Resigned to a Party Without Principle

scomo and waffleDo you know what you notice when you live for a while in the United Kingdom, or even Canada?  Sometimes, not often but on occasion, politicians resign from cabinet on a point of principle. To Australian eyes these are strange figures because they seem to value something more highly than the power and perks and privileges that come with being in power.  Agree or disagree with their convictions, you see that they are prepared to say ‘I will not be associated with that, even if the price is resignation from cabinet and having to retreat to the backbenches’.

Now I’m reliably told that some Coalition MPs actually hold a few right-of-centre views about debt, about eliminating the deficit, about standing up for free speech, about not supporting ever more tax increases, that sort of thing.  Some of these near-extinct Liberal Party MPs are even, or so I’m assured, presently in cabinet.  If that is true, then answer me this: why did not a single one of these perhaps-mythical creatures resign from cabinet when presented with this abomination of a big spending, big taxing, big government, Labor budget?  Where was the man or woman of principle who refused to put his or her name to this Wayne Swan-inspired document?

Did a single one of our so-called right-leaning Liberal cabinet ministers resign – you know, the ones we’ve all been assured repeatedly by the Turnbull apologists in the media would keep Malcolm from veering too far left?  I certainly didn’t notice any resignations on principle.  Not when this budget was announced.  Not when superannuation was being attacked.  And not when the Turnbull-led monstrosity of a supposedly Liberal government basically just gave up on doing anything about repealing Section 18C.  (Apparently it’s now sufficient just to say you want, in general terms, to do something and then, when a few independent Senators say ‘no’, just throw in the towel and give up.  That and that wan effort alone counts as enough for those without shame to claim they are fighting for Bill Leak’s memory and free speech in general.  Personally, I’d prefer a double dissolution election on the issue, but then I’m concerned with outcomes, not virtue signalling and bumper-sticker moralising and hoping to con a few of the Liberal Party faithful into voting for you next election.)

Now I understand the need for cabinet solidarity. But nothing in that doctrine requires a minister to stay in the job.  Nothing prevents him from quitting, perhaps because the issues and beliefs that brought him into politics in the first place are being sold down the river by the people running the party. That sort of preparedness to quit and move to the backbench, rather than be associated with, say, an Italian-style spendathon budget is no doubt more likely to come from politicians who first had a successful career doing something other than being an earlier politician’s aide-de-camp or press secretary or what have you.

If politics is all you’ve known, all you’ve really known, then you’re never going to put principle above staying in the game you’ve played your whole adult life.  Put differently, these sort of politicians simply don’t hold any values or principles they won’t forsake to stay in cabinet.

So maybe those of us on the right just need to see this Liberal Party absolutely smashed at the next election in order to try to inject a few beliefs into those MPs who represent us through that party of purported centre-right conservatives.

It’s an awfully big price to pay.  But as time goes by I’m becoming more and more resigned to it, if I can be forgiven for putting it that way.

James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland, is the author of Democracy in Decline

19 thoughts on “Resigned to a Party Without Principle

  • Jim Kapetangiannis says:


    You are not alone in your thinking.

    I will not vote for the Liberals whilst Malcolm Turnbull is at the helm. I don’t care if they walked on water between now and the next election they still will not get my vote for one reason. Treachery should never be rewarded!

    If the leaders of the nation engage brazenly in behaviour which most civilised and normal people find abhorrent and if this ever so public example becomes the accepted norm, then we cannot have a civilised society. There is no point having contracts in business; there is no point trusting your parents, friends, teachers or anyone else for that matter. If it’s OK for the “shepherds” of the nation to treacherously seek their own aggrandisement at cost to the nation, then I’m sure the sheep will have any pang of conscience assuaged when next they decide to welch on their deals, steal from their employers, steal from the public purse or plan how to cheat on their exams or even do their parents in for the “inheritance”….

    Which brings me to your point. Why is it that we find a politician of principle a thing to be marvelled at? Why is that in every other calling in life we expect some kind of ethical behaviour whereas we appear not to expect it of our leaders?

    The saying is sure, that we ultimately reap what we sow, even if it takes a while in germinating and growing. How true this is, is playing out right before our very eyes with a government, hell bent on loading up this and future generations with burdens heavy to bear. More tax….more debt….more tax to pay off the more debt…..more tax to pay the more tax to pay off the debt created by the more debt and on it will go until such time as the Aussie dollar is devalued to make paying off the debt burden easier but at the cost of people’s life savings. Oh no cry our pollies….never happen here….we’re not Zimbabwe, we’re not Argentina and we’re not Greece…we’re Aussies and we’re just too smart to let that happen! And dare I say, little pink piggies fly.

    As far as I can see things, we either get five years of more national damage (two remaining years of the Turnbull party plus at least three years of Bill Shorten – he’s already made it quite clear that Mal hasn’t gone far enough) or just one man or woman of “principle” brings this whole sorry charade to an end. Three years of bitter medicine must surely be better than five!? I can think of three persons of some principles in the Liberal Party and their surnames all start with “A”! Two are in the house of reps and one is in the senate.

