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

by on 12 October, 2015

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. 

Canada Votes: Preview – Quebec

by on 1 October, 2015


With just over two weeks to go until Canadians cast their ballots, we enter the second largest province in the nation by population, and perhaps the most famous.

Book Review: When We Were Young And Foolish

by on 30 September, 2015

sean-jacobsSean Jacobs reviews ‘When We Were Young And Foolish: A Memoir of My Misguided Youth with Tony Abbott, Bob Carr, Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd and Other Reprobates’ by Greg Sheridan

It’s often said that many young Australians find public debate bitter and lacking in civility. Greg Sheridan’s When We Were Young And Foolish, however, gives some perspective on the political currents of past generations, which make today’s social landscape appear mild by comparison.

Although Sheridan looks at the political elites of Australian politics he actually devotes more time to exploring the political landscape where they cut their teeth: the Catholic-Protestant divide, Labor’s split over communism and the venom of student and union politics. These, thankfully, are cleavages no longer dividing Australian life.

‘For more than 150 years,’ Sheridan writes, ‘Catholic versus Protestant was the key divide of our nation.’ Some newspaper job advertisements, as late as the 1960s, even confronted Catholics that they needn’t apply. Marrying across the ‘divide’ was enough to split families, as Sheridan’s own experience as a young Sydney-sider attests, and professions could be divided along denominational lines. Despite talk of inequality, ‘ceilings’ and discrimination young Australians can be thankful that career and social life is no longer led by what type of Christianity they follow.

Communism is another seismic international and domestic force that young Australians will find hard to appreciate. ‘I didn’t want my government supporting a communist victory in Vietnam,’ reflects Sheridan on Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, ‘because everywhere the communists won in the twentieth century they brought re-education camps, gulags, dictatorship, oppression and economic misery.’

It’s puzzling why so many Australians not only cheered for a communist win in Vietnam but how such a depraved ideology achieved support among Australian political parties and unions. The Communist Party of Australia, writes Sheridan, ‘seldom took a position at odds with Moscow’ while the Socialist Party of Australia ‘slavishly followed the Soviet line on everything.’ Both parties, rather than being fringe political dwellers, possessed control of significant unions. Communist support within the Labor Party, in fact, contributed to the great 1955 Labor Split and the formation of the (anti-Communist) Democratic Labor Party.

Another stark contrast from today is the influence and scale of student politics. Between the 1960s and 1980s the student political movement in Australia could flex significant influence on politicians while, at the same time, promoting some outrageous positions.  For a period the Australian Union of Students, for example, had a policy that all ‘men’ – apparently any boy aged over seven – were complicit in the crime of rape. Julia Gillard was the final AUS President before, mercifully, the union was disbanded in 1983.

Tangling sharply against these kinds of ideas was a young Tony Abbott who, as a student, seemed under constant threat from radical university peers (practically anyone involved in student politics). On one occasion, while protecting a female friend with shared centre-right sympathies, Abbott was severely beaten. ‘He was politically incorrect,’ reflects Sheridan, ‘and took positions, mild enough in mainstream Australia but completely outrageous in the world of student politics, which they hated.’

When We Were Young and Foolish also recalls an era of pervasive union influence, bitter commercial disputes and compulsory unionism. While CFMEU flags at CBD construction sites and Labor Party politics suggest a degree of union prevalence the dynamics are nothing like the 1960s and 1970s. The need for unions in Australia has obviously abated in an economy now driven by small business with a decline in manufacturing and the need for more flexible labour.

Many of the anti-Abbott crowd will no doubt scan the pages of When We Were Young and Foolish looking for ‘dirt’ or misgivings of the now former prime minister. What they’ll find, however, is a neat account of a young Australian deeply devoted to the intersection of ideas and action. ‘Tony is a paradox,’ writes Sheridan of his best friend, ‘in that his nature is essentially action-oriented, but he also cares about ideas for their own sake.’ While a young Abbott espoused a ‘serious, reflective, questioning, intellectual side’ he was also a keen boxer and rugby player – inspiring traits for young men.

Ironically the constant needling that wedged Abbott from power is a simple reflection of his student days. There are many that simply begged for his government to fail in efforts to end boats, pay off debt, stop waste and take steps to reform the federation. Although Abbott may have departed the prime ministership Sheridan shows that he has always been a survivor with great depth – a seasoned political thinker, unbowed by white noise and political correctness.

