A Conservative Vision for a Richer Liberalism

ChanegChaneg Torres outlines how conservatism can add to the Liberal Tradition.


‘But what is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without tuition or restraint.’ 
– Edmund Burke

 

What place does conservatism have in the classical liberal tradition? For many, conservatism is seen as merely reactionary; a liability to the electoral success of the liberal tradition, only capable of opposing progress and impotent to provide compelling vision for the challenges of today and the future. I argue that ‘conservatism’ is a disposition toward certain truth claims regarding the nature and end of the individual, the individual’s need for voluntary community and the individual’s relationship to political community. This disposition is necessary for a robust liberalism. It provides liberalism with presuppositions and a vocabulary that has a vision of inherent human dignity at its center and thus gives liberalism sufficient moral grounding and capability to present a compelling vision of the common good.

Classical liberalism has traditionally been understood as the belief in individual liberty. The individual for a liberal possesses natural, inviolable rights prior to any political association, articulated by Locke as ‘life, liberty and property’. Milton Friedman understood it to be ‘the intellectual movement that…emphasized freedom as the ultimate goal and the individual as the ultimate entity in the society. It supported laissez faire at home as a means of reducing the role of the state in economic affairs and thereby enlarging the role of the individual…(the) reduction in the arbitrary power of the state and protection of the civil freedoms of the individual.’ Thus the classical liberal claims that in order to flourish, individuals must be free to associate, voice their opinions and engage in enterprise. Inherent then is a preference for smaller government that gives room for the exercise of individual initiative and exists to protect, rather than to curtail, the liberties of individuals. Smaller government is less capable of coercing individuals into conformity, allowing individuals to pursue their own beliefs and happiness. Indeed, government must be small, because government is made up of flawed individuals who, despite the greatest of benevolence, have the propensity to miscalculate at best, or at worst use the coercive power of the state to impose what they deem to be their anointed vision on those who may find their vision unconscionable. Greater political and economic freedom, then, leads to greater material prosperity and individual wellbeing.

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Silence Of The Liberal Lambs: A Scathing Critique Of the NSW Liberals

unnamed-1-150x150-150x150 When the media policy becomes the story, perhaps it’s time to change the media policy, writes Alex Butterworth…

A motion at the upcoming New South Wales Young Liberal Council has drawn broad criticism from grass roots members of the Liberal Party across the nation. The motion is not about a controversial issue of policy; it is a censure motion, targeting a member of the Young Liberals for daring to have an opinion on policy, and for challenging Liberal members of parliament on policy, principles and values. It is symptomatic of a culture that seeks to silence robust policy debate. It is a culture that seemingly only exists in the New South Wales Liberal Party, while other states and territories actively encourage rigorous policy debate both inside and outside party forums.

While the party’s media policy is intended to limit negative media attention over internal party matters, it actually generates more negative media attention and stifles policy debate.

In this latest situation, Kerrod Gream, the Australia and New Zealand Chairman of Students for Liberty (ANZSFL), is accused of criticising the NSW Liberal Party’s brand and contravening the NSW Liberal Party’s media policy. Mr Gream leads the regional body of an impressive global organisation, with values and objectives that fit neatly into Sir Robert Menzies’ We Believe statement. As President of ANZSFL, he advocates small government, individualism, and free markets. ANZSFL is strictly non-partisan and welcomes members of all parties that believe in these values. In Mr Gream’s case, he is a member of the Liberal Party, because he sees it as the appropriate fit for his beliefs and values. Like many, he raises concerns when the party’s policy platform, or individual members of parliament, stray from the Menzies principles. However, some would rather that the NSW Liberal Party escape accountability for its failure to stick to the ideological principles which have served the party so well.

It is policy of the NSW Liberal Party that members “consider carefully any comments or statements they make on websites, social networking sites or blogs” so their comments “do not result in damage or cause embarrassment” to the party. While the party’s rules provide for ‘procedural fairness’ in the enforcement of this policy, the NSW Liberal Party Constitution overrides these procedural fairness provisions, and allows the State Director of the party to unilaterally suspend members of the party for a breach of the policy as determined by the State Director. No rights of appeal, no rights of reply, or right to representation: just suspension.

I have personally been targeted by these provisions over an article written for Menzies House earlier this year. In August this year, I called for the Liberal Party to retain its existing leader, Tony Abbott. This was in response to suggestions by other Liberal Party members on social media that we should make Julie Bishop Prime Minister. My article argued that Julie Bishop is an outstanding Foreign Minister and an excellent Deputy Liberal Leader, but that the traits that make her a great performer in these roles are the same traits that would stop her from being a great Prime Minister. My article did not rule out a Julie Bishop Prime Ministership, but simply set out the things that, in my opinion, would need to change for her to become Prime Minister and lead successfully.

Following publication of this article, I received a telephone call from the NSW Liberal Party State Director, Tony Nutt. One might have thought that the State Director of the NSW Liberal Party would have better things to do than monitor Facebook status updates of ordinary branch members, but apparently not. The consequence of that telephone conversation was my resignation from the New South Wales Division of the Liberal Party the next day. After 10 years as a member of the Liberal Party, with a Youth Meritorious Service Award medal on my shelf and a history of services across two states, I had to choose between saying what I really think, and being a member of the New South Wales Division. Contrary to the media policy’s intention, I am now free to say whatever I wish publicly. The threat of penalty for ‘overstepping the line’ is gone altogether, because it was used too liberally (pun intended) for a minor issue. Where I might have previously thought twice about writing an article such as this, I am now free to speak openly about matters, whether external or internal.