    The best remedy for a tree that has ceased to deliver good fruit is a severe pruning. It then tends to shoot anew and bear more fruit. Now with winter upon us, the time has come for some much needed pruning of the Liberal party so we get some Liberal, rather than just socialist fruit.

    • ian.macdougall says:


      I will not vote for the Liberals whilst Malcolm Turnbull is at the helm. I don’t care if they walked on water between now and the next election they still will not get my vote for one reason. Treachery should never be rewarded!

      Surely anyone in the party room should have been free to challenge Abbott’s leadership at any time they liked. A political party is a microcosm of the sort of society it wants to see come about. The party’s internal life and processes tell you more re what it is really about than all the filing cabinets stuffed full of policy documents that it has ever created.

      To say that no matter how far he had lost the confidence of the rest of the party room, Abbott should never have been chucked out, is to say that he should have been appointed leader for life, or for as long as he wanted: probably much the same thing.

      • Jim Kapetangiannis says:

        Ian I get it about the way the Libs and Labor chuck their leaders out whenever they panic but respectfully, my argument is not about the fear of losing power or as you point out “confidence” of the “party room”. My argument is that treachery should not be rewarded because it sets an example which is damaging to society as a whole. As national leaders these men and women have a “god-like” status amongst many people therefore it would be best if they modelled behaviour which exemplified higher virtues than the simple lust for power and self aggrandisement.

        Be that as it may, very, very few of us actually vote for a party. Whether you admit it or not, the vast majority of voters do not have time for the intricacies of policy or political philosophy. They vote for the “front” man or woman. Putting our Quadrant intellectualism aside, Australian elections approach something resembling “presidential” elections…you know…Gough’s IT’S TIME and Kevin O7 and even Tony’s three word slogans! In the minds of most people, no leader lasts forever but up until the disaster that was Rudd Gillard Rudd, it was accepted in Australian politics that the elected PM at least served out his or her first term. Then at least, the people could pass judgement on their performance.

        As we can now see, the kind of grasping for power practiced by Julia Gillard and Malcolm Turnbull does not end well. If Turnbull lasts until the next election (and that is a big if), all the signs are that he is going to lose it comprehensively. I for one, will not care a fig. Labor learnt a very hard lesson and they changed the way they elect their leaders and tightened up the system so that getting rid of them has become far more difficult. This has proven to be a very healthy check against the uncontrolled ego’s of those who would lead us and despite my natural foreboding at another bout of Laborite socialism, the stability of leadership may quite ironically prove to be a blessing for the nation. The Liberals didn’t learn from Labors’ errors so now they need to learn the same lesson the hard way.

        As for Abbott and Turnbull, how do you measure who is the better leader? What’s the metric? I’d really like to know.

        • Warty says:

          To get some fetch of which of the two might make a better leader, one needs to study up a bit on each. There is a comprehensive website following the ‘progress’ of Malcolm Turnbull stopturnbull.com. It is well worth a read, so much so one wonders why on earth Howard encouraged him to stay within the Liberal Party, rather than showing him the back door.
          Even if one were to study up on each, and Turnbull would undoubtedly come out with the better centre/left credentials . . . flying colours there . . . you’d still have to consider the composition of the party room. But one can’t stop there, and this is what Tony has being saying, one has to examine a now corrupt pre-selection process.
          Over the years the Coalition has moved from a centre/right axis to something else. It has somehow managed to acquire all the politically correct trappings of the Labor Party, to the point that Labor has seen fit to move even further left, to put a hint of light between itself and its erstwhile rival.

  • pgang says:

    We’re a secular humanist society. What are these ‘values’ you speak of? On what basis do they exist?

    All that matters is getting what you can before you die. We are simply inheriting the fruits of the enlightenment, as Europe did before us.

    • ianl says:

      > ” … the fruits of the enlightenment …”

      We *have* enjoyed this in Aus for some 200 years but not now – we are in the throes of Disenlightment with no way to stop this process. The Lamp of Enlightenment has been quite successfully passed to China.

    • whitelaughter says:

      secular humanist society?
      You claim that based on what?
      Certainly not our constitution, which opens by requesting the blessing of God. Certainly not our laws, which predate secular humanism. Definitely not by percentages of belief amongst Australians.
      So based on what?

