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.