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.

Abbott’s Right-Hand Man

Abetz RathChris Rath praises the character of Senator The Hon. Eric Abetz: 

In the political world there will always be the purists and
the pragmatists, the idealists and the realists, the ideologues and the
ambitious. Nobody better straddles this divide in the Liberal Party than
Senator the Hon Eric Abetz. Libertarians and conservatives alike should feel at
ease that the next Leader of the Government in the Senate and one of the most
senior members of the Abbott Cabinet will be one of us. Senator Abetz is a fusionist
(economic liberal/social conservative) and a culture warrior for the right.
Unlike some of his colleagues he did not enter politics for personal glory; his
politics is about fighting for the cause. He leaves the limelight for others,
yet everyday he puts on his armour, travels deep into the jungle of the left,
and fights the gorillas head on, whether they be in the Labor
, the
, the
gay marriage lobby
, the
trade union bosses
, the
or any dangerous
form of 'ism' that threatens Western Civilisation
. However, Abetz is not a
firebrand nor a day dreamer, he is of the belief that it is better to get 80%
of something than 100% of nothing. He is effortlessly both Leader of the
Opposition in the Senate and one of the most conservative members of the Abbott

I was fortunate to meet Senator Abetz in his Hobart office
on the 1st February 2013 where we spent a solid hour over coffee
discussing a myriad of political issues. This was just two days after Gillard
called the election and the day after Thomson was charged with 154
fraud offences
. He was extremely busy, however Abetz has always been
generous with the time he gives to Young Liberals. Abetz came from humble
beginnings and was not born into the Liberal Party establishment or the ‘big
end of town’. He was born in Germany and migrated with his family on an assisted passage to Tasmania where his father
found employment on the Hydro Scheme. No doubt he learnt the virtues of hard
work and initiative whilst working as a part-time
taxi driver and a farm hand alongside studying his Law and Arts Degrees at the
University of Tasmania
. Abetz looks back fondly on his university days
where he took the fight to the socialist left and earned his political stripes.
After university Abetz was a practicing lawyer, however, he made a deliberate
point of telling me that it was not in the corporate sector or government but
instead working directly with individuals and their legal problems, “a good
training ground for a political career” he explained.

Whilst the ALP has strong formalised factions, the Liberal
Party does not. However, Senator Abetz gives the conservative movement within
the Party meaning and direction; he is regarded as the leader of the Federal
Right. When I met with Abet, he proudly recounted the election of Tony Abbott
as leader of the Liberal Party and the rejection of the Emission Trading
Scheme. He reported that some Liberals wanted to jettison all of the policies and
values of the Howard years. This created a “crisis in confidence” in the
Liberal Party and we became a pale imitation of the Labor Party. However, when
I asked him if this was his proudest achievement in politics he was quick to
remind me that politics is about service and not about personal achievement. He
then reminisced on the small ways in which he had helped constituents, such as
assisting an adopted lady track down her birth certificate; she had been
waiting a lifetime.

Senator Abetz’s Christian worldview is that we are all
called to serve, but not necessarily to succeed
. He also answered that his
favourite book is the bible and then explained how there is no such thing as a
neutral or unbiased worldview. At this stage I remembered the time he addressed
the Mainstream
Policy Forum in Sydney
: “that is why when the odd journalist seeks to
introduce me as someone from the religious right, I ask whether opponents will
be classified as being from the godless-Left. Have you noticed – no one ever
has been so introduced. Why? Because the thinking – deficient as it is –
presumes that godless-Left is the neutral and thus a superior position for
public policy making.” It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that Senator
Abetz is the conscience of Australian Conservatism.

Upon leaving Senator Abetz’s office he gave me the guarantee
that an Abbott Government will abolish the carbon tax and mining tax and will
adamantly support free speech, particularly through abolishing 18C of the
Racial Discrimination Act (the Andrew Bolt Clause). He also gave the commitment
that he personally would do everything in his power to protect the institution
of marriage, defend Australia’s constitutional monarchy and advocate for the
abolition of the Student Services Amenities Fee. However, when asked about his
own portfolio area and whether we can expect much needed workplace relations
reform, the pragmatic Abetz surfaces. Abetz proposes cracking down on union
militancy and reinstating the Australian
Building and Construction Commission
, however, he also understands that
radical workplace changes have negative electoral implications. There will be
more freedom and productivity in the workplace under an Abbott-Abetz Government,
but perhaps not as much freedom as us free marketeers would like.   

Overall Senator the Hon. Eric Abetz is a very inspiring and
successful fusionist politician who excels as a warrior within Australia’s
culture war. He is a man of integrity and ambition who looks up to Thatcher and
Reagan for inspiration, but ultimately to Christ before any others. The Abbott
Government will be a reformist and effective conservative Government because
Abbott’s excellent judgment will be further strengthened with the wisdom and
values of people in his cabinet like Senator the Hon Eric Abetz.

Rath has just completed a Bachelor of Economics at the University of Sydney and
has commenced a Masters of Management. He is President of the Throsby Young
Liberal Branch and works as an adviser to a Liberal Parliamentarian.