Memo to the Libs: We need actions to match the words:
My title may baffle non-Australians so let me explain: ScoMo is Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison. And he leads our Liberal Party, which is actually not politically liberal – or is not supposed to be at least. It is more or less a party of the right, or centre-right. He famously won an unwinnable election back in May 2019.
For consistent conservatives, he has been a mixed bag unfortunately. Too often he has not delivered the goods. Too often he has been weak where he should have been strong. Which is why his recent speech – which was quite good – was all rather jarring. Conservatives want to see rhetoric matching the reality. More on the speech in a moment.
It is not just concerns about Morrison that many Australian conservatives have. There is also concern about the state of the Liberal Party itself, and its sometime coalition partner the Nationals. On a state level, as I and others have documented so often, the Libs in opposition have been woeful. Simply look at recent state elections in Victoria, Queensland and WA for starters.
It sure seems hard to find quality (i.e., genuinely conservative) party leaders. Here in Victoria with Dictator Dan Andrews of Labor seemingly unstoppable, we are still awaiting real opposition. No wonder some folks are talking about making Peta Credlin the new leader of the Libs, or even a resurrected Jeff Kennett.
And things are also quite worrying on the federal scene. Indeed, I have observed many worrying changes there over the past three decades. When I first moved here permanently back in 1989 – blame that on my Australian wife! – there were a number of not just conservatives but Christian conservatives in Parliament – or soon to be.
There were folks like Peter Costello, Tony Abbott, John Howard, John Bradford, Chris Miles, John Forrest, Alan Cadman, John Herron and John Anderson. I got to know a number of them. There was even a fellowship group for Christians and conservatives, the Lyons Forum that started in the early 90s and lasted for over a decade. But now all nine of the above-mentioned politicians – along with others – are gone.
And the haemorrhaging continues. For various reasons we have had a number of key conservatives leaving more recently, including Cory Bernardi who founded the short-lived Australian Conservatives back in 2017. And long-standing conservative Kevin Andrews lost a preselection battle and will soon be gone. Also, we had Craig Kelly leave a few months ago. Moreover, George Christensen will leave at the next election. And Amanda Stoker has just lost a Senate ticket top spot.
The news seems to get worse each passing week. The way things are going, give it another month or two and there may be no more real deal conservatives left – in which case, adios Libs/Nats. Yes we have a few conservatives still there, including Eric Abetz, Matt Canavan, Barnaby Joyce, and a handful of others, but the steady de-conservatising – if I can put it that way – is now a very real worry indeed.
This is often a problem with two-party politics in the West. Both leftist and rightist parties tend to shift to the left. Lefty parties get more lefty, while conservative parties get less conservative. It took Trump to shake things up big time with the Republicans in America. What will it take here in Australia?
As the main parties begin to more and more resemble each other, that really leaves genuine conservatives with real questions as to how to proceed – and who to vote for. Our options are becoming fewer and fewer, and many conservatives really are scratching their heads as to what lies ahead.
Which brings me to the recent speech of ScoMo. Delivered on Thursday night to Sydney’s Jewish community, it really was quite good. But it is the discrepancy between a solid conservative speech like this, and where he and the Libs are at – and headed – that is the real worry. We want the words and the actions to be as one. Right now they far too often are not.
But let me offer a few snippets from the speech. He said this:
At the heart of our Judeo-Christian heritage are two words. Human dignity. Everything else flows from this. Seeing the inherent dignity of all human beings is the foundation of morality. It makes us more capable of love and compassion, of selflessness and forgiveness. Because if you see the dignity and worth of another person, another human being, the beating heart in front of you, you’re less likely to disrespect them, insult or show contempt or hatred for them, or seek to cancel them, as is becoming the fashion these days….
Human dignity is foundational to our freedom. It restrains government, it restrains our own actions and our own behaviour because we act for others and not ourselves, as you indeed do here this evening. That is the essence of morality. De Tocqueville agreed. He said, “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith’. Hayek the economist said the same thing, “Freedom has never worked without deeply ingrained moral beliefs.” Acting to morally enhance the freedom of others ultimately serves to enhance our own freedom….
Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women, when it dies there, no constitution, no law can save it. Freedom therefore rests on us taking personal responsibility for how we treat each other, based on our respect for, and appreciation of, human dignity. This is not about state power. This is not about market power. This is about morality and personal responsibility. Now, morality is also then the foundation of true community. The place where we are valued; where we are unique; where we respect one another and contribute to and share one another’s lives. Where we pledge faithfulness to do together what we cannot achieve alone….
Where we once understood our rights in terms of our protections from the state, now it seems these rights are increasingly defined by what we expect from the state. As citizens, we cannot allow what we think we are entitled to, to become more important than what we are responsible for as citizens.
Teddy Roosevelt argued this more than a century ago in his famous ‘Man in the Arena’ speech. But I’m not going to quote the section that is most known. Arguing that going down this path of entitlements of citizenship, as opposed to the responsibilities, is a very dangerous one, and it indeed jeopardises national success in a liberal democracy. He said, “The stream will not permanently rise higher than the main source; and the main source of national power and national greatness is found in the average citizenship of the nation.”…
We must never surrender the truth that the experience and value of every human being is unique and personal. You are more, we are more, individually, more than the things others try to identify us by, you by, in this age of identity politics. You are more than your gender, you are more than your race, you are more than your sexuality, you are more than your ethnicity, you are more than your religion, your language group, your age.
All of these of course contribute to who we may be and the incredible diversity of our society, particularly in this country, and our place in the world. But of themselves they are not the essence of our humanity. When we reduce ourselves to a collection of attributes, or divide ourselves, even worse, on this basis, we can lose sight of who we actually are as individual human beings – in all our complexity, in all our wholeness and in all our wonder.
We then define each other if we go down that other path by the boxes we tick or don’t tick, rather than our qualities, skills and character. And we fail to see the value that other people hold as individuals, with real agency and responsibility. Throughout history, we’ve seen what happens when people are defined solely by the group they belong to, or an attribute they have, or an identity they possess. The Jewish community understands that better than any in the world.
So my message is simple: you matter, you make the difference, you make community. And together with family and marriage and the associations of clubs and community groups, faith networks, indeed the organisations we’re here celebrating tonight, and so much more, they are the further building blocks of community on that individual, providing the stability and the sinews of society that bind us one to another. And upon that moral foundation of community we build our institutions of state. Within that moral context we operate our market place.
Stirring stuff indeed. Terrific words and terrific sentiments. But as always, we need a real marriage of the ideas and aspirations so powerfully expressed in the speech with a platform and with policies that fully match. As more and more good conservatives – many of them committed Christians – leave the Liberal Party, one wonders how things will go.
Sure, the Lib stalwarts will say: ‘Join the Libs. Get involved. Become a member.’ Yes but… So many are wondering what the point of that would be as they see the Libs continue to cave, to buckle, to sell out, and to turn against key conservative and Christian values.
Examples of this are numerous, including the recent vote on Labor’s ‘gay conversion’ legislation here in Victoria. Except for a handful of principled and consistent MPs, the great majority of the Libs – including its leader – fully supported it. Good grief, with political friends like that, who needs enemies?
So in practical terms, the way ahead is all very foggy, with no clear answers forthcoming. At the very least we can keep ScoMo and other Lib leaders in our prayers. They will certainly need them as things grow darker all around us, and as this Party seems to grow weaker and less conservative by the day.