    • Warty says:

      As you suggest, pgang, the Enlightenment, which was nothing of the sort, set the way for the replacement of religion by something the philosophers of the day called ‘reason’. Yet this was not the reason of Plato, or St Augustine, or Ficino, but more a way of developing ground breaking arguments that flew in the face of 17th Century, 18th Century and 19th Century established thought. The ultimate thrust of the Enlightenment was freedom of speech, thought and action; but so was French existentialism and look where that has got us. Levelling has only one ultimate outcome, apart from being a total disincentive: it produces flat heads.
      The irony of the struggle for freedom in the late 1960s, during the Civil Rights era and at the time of emerging feminism, is that it should turn in on itself, and become a new form of intolerance. Any sign of conservatism has to be shut down in the face of the new orthodoxies. As so many Quadrant columnists have pointed out and so many of its readers affirmed, political correctness, with its shiny new banners of identity politics, of gender wars, of grievance culture, of growing entitlement has finally infected a once relatively conservative party.
      As Jimbob quite astutely points out, all too many no longer give a damn whether the Coalition wins or loses the next election. This might once have been considered an unacceptable heresy, particularly with the likes of an appalling Bill Shorten in the wings, awaiting his call. But for the likes of George Brandis, Christopher Whine, (sorry Pyne) Arthur Sinodinos, Julie Bishop and a number of other wets to continue in office is unacceptable. The exodus will continue, and like Jimbob, they will not return while Turnbull and his sycophants remain.

  • bemartin39@bigpond.com says:

    The hope that the Liberal Party might one day be a genuinely conservative force is a vain one. Beginning with the defenestration of Tony Abbott, the slide into the putrid swamp is now just about complete and irreversible. Resignations of principled members – not just from cabinet but from the party – should have followed that disgraceful treachery immediately. The fact that non happened sealed the fate of the party. Our only feasible hope is that a completely fresh, genuinely conservative party takes up where Howard and Costello left off. The question is, will that come about before it’s too late to prevent us turning from a prosperous, successful nation into another banana republic?

  • leorm@fastmail.fm says:

    Is it time to draft Peter Costello to the leadership of the party? There is simply no one currently in the parliament who is capable. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

  • en passant says:

    What an excellent article and intelligent series of comments (to date not sullied by the fantasies of our Resident Troll, but that will change, I am sure).

    Like everyone who would like to see Oz survive I have been searching for the Knight of the Grail, but without any real success.
    1. Abbott is a possibility, but unlikely to recover from the baggage he carries.
    2. Bernardi is not a real leader but would make a good baggage handler. I joined his ACM, but if it is doing anything, then that has eluded me.
    3. Dutton, Hastie, umm, can I get back to you on others? – possible, but I think the job is bigger than them.
    Costello – YES, but why would he?
    Latham – I would have slashed my wrists before voting for him against Howard, but now he makes sense and has the character to Trump his numerous enemies and drain the swamp.

    What a shallow gene pool/swamp to pick from!

    We need a Trump-like outsider!

    • whitelaughter says:

      Ignore the big picture, that’s beyond any one person. Take a close look at you local elections: if you can help pick off a loser, or promote someone with potential, then you’ll make a significant change to OZ politics. And the short term benefits will be in your backyard.

  • Jody says:

    What the people who read “Quadrant” think of the Budget and the government ultimately doesn’t matter. The people will decide its and our fate. There are whole swathes of people a world away from the “Quadrant” demographic who have other values and priorities. Democracy guarantees everybody a vote but it doesn’t guarantee to get it right!!

    • Jim Kapetangiannis says:

      Too true Jody, too true but no “fate” is ultimately unchangeable. Quadrant may be our “little Jerusalem” but we have to start somewhere before spreading out. To quote Martin Luther (quite freely);

      “If you want to change the world, take up your pen!”

      • Warty says:

        I do think Jimbob is right here, Jody. I know what you are saying: your thought is that we are all caught up in our own little world here, which bears little relationship to the world out there. Jimbob echoes this referring to our ‘little Jerusalem’, then talking about a rippling out effect simply by engaging in ‘our’ discussions. His Martin Luther quotation is therefore apposite. If one can extend this to the notion that we are also part of these ‘swathes of people’ all of us assessing the budget, each of considering the government each in his (gender neutral) particular way. As such we are each and every one of us part of the community mind, which is why considering and then writing is potentially transformative. We are not separated off in some sort of Quadrant demographic, unless thinking makes it so.
        Forgive me for putting the odd word into your mouth Jimbob: it was more a matter of picking up on your sentiments.

        • Jim Kapetangiannis says:

          You’re forgiven Warty – and by th way…..couldn’t have put it better myself

        • Jody says:

          Thinking always makes everything so!!

          • Warty says:

            Well yes, of course it does, but it has nothing to do with the truth of the matter. It is not fashionable to put it this way (the ‘truth of the matter’ bit) and that has a lot to do with the so called Enlightenment totally undermining any notion of absolute Truth. Everything is ‘relative’ nowadays. I know the illustrious Andrew Bolt is a firm believer in the Enlightenment, and an agnostic too (which follows) but he does speak out of the rear end at times. Relativism promotes discord, confusion, uncertainty and worse: idiocy.
            So yes ‘thinking makes it so’ as our friend Shakespeare says, but that’s a retrograde step.

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