The provincial nature of past Australian politics does not mean today’s public discussion should be bitter and uncivil. But it does show how far Australia, like any decent nation, can evolve and re-invent in the interests of social cohesion: a broad lesson that today’s young Australians, like a youthful Greg Sheridan or Tony Abbott, should take time to acknowledge and explore.

Sean Jacobs is a former state and federal policy adviser. He has a website New Guinea Commerce at

In Defence of the Establishment

by on 30 September, 2015

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.

26th Anniversary of One of the Great Turning Points in History

by on 24 September, 2015

This week marks the 26th anniversary of probably one of the great turning points in world history.

It occurred in September 1989 when Boris Yeltsin, then an up-and-coming member of the Soviet Politburo, made his first trip to the USA.

At that time, the Soviets and their supporters still believed that a socialist system of government with centralised planning could out produce a free-market capitalist system thereby socialism would provide a higher standard of living for the average citizen.

Therefore when previous Russian leaders had visited America and they had been taken on tours of American supermarkets, Soviet leaders thought this was all put on for show, an American version of ‘Potemkin Village’ and so simply did not believe what their eyes told them.

However, back in September 1989 (before the fall of the Berlin Wall) a young Boris Yeltsin took a detour from his official itinerary and made an unscheduled and unannounced stop nondescript supermarket called Randalls (one of the speculations is that he may perhaps have wanted to buy a bottle of alcohol)

Yeltsin and his entourage wandered around the supermarket in amazement. In his autobiography ‘Against the Grain’ he recalled:

“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

There is the most famous photograph of Yeltsin in that supermarket, looking over the produce in the frozen food section with his hands up in the air, and he could be simply saying, “The free market wins”


Proposed senate voting reforms would be a Coalition own-goal.

by on 23 September, 2015

The Coalition has again raised the prospect of removing group preference flows from Senate elections.

As detailed in the analysis below of federal elections since 2007, under the proposed method the Liberal and National party would have lost ground to Labor and the Greens at 2 out of the 3 last elections, would not have gained a seat at any and almost certainly have less senators in the long run. Neither method offered either Labor or the Coalition a majority of the Senate seats contested at any of the last three elections.

Assuming voting patterns do not change, or even just assuming that the basic political landscape does not change (ie, the broad left being amalgamated under the Greens, whilst the broad right is spread across a number of libertarian, nationalist, populist and Christian parties), the new method will benefit Labor and the Greens and hurt the Coalition.


This analysis looks at the last 3 federal elections 2013, 2010 and 2007, which happen to conveniently represent three different voting scenarios: A strong showing for the right (2013) a strong showing for the left (2007) and a very close election (2010).

This analysis assumes that people would vote for the same group tickets in a scenario where preferences exhaust immediately. This is essentially the case in the NSW State upper house elections which already use the proposed method.

In order to determine the results under the new method, I took the AEC quota results, and counted off the top six places, whilst exhausting quotas.

Here is an example from the most recent NSW Senate election:

NSW – Senate 2013 Votes % Quota New method Current method
Liberal & Nationals 1,496,752 34.2 2.3942 2 3
Labor 1,381,047 31.56 2.2091 2 2
Liberal Democrats 415,901 9.5 0.6653 1 1
The Greens 340,941 7.79 0.5454 1
Palmer United Party 148,281 3.39 0.2372


The seats obtained by each party under the current method (the actual result returned) is the result of complex preference distributions. Under the new method, each of the two major groups get two seats for their complete quotas and are then left with only the remainders (0.3942 and .2091). The next seat awarded goes to the highest remaining quota, the Liberal Democrats, followed by the Greens. There are no more seats to award, but to illustrate, the theoretical seventh seat would have gone to the Liberals & Nationals as their remainder of .3942 quota was larger than the Palmer United Party’s 0.2372 quota.

As can be seen here, the new method can yield significant and surprising results – in this case, the Coalition lose a seat to the Greens and the minor party seats are unchanged.