While other state and territory divisions of the party relish the challenge of policy debate, there is a chilling effect that occurs in New South Wales because of the media policy. The “tall poppies” who express a view are torn down. Others don’t dare to say anything for fear of a similar fate. Those who fight the culture are sidelined and pushed out, no matter how distinguished their past service to the party has been.

If the New South Wales Liberal Party wants to be a political force to be reckoned with, with policies to match, it can’t be an organisation of silent lambs. The party’s media policy must be reformed, if not abolished entirely.

Alex Butterworth is a technology lawyer and former president of the Australian Liberal Students’ Federation, the Western Australian Young Liberals, the Western Australian Liberal Students and the Pearce Division of the WA Liberal Party. 

In Defence of the Establishment

971753_10151574401276107_283040900_nChristopher Rath outlines why the establishment of the Liberal Party exists, and why change from within is the obvious choice for Classical Liberals, Libertarians, and Small Government Conservatives.

The Liberal Party of Australia today is still the John Howard party. The majority of Federal Liberal MPs and Senators served in his Government, most advisers and apparatchiks worked for his Government, and most Young Liberals were inspired to join the Party because of his Government.

 

I joined the Young Liberals in 2006 at the very young age of 16 because I believed in the economic reform being pursued by the Howard/Costello era. I was a “dry” before I knew what the term meant. I was also a “dry” before I knew that there were “wets” in the Party. I thought that “dry” was the only game in town and Party divisions only existed on social issues.

 

This is because by the time the 2000s came along the Liberal Party establishment had become “dry”, with the “wets” a minority of outsiders. The “wets” had been the establishment in the 1970s under Fraser but they lost the long bitter war that was waged in the 1980s and 90s. In fact you could say that Fightback! was the final nail in the “wets” coffin; certainly Howard led a thoroughly “dry” government for over eleven years. If the Party establishment was not “dry” perhaps I would have never joined. After all it was Hawke and Keating rather than Fraser who reduced tariff protection, floated the dollar, and began privatising government assets.

 

I love the Liberal Party establishment because I am bone dry, not in spite of it. My critics in the Young Liberals may call me an “establicon” or establishment conservative as a pejorative, but I wear it as a badge of honour. Being an “establicon” means being “dry”, it means supporting the Premier and Prime Minister, campaigning, raising money, supporting branches to grow, pre-selecting talented men and women, and fostering our best future leaders. It means loving the Liberal Party and our greatest living Australian, John Howard.

 

Howard was also an “establicon”, from being NSW Young Liberal President in the 1960s to seeking a parliamentary career as quickly as possible. He loved the Party and the establishment more than anyone, perhaps even more than his mentor John Carrick. When he lost the 2007 election and his seat of Bennelong he could have blamed his Treasurer, Cabinet, Parliamentary colleagues or Party machine. Instead, even after he had given 40 years of his life to the Party, 16 years as leader and over eleven years as Prime Minister, he humbly took complete blame for the election loss. In fact he defended and praised the Party on election night 2007- “I owe more to the Liberal Party than the Liberal Party owes to me”.

 

The people I’ll never understand are those who attack the Party or threaten to resign or somehow think that they’re above the Party. They are not. Not even a Prime Minister of eleven and a half years is above the Party. Similarly I’ll never understand those who claim ideological purity as a reason for preventing their party membership. If you don’t like the Party leadership or policies, you should join the party and make a difference or contribution towards promoting your deeply held beliefs. You’re going to have more influence inside the Party than from the sidelines. You’re not going to change the fact that the Liberal Party is the natural Party of government, being in power two thirds of the time since WWII.

 

The Liberal Party establishment is not perfect. Not every Liberal Party policy is perfect. But isn’t it better to get 80% of something than 100% of nothing? Isn’t it better to be pragmatic and win an election than being a purist and let Bill Shorten and the trade unions run the nation? All great right-wing leaders understand the importance of pragmatism and the broad church, but again Howard is the master:

“The Liberal Party of Australia is not a party of the hard Right, nor does it occupy the soft centre of Australian politics. It is a party of the centre Right. It is the custodian of two great traditions in Australia’s political experience. It represents both the classical liberal tradition and the conservative tradition.”

 

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher understood this and similarly they turned their parties into “dry” pragmatic parties built in their own image. Even Turnbull understands the importance of pragmatism and has neutralised the issues of climate change and same sex marriage early on. But he also understands that the establishment today, unlike the establishment under the other Malcolm in the 1970s, is inherently “dry”. This is why he went out of his way in his victory speech to prove his “dry” credentials, careful not to scare away people like me- “This will be a thoroughly liberal government. It will be a thoroughly liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market.”

 

Turnbull’s Ministry is also packed to the rafters with establishment dries, including Mathias Cormann, Paul Fletcher, Arthur Sinodinos, Andrew Robb and Josh Frydenberg. Andrew Robb, the archetypical establishment dry, was an economist, staffer, government relations professional, and the federal director of the Liberal Party responsible for the 1996 campaign that brought the Howard Government to power. As Minister for Trade and Investment he has successfully negotiated three free trade agreements. Similarly Josh Frydenberg is an establishment dry, securing the safe seat of Kooyong after being an adviser to Alexander Downer and John Howard and a Director of Global Banking with Deutsche Bank.

 

So to all of the libertarians, classical liberals and small government conservatives out there, my plea to you is to join the Liberal Party, support the inherently “dry” establishment which now exists, try to make a difference by pushing for your agenda and philosophy within the natural party of government, and understand that in politics a level of pragmatism is required.

 

“Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best.” (Otto Von Bismarck)

Christopher Rath is a Young Liberal Branch President and currently works in the private sector. He previously worked as an adviser to state and federal Liberal Parliamentarians and has degrees in economics and management.