The 1987 election was the first I took interest in.
Seeing two politicians of conviction, Bob Hawke and John Howard, lay out their vision for this country in a real contest of ideas and philosophies, I became ‘hooked’ on politics.
As time went on, I came to believe that the Liberal Party had the ideals and policies that were best for Australia. Through John Howard’s triumph of 1996, his defeat in 2007, and the hope that came with the election of Tony Abbott, I knew what the Liberals stood for and how they were different from the Labor Party.
Now I’m not so sure…
With the lack of centre-right product differentiation that is a hallmark of the Turnbull-Morrison Liberals, it seems that there are too many things the major parties either agree on or they agree not to talk about.
The Liberals joined Labor in adopting ‘Net Zero 2050’, thinking it might have been a necessary political gesture, yet seemingly ignoring the fact that Australians have voted against the party promising the most drastic ‘climate action’ at every electoral opportunity. As IPA research shows, 17 of the top 20 electorates with the highest proportion of jobs at risk from a Net Zero emissions target are held by the Coalition, including six Nationals seats.
The other elephant in the room about Net Zero, which dare not be pointed out by Morrison or Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, is that it is contingent upon technological breakthroughs – many of which verge on fantasy.
The Liberals’ traditional electoral appeal as prudent economic managers has also been recklessly abandoned. However, the record debt Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg have racked up isn’t the only fiscal problem.
Scott Morrison says, ‘Labor wants to let rip on taxes’, but the Liberals would be in a much stronger position to prosecute that case against Labor if it weren’t for the fact that Australia’s personal and corporate tax rates are among the highest in the OECD. Australia has an over-reliance on personal income tax over consumption taxes – almost half at 41 per cent. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 1960, family businesses contributed 26 per cent to Australia’s national income. That figure is now 9 per cent.
The Morrison government hasn’t enacted even modest industrial relations reform, or reined in the ABC. Not even the disgraceful Cardinal George Pell and Christian Porter episodes could convince Morrison to act. Instead, he did what a Labor prime minister would do and gave the national broadcaster an extra $3 billion. After three terms in government, the Coalition has done nothing to play to its traditional strengths. Why would it change tack in a fourth?
Unfortunately, the Australian political debate has never been more vacuous, moribund, and bereft of ideas.
Both Morrison and Albanese are manifestly unwilling to talk about the issues that are vital to our prosperity. Neither is talking about the colossal debt in which Australia finds itself, or offering any credible plan to repay it. Nor do they mention the inflationary crisis into which we are sleepwalking. Neither is talking seriously about defence, national security, or energy independence – again, traditional Liberal strengths – which, given the war in Ukraine and China’s recent ban on the export of urea, should be a top priority. They are also not talking about our fundamental freedoms – our inalienable rights to free speech, movement, assembly, and work that have been heinously trashed over the past two years and which must be restored.
In fact, if you compare the Liberal party’s statement of beliefs to the actions of the Morrison government, it could be said that it is now very il-Liberal.
It was Scott Morrison who said ‘free speech doesn’t create a single job’. If that is the case, why did Peter Ridd lose his job for pointing out deficiencies in research on the supposed ‘bleaching’ of the Great Barrier Reef?
Western democracies, with their vibrant economies, depend completely on the free exchange of views. Freedom is not, as Morrison seems to believe, something government owns and will ‘return’ to us if we do as we are told. That leads to tyranny. It was Scott Morrison who remained egregiously silent when a pregnant woman was arrested in her own home for posting an opinion on social media, and peaceful protesters were shot at with rubber bullets. Morrison’s only pronouncements on these disgraceful events were to proclaim his full support for Daniel Andrews.
When the Liberal party moves closer to the ALP, it dismays its best supporters without gaining any new ones. The lack of political choice is a phenomenon being reflected in the growing support for minor parties. Many cannot, in good conscience, cast a vote for ‘the least unimpressive’ alternative, let alone dripping-wet candidates like Dave Sharma who are seemingly ashamed of displaying the name of the party they represent.
In his autobiography Lazarus Rising, John Howard stated that the Liberal Party is the party of both Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill. It is the party of both conservatism and classical liberalism.
Historically, the Liberals have been electorally successful when espousing these philosophies simultaneously. Under Howard and Abbott they had policies to unite the base around shared values of social conservatives and economic dries: lower taxes, smaller government, reward for individual effort, defence of the family and the importance of: national sovereignty, the rule of law and, above all, individual liberty.
Menzies’ ‘forgotten people’, who he asserted were ‘the backbone of the nation’ because they were ‘envied by those whose benefits are largely obtained by taxing them’ became ‘Howard’s battlers’, ‘Tony’s tradies’ and, dare I say it, the ‘quiet Australians’. After eight years of Coalition government, the quiet Australians have reason to be very aggrieved, and in particular with the current tenant of the Lodge, who has proven to have no conviction whatsoever.
If the Liberals lose this election, it will be because they have forgotten what it means to be Liberals.
Dr Rocco Loiacono is co-author, with Augusto Zimmermann, of Deconstructing ScoMo: Critical Reflections on Australia’s 30th Prime Minister.
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