2013 Federal Election (and 2014 WA rerun)


Votes % Seats won – current method Seats won – new method
Liberal/National Coalition 5,057,218 37.7 17 17
Australian Labor Party 4,038,591 30.11 12 14
Australian Greens 1,159,588 8.65 4 5
Palmer United Party 658,976 4.91 3 1
Liberal Democrats 523,831 3.91 1 1
Xenophon Group 258,376 1.93 1 2
Family First Party 149,306 1.11 1 0
Democratic Labour Party 112,549 0.84 0 0
Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party 67,560 0.5 1 0
Other 1,384,027 10.32 0 0
Total 13,413,019 40 40


The 2013 election is one in which Labor and the Greens did poorly and the Coalition did well. Under the new method Labor and the Greens benefit significantly at the expense of the minor parties, mostly Palmer United. The Coalition’s overall seat count is unchanged. The change increases the Greens and Labor’s share of seats 5% above their share of votes, and changes the Palmer United Party from being over-represented to under-represented. The Liberal Democrats are still under-represented and the Xenophon group increases their over-representation.

2010 Federal Election



Votes % Current method New method
Liberal/National Coalition 4,871,871 38.3 18 17
Australian Labor Party 4,469,734 35.13 15 17
Australian Greens 1,667,315 13.11 6 6
Family First Party 267,493 2.1 0 0
Democratic Labor Party 134,987 1.06 1 0
Independents 55,786 0.44 0 0
Other 1,255,047 9.86 0 0
Total 12,722,233 40 40


The 2010 election was very close and resulted in a hung parliament in the lower house. In the 2010 election, under the new method Labor gains 2 senate seats, 1 each from the Coalition and the DLP. Because this election was close and the Greens had a strong result, group distribution played a smaller part in the final outcome under the old method, so the new method has a smaller impact. The Coalition would have lost a seat in South Australia and the DLP would have lost their only seat in Victoria (both to Labor).

In terms of representation, The Coalition and Greens are over-represented in both the old and new methods (for the Coalition the new method is closer), whilst the Labor party is much more over-represented in the new method. The minor parties are significantly under-represented under both methods, with the new method being worse.

2007 Federal Election



Votes % Current method New method
Australian Labor Party 5101200 40.3 18 19
Liberal/National Coalition 5055095 39.94 18 18
Australian Greens 1144751 9.04 3 2
Independents (incl. Xenophon) 174458 1.38 1 1
Other 813538 9.34 0 0
Total 12656805 40 40

In the 2007 election, use of the new method would have transferred a single seat from the Greens to Labor. This would have made the final senate less representative of the total vote proportions.


Use of the new method would have had the most effect in the most recent Australian federal election. This is because the new method reduces the influence of groups with a vote share of 7% and less. Over the last 3 elections, using the new method, no candidate would have been elected with less than 7.79% of the vote in their state, (0.54 quotas). By contrast, under the current method, in a fragmented election, parties can be elected with as little as 1% of the total vote in their state.

Overall, use of the new method would have increased the systematic over-representation of the three major parties which is present under the current method.

Because the Australian right is currently more fragmented than the left, the Coalition currently enjoys greater preference flows from parties with a share of less than 7%. A new anti-Islam party, the ALA is launching this year and it will also likely poll in the ~5% range and would be expected to preference the Coalition before Labor or the Greens. Removing these preference flows presents a gift to the ALP and Greens.

In a situation where the Coalition does not expect to use minor and micro-party preference flows, it is still hard to imagine that eliminating the micro-parties will benefit the Coalition. The Coalition has no credible chance of gaining a majority in the Senate with or without these reforms. Surely the Coalition would find it easier to deal with the LDP, Family First or the ALA than Labor or the Greens. Even the presence of the more ideologically suspect DLP, PUP or Xenophon would at least provide an alternative negotiating partner in the Senate.

There is no benefit to the Coalition in the proposed Senate voting rule changes.

Canada Votes: Preview – The West

by on 16 September, 2015

FrontWith the Canadian election now almost exactly one month away, it is time to start looking at the possibilities on a riding by riding level and how they will stack up on election night.

Tony Abbott and Australian Conservatism: In Memoriam

by on 15 September, 2015

Christopher Dowson

Christopher Dowson

“I want our government and our country to succeed. I always have and I always will”.

