Fairfax Press:
[Turnbull] wants to change the way the country works … Most profoundly, he wants to change the culture; the culture of government, the culture of politics, the culture of business. Even the way Australia presents itself to the world.
He cites the founder of modern China, Mao Zedong, in a famous declaration attributed to him in the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 when he said: “The Chinese people have stood up!”
And Turnbull adapts it for Australia: “Modern China is built upon an assertion of national sovereignty. And that is why we say to China, ‘The Australian people stand up!’,” repeating it in Mandarin.
Quoting Mao? Dreaming of remaking our culture? Believing he will lift Australians from their knees to their feet? Not a word about the fact that Mao built a society dedicated to the total destruction of freedom, built upon the mass murder of dissidents. This alone is enough to unfit Turnbull to lead a democracy. One of the Liberal Party’s historical assets has been that it has been anti-totalitarian and on the side of freedom. It was Menzies who declared war on Hitler in the face of the opposition of a very large part of the Labor Party. Gerard Henderson has said in reference to Turnbull’s Maoism: “Australian values do not honour mass-murderers, whether in China or anywhere else.”
To mark the end of Ramadan, Turnbull entertained to a halal diner at the Lodge the shady imam who wanted women hung up by the breasts in hell. After Islamic atrocities he has solemnly parroted the mantra that Islam is a religion of peace. Someone apparently told him this at some point, and he repeats it, unaware that it is said today largely as a sarcastic joke.
The graduate glut. Turnbull has done nothing to undo Rudd’s free university places. Australia continues to turn out legions of unemployable arts graduates while desperately short of skilled tradespeople.
Defence. Defence policies may be sharply criticised: the $50 billion submarine order for untried boats from France, when India is buying boats from the same yard at one ninth of the price, and Israel is buying much cheaper boats from Germany, demands an inquiry. (A government with either political courage or concern for national security might have bought Virginia-class nuclear submarines, which could be serviced in America, instead of sending our future sailors into a gunfight armed with a knife.) Then there is the purchase of the F-35, whose cost makes it at least highly controversial, even if its performance is beyond a layman’s judgment. These two purchases, the former at least undertaken for domestic political reasons, which apparently over-ride questions of operational efficiency, must at least unbalance future defence procurements. Turnbull has apparently gone along with, and possibly actively promoted, a political correctness movement frankly and openly concerned with destroying the Defence Forces’ masculine and warrior cultures (Orwell: “civilised men can only remain civilised as long as rough men guard them”).
A Royal Commission is called into Northern Territory policing when what is really needed is one into the bias of the ABC, as well as into, at least, the submarine order.
The list of Turnbull’s failures goes on, but from the point of view of the Liberal Party’s supporters the most glaring is the lack of achievements to counter-balance his long-brewed treachery towards Abbott. All this tends to be profoundly demoralising for party members, who are called upon at elections to dig into their pockets, to door-knock, to staff polling-booths, scrutineer votes, and even to generate policies. At the last federal election the man who organised the political assassination of Tony Abbott sickeningly called upon “loyalty” and his father’s example of that value in an e-mail sent to selected persons including myself.
If they do not rid themselves of this man who has taken them from a solid majority to the edge of defeat, apparently for no motive but the gratification of his own ego, and who like a reverse King Midas has the gift of turning every cause he touches to ordure, the Liberals may wake up one morning and find their party is not facing merely temporary electoral defeat but oblivion.
Hal G.P. Colebatch’s father and maternal grandfather were Liberal MPs and founders of the modern Liberal Party. He has been a state candidate for the Liberals