Those were some of the opening words of Tony Abbott in his final statement, as Prime Minister and they certainly cannot be dismissed as mere sentimental rhetoric. Abbott was a man who loved his country and was driven to serve. It showed in his camaraderie with the ADF when visiting Iraq. It showed in his long stint in Parliament, willing to get his hands dirty for his party and his cabinet (for instance, his legal and funding campaign against Pauline Hanson and One Nation in the early 2000s, or his tireless ‘no’ campaign against the 2010 Gillard government). Abbott also showed his intense altruism, often ignored and obscured by Fairfax and The Guardian, yet amply evident from his commitment to Indigenous causes and his frequent visits to remote communities across Australia. His compassion was also strikingly evident, especially during the 2005 Bali Bombings when he and his family were on holiday in Indonesia. As Health Minister, he cut short his holiday to visit the victims of the bombings in hospital, and organised for Australians who required lifesaving emergency surgery and hospitalisation to be flown to Singapore as efficiently as possible. NSW lawyer and bombing victim, Paul Anicich, recounted an anecdote of Abbott sitting at the end of his wife Penny Anicich’s bed for hours, comforting her when she thought herself to be dying.

Abbott’s policies and behaviour were also formed out of his devout Catholicism and his background as a trainee priest. Indeed, almost half his frontbench were practising Catholics, a statistic that would no doubt astound the party’s founder, Robert Menzies. Abbott’s fondness for mentor Bob Santamaria of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), led him to say that the current religious makeup of the Liberal and Labor parties today was directly due to Santamaria’s efforts. The Liberal Party was once a Protestant-led party, whereas Abbott’s cabinet would later be predominantly a Catholic one. As Abbott noted, even John Howard was very sympathetic to ‘Santa’ and his views and Abbott once obituarised that the DLP was “alive and well and living inside the Howard government” (Battlelines (2009), p. 11).

Abbott, despite his much-touted Rhodes scholarship and Oxford years, appeared as a very basic-minded man with a penchant for conflict, sledging and having a laugh during his formative years. His love of boxing at university and his amiable personality made him seemingly a very uncomplicated Aussie guy. As Janet Albrechtson recently opined: ‘The tragedy of Abbott’s leadership was that the public Abbott didn’t mesh with the private Abbott. To meet him is to like him and to respect him. Yet Abbott’s clunky political style only exacerbated his political errors’.

Beneath this rather uncomplicated persona was a man of deep conflict however, vividly self-described in his autobiography Battlelines (2009). In it, he describes his almost jealousy of an investment banker friend who told him of his work exploits, jet-setting across the globe doing million-dollar deals while Abbott was studying the Bible and Catholic doctrine in a seminary. After hearing these stories, Abbott quit the priesthood and followed his career as a journalist and ultimately a career politician. There was no doubt in Abbott’s mind of the importance of faith in uncovering truth, and in shaping how one lives a life of service and respect in dealing with others. Indeed his faith and reason would later influence his politics. As Health Minister in 2006, Abbott publicly stated: “We have a bizarre double standard…in this country where someone who kills a pregnant woman’s baby is guilty of murder but a woman who aborts an unborn baby is simply exercising choice…” However, early in his career he knew he wanted to be seen and heard, and make an impact on his country far beyond simply the Church. As Abbott says in his autobiography, his early political forays at university helped him “…channel [his] Jesuit-inculcated desire to be a ‘man for others’ into an immediate political outlet” (Battlelines (2009), p. 11). This was Abbott’s interminable drive to ‘serve’, whether it was serving his God through the seminary or his nation through politics.

Abbott’s values would have led him to join the DLP but for the advice of Joe Bullock who convinced him to join the ‘conservative’ wing of the Liberal Party (see David Marr’s insightful essay Political Animal: The making of Tony Abbott, Quarterly Essay, issue 47, 2012).

The problem for Abbott was that, for so long after he became involved in federal politics, he was a cog in the system, used and abused by multiple Liberal powerbrokers, and eventually joining the shadowy numbers game himself often resorting to dirty tactics as seen during the One Nation conflict, or later in his consistently negative obfuscation with Julia Gillard and the ALP, or this year with the quashing of a conscience vote on same-sex marriage by inviting the Nationals to the party room vote. In all these scenarios throughout his political life, Abbott was forced to reconcile the Machiavellian requirements of being a career politician, with his Catholic ‘serving others’ character which was so deeply ingrained on his personality.

Add to this Abbott’s inability to sell his ideology, which was probably his most serious flaw. Politicians are public figures who need to interact with the community and to be able to articulate their policies to the electorate. Abbott could convince a man in private, I would have no doubt, and his earnest and sincere beliefs in family, tradition and workers in a market economy are all evidenced in his early life and his early political career. Yet when it came to getting the message out publicly, his thoughts were stuttered, his ideas punctuated with gaffes or mistakes, and it gave the public an impression that the bloke was just a bit ‘off’. Abbott relied heavily on his Machiavellian Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, to give him sound bites and easily digestible slogans that would help him sell his message as leader of the Liberal party. These slogans were initially useful in undermining the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd policies of carbon and mining taxation. Yet once Prime Minister, the public began to wonder if he had anything else to offer except ‘stop the boats, axe the tax, and build the roads’. He also relied on colleagues like Joe Hockey to sell his economic reform policies, which were botched from the outset, beginning with the bipolar 2013-14 Budget riddled with deep and sudden cuts, more government spending and inexplicable tax hikes.

Compare him to his predecessor John Howard, who was articulate and well experience in oratory after decades learning from the best on both sides of the chamber. Howard was relaxed and able to answer questions from the press with skillful ease, and without once resorting to sloganeering. Kevin Rudd too was able to use oratory to engage actively with the media and the electorate. Yet Abbott could never get it just right, and the balance was always slightly off kilter. It exacerbated the problem with Malcolm Turnbull, his political rival, who was silky-smooth at rhetoric and able to appear incessantly on ABC’s QandA program and elicit rounds of applause, further undermining the ‘awkward’ Abbott leadership, even if only indirectly.

It was also a perfect storm for the clash of values in Australia. In no other time period in history has the rise of progressivism been so relentless and unstoppable, in particular liberal social policies. These issues have swept the UK with ‘Conservative’ Prime Minister David Cameron making it his obsession to achieve ‘LGBT equal rights’ under his stewardship and to fight climate change no matter what cost. In the US, Obama switched his view and supported gay marriage across the country and eventually endorsed the Supreme Court’s controversial Obergefell decision this year, lighting up the White House with rainbow lights and cheering the LGBT cause. He also made his main agenda focus on combating the ‘once in a lifetime threat’ of ‘global warming’. Europe too was quick to embrace the climate change trend as well as other liberalist causes such as LGBT rights, euthanasia and abortion. By the time Abbott had become Prime Minister in 2013, he was faced with making a critical decision: To buck the trend and stand on principle, or to cower to popular opinion.

In discussing his admiration for Bob Santamaria of the DLP, Abbott stated: ‘What impressed me, even as a youth, was the courage that kept [Santamaria] going as an advocate for unfashionable truths. He always seemed more concerned for the cause than himself’ (Battlelines (2009), p. 11). It was a fait accompli therefore, that Abbott would stand his ground on traditional values, which ultimately proved fatal. The moderates of the Liberal Party began turning on him actively, looking to Turnbull to come up with new ideas in terms of social and economic policies. Abbott’s anti-gay marriage views and his global warming skepticism had drawn the ire of many progressives in the electorate and young university students hated him. It gave outlets like The Guardian and Fairfax more grist for the mill to relentlessly label him ‘outdated’, ‘bigoted’, and ‘homophobic’ among other things. Compared to the silver-tongued, social justice warrior in the form of Turnbull, Abbott began to be caricatured as a poor Prime Minister, and all the polling suggested that, with some even showing him to be less popular than the ALP Opposition leader Bill Shorten. Abbott acknowledged this in his final statement as Prime Minister after the spill, characterizing the modern Australian media as ‘febrile’ and one which ‘rewards treachery’. In a similar vein, Julia Gillard critiqued the media oftentimes for exacerbating the perceived ‘gender inequality’ in politics. John Howard disagreed with Abbott in blaming the media, and said: ‘Politics is relentlessly driven by the laws of arithmetic and I do think, if the polls had been different, even to a modest but measurable degree, there may not have been a change’.

Howard is right. Abbott’s destruction was not solely due to the media, although they did not help him. The fundamental problem was that Australia was – and is – undergoing radical social change, and through divine fate or whatever one calls it, Abbott ended up as our Prime Minister at exactly the eye of the storm, and he could not weather it out successfully. Some said Abbott had no coherent vision or agenda for Australia beyond national security and stopping the boats. Perhaps there is some truth in that. Abbott never made ‘traditional values’ a campaign slogan, nor did he emphasise his faith, his beliefs or his convictions when setting policy agenda, rather he simply got on with the job and did what he thought was right. This, combined with the way Peta Credlin obsessively ran his office, made him appear out of touch with, and perhaps unresponsive to, the opinions of his party room colleagues, of business leaders, and of the electorate – opinions which were so quickly moving around him that he could not afford to stand still. In reaction, he backed down on core policies on issues such as free speech, university fee deregulation, and taxation, projecting an image of a leader who could abandon principles in favour of political survival. At this point, Abbott was behaving in the most un-Abbott like fashion, which ultimately made him unable to retain influence both within the party room and in the electorate.

Yet whatever the diagnosis for Abbott’s death-spiral out of the Prime Minister’s office, it was clear that Abbott was a complicated man who desperately wanted to appear uncomplicated and straightforward to the Australian public. If nothing else, he will be remembered as a short-term Prime Minister with deep convictions, fortitude and resilience, but who ultimately could not convince the nation of his ideas or of his vision because he was so fundamentally misunderstood. And whatever that vision might have been it is, I think, too late to ever know.

Yet perhaps it is helpful to reflect on Abbott’s career and his Prime Ministership in the context of a quote from American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson who said: “Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.” Unfortunately, however, unlike the legacies of those great luminaries of history, Abbott’s will be, decades hence, still difficult to discern and even more difficult to articulate beyond the infamous three-word slogans. Stopping the boats, free trade deals, and a boost in national security seem to be the only memorable monuments of the man’s nearly-two years in power. A true Catholic conservative with a commitment to traditional morality, who lost his way and his principles as the machine of party politics, media adrenaline and social change simultaneously overran him. If his legacy is one day reconstructed in the history books, it will be an empty shell of what could have been for conservatism and the political Right in Australia, evoking the last lines of Shelley’s famous poem, Ozymandias:

“…nothing beside remains: round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”


Christopher Dowson works in government policy and legal areas and also holds an LLB/BA(Hons) and MA. He was co-founder of the WA current-affairs show The Oak Point on WestTV.

Queen Elizabeth II: A Source of Pride and Reassurance

by on 8 September, 2015

Josh Manuatu

ACT Young Liberal President reminds Australians what our Monarch means to the nation. 

From a Princess who for 10 years was thought wouldn’t ascend the throne to a Queen, who this week becomes the longest reigning Sovereign, Queen Elizabeth II has served with grace, dignity and purpose.

Princess Elizabeth, as she was then, was in fact atop a giant tree in Kenya when she became our Sovereign.  She had been watching native animals in the night, on the first leg of a royal tour that was to bring her to Australia and New Zealand.

Back in London, the duty Private Secretary, Edward Ford, sent a telegram with the code words “HYDE PARK CORNER” to his colleague, Martin Charteris, who was with the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh in Kenya.  Given the lack of security in international cables at the time, that had been the agreed signal if the ailing King had passed away.

Charteris told Prince Philip the sad news, who then then told his wife.

A little later, Charteris had to approach her to ask by what name she wanted to be known as Queen.  “Well, my own, of course,” she replied.

It is characteristic of the approach that Her Majesty has brought to her reign that the first thing she did, on learning of her father’s death, was to sit down and write letters to the Governor-General of Australia and the State Governors, apologising that she would no longer be able to visit.

It is that duty before self that has defined Elizabeth II’s reign and continues to provide a great source of pride, stability and reassurance not only for Australia and the Commonwealth of Nations, but for the world.

Her leadership has seen diverse populations, with different desires, needs, circumstances and skills come together to work as a cohesive and collegiate Commonwealth.

More specifically to Australia, Elizabeth II has been the most significant Monarch in our history not only by length of service but in terms of her regard both for Australia and Australians’ regard for her.

Elizabeth II was the first reigning monarch to set foot on Australian soil on 3 February 1954, the year following her succession to the throne. She and Prince Philip embarked on a 58 day tour of Australia, visiting 57 cities and towns across our nation, and since then she has visited the country 16 times with a huge level of public support on each visit.

When she last visited Australia, she pointedly wore the Wattle Spray Brooch given to her by Prime Minister Robert Menzies, on behalf of the Australian Government, at an official dinner in Canberra during her first visit in 1954. She has worn it on many occasions, both here and around the globe, as an enduring reminder of her affection for her Australian Realm.

The Duke of Cambridge, who will one day ascend the throne, summed it up well recently when he said “time and again, quietly and modestly, the Queen has shown us all that we can confidently embrace the future without compromising the things that are important”.

Long may she reign and continue to grace us as the Queen of Australia.

Josh Manuatu is ACT Young Liberal President.

The New York Times is Wrong on Stopping the Boats

by on 6 September, 2015

The world has been shocked in recent days by the heartbreaking image of a child lying facedown in the sand, his life tragically lost as his family attempted to make the treacherous voyage from Turkey to Greece by sea. In the wake of this tragedy and Europe’s growing refugee crisis, the New York Times editorial board has taken to its pages urging European countries not to follow Australia’s ‘unconscionable’ treatment of refugees.

In an atmosphere of high tragedy, it is easy enough to see why Australia’s seemingly harsh border policies have raised the ire America’s leading progressive hive-mind. But the Times’ moral outrage is misplaced. The lost lives of Syrians who braved the high seas in a desperate bid to reach Europe don’t discredit Australia’s border policies. They vindicate them.

The truth is that the deaths of the 2600 people who drowned trying to reach Europe by sea in this year alone weren’t unavoidable. They came about because the numbers in refugee camps in countries like Turkey and Jordan had reached breaking point and some within those camps believed their best shot at a new life was by reaching the mainland of Europe through their own means. It is worth noting that at this point many of these people – including the thousands of Syrians in Austria this weekend demanding entry to Germany – were no longer in immediate peril once they entered a country outside their homeland. This is why it is wrong to assume that all refugees attempting to enter Europe by boat from countries like Turkey and Jordan were fleeing mortal danger. More accurately, they were sold a false promise by migrant smugglers seeking to capitalise on their fear and desperation. No doubt their situation remained desperate and their futures tragically uncertain. But allowing refugees to claim asylum in whatever country’s borders they are able to breach isn’t necessary for preventing the loss of human life, nor does it fix the actual problem of settling the world’s millions of displaced people. It simply means that those with the capacity to pay people smugglers and willingness to risk danger have the chance to take matters into their own hands; a course that often ends in tragedy. Instead, what is need is a coordinated international response to ensure those in camps are placed quickly and according to need.

As long as smugglers are able to sell the promise of a better life, there will be no shortage of people number willing to take them up. The motivation to ensure boats manned by people smugglers aren’t given a free pass to permanent residency isn’t borne out of cold-hearted callousness. The intention is to ensure that migrant smugglers can’t profit from a trade that costs live and that Australia’s finite refugee intake isn’t decided according to who is able to pay to get here by boat. In view of its current crisis, these are lessons Europe would do well to heed.

The New York Times appears to adopt the same kumbaya worldview as the Labor party during it’s last period in office whereby boat arrivals are deemed to be wholly unaffected by the incentives and policies government puts in place. Its vision is one where a country’s sovereign borders are an antiquated legal triviality and the only plausible reason that any migrant would get on a boat in search of a better life is that staying put would have meant facing almost certain death. To even raise the concern that those with the resources to arrive by boat are not always the most worthy candidates for a limited refugee quota, much less the fraught and hazardous nature of such a journey is only explicable by xenophobia or a sociopathic lack of compassion.

Such delusions would be less worrisome had they not resulted in the deaths of more than 1100 people at sea during Labor’s last term.

One of the greatest mistruths propagated by the Times’ editorial is the accusation that Australia’s current stance is ‘strikingly at odds with the country’s tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war.’

Last year, Australia issued 13,768 refugee and humanitarian visas, a figure slightly above our trend for the past twenty years and is set to rise by 7500 over the next four years. As for our resettlement program, Australia ranks second in the world. The planned 6 000 for this year is lower than 1976 – 1982 during which Australia accepted large numbers of Indochinese refugees, but above trend for the thirty years prior. These figures give the lie to the Times’ emotionally laden plea that Australia should look to its past and abandon the moral bankruptcy of the state quo. To be sure, as a wealthy first world nation there is a persuasive argument that Australia could accept a greater intake. Australia has already agreed to take an extra 4400 Syrian refugees and Coalition MP’s and Ministers alike have signalled their desire for us to do more. That however, is a question of whether our current efforts go far enough, not proof of any lack of conviction to help genuine refugees. Words tell a story, but facts and number expose reality in a way that is less easily obscured.

None of this is to discount or diminish the plight of displaced Syrian refugees genuinely seeking asylum. But tragedy is a poor excuse for making an ill-considered scapegoat out of Australia’s stance on unauthorised boat arrivals. Indulging in such moral vanity is not just poor reporting. It adds nothing to the far more significant question of how the international community should come to the aid of the millions of people whose lives have been mired by upheaval, persecution and war.