05/03/2008 - 22:00

Liberal Party in name alone

05/03/2008 - 22:00


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It’s evident we’re well into a period best described as the ‘era of Liberal demise’. Although it started at least as early as 1996 – when then prime minister John Howard shamelessly dumped his party’s longstanding federalist commitment and adopted Labor’

It’s evident we’re well into a period best described as the ‘era of Liberal demise’.

Although it started at least as early as 1996 – when then prime minister John Howard shamelessly dumped his party’s longstanding federalist commitment and adopted Labor’s post-Great War era centralist stance – more recent events have hastened its manifestation.

Not only did the coalition lose government on November 24 last year, but Mr Howard went down the political chute with 20 or so other non-Labor MPs.

Then Peter Costello, who’d griped for years about not being PM, decided against becoming opposition leader in favour of life as a corporate high-flyer.

Next came the near 50-50 split in the Liberal party room, which eventually backed Brendan Nelson – a one-time Labor Party rank-and-file member – ahead of former Sydney banker, Malcolm Turnbull, who’s had longstanding business and other links with senior Sydney Labor figures, from the Whitlam family to Paul Keating.

To make matters worse, the party’s new deputy is Julie Bishop, who as education minister pressed hard for a range of centralist policies, making her indistinguishable from previous Labor education ministers.

The Liberals can be forgiven for suspecting Robert Menzies’ party was either clandestinely subsumed by Labor, or had become a copy-cat entity.

Considered thus, the Howard period, during which Kim Beazley and Mark Latham were electorally defeated, marked years of unnoticed Laborite ideological ascendancy.

It’s certainly difficult not to contend that the domination of the Menzies-founded party by the Nelson-Bishop-Turnbull troika, preceded by the Howard drift toward Laborite thinking, is now only Liberal in name.

Australia’s political landscape is best seen as revolving around election campaign rivalry between a Labor and ‘Lib-Lab’ (the former Liberal Party) machines.

Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, and treasurer, Wayne Swan, represent Labor in the manner of latter day Don Dunstan-types, with Dr Nelson, Ms Bishop, and Treasury spokesman, Mr Turnbull, being ideologically indistinguishable Lib-Lab MPs.

With Mr Rudd fully appreciating this, we can expect him to increasingly use the opposition as auxiliaries in governing, as his recruitment of Mr Nelson to Labor’s so-called ‘war cabinet” on Aboriginal affairs illustrates.

What this suggests is that, if the Nelson-Bishop-Turnbull troika, by chance, ever replaced the Rudd-Gillard-Swan trio, we’d not get a Liberal government, but a Lib-Lab one.

Australia is now governed by a cartel of Labor/Lib-Lab party machines which show only miniscule differences.

Indeed, little can change since the three chief representatives of what’s still known as the Liberal Party are ‘Lib-Labbers’ and many in their parliamentary ranks are similarly predisposed.

Put differently, the Liberal Party of the early 2000s is far removed from the one Sir Robert founded in the mid-1940s.

It hard not to contend that Messrs Nelson and Turnbull plus Ms Bishop would fit snugly into the Rudd-Gillard ministry.

Irrespective of which of the latter two replaces Dr Nelson, their now well-worn path will persist since neither Mr Turnbull nor Ms Bishop possesses farsighted Liberal-inclined imaginations.

The real question is why the Liberal Party vaporised to become a ‘Lib-Lab’ one in fact if not in name?

That’s a puzzling question, one that’s rarely asked, so never answered.

Here’s State Scene’s tentative assessment.

The Menzies Liberal Party of the 1940s was a conglomeration of disparate anti-Labor groupings that merged to confront John Curtin-led Labor which, even during the Pacific War, was determined to ensure post-war Australia was socialised and centralised.

Curtin is hailed as a great wartime leader, thanks to US president Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to post general Douglas MacArthur in Melbourne and later Brisbane, but never as an ardent socialist-centralist, which is precisely what he was.

Notwithstanding this, a few appreciated Curtin over and above his worthy MacArthur-backing role.

Pre-eminent among these was Menzies, who during the 1930s had sat in both chambers of Victoria’s state parliament, so had a valuable parliamentary apprenticeship.

By 1944 Menzies – who Curtin deliberately excluded from Australia’s war cabinet by refusing to adopt Winston Churchill’s inclusive precedent of having a wartime coalition government in Australia’s hours of need – correctly sized up Labor as a party machine wishing to impose big brother governance upon a huge continent.

Curtin’s refusal to countenance non-Labor MPs in a coalition wartime ministry even when Australia was in grave peril showed Labor’s determination to have things its own way.

Between 1944 and 1948, Labor put up a whopping 18 proposals for expanding Canberra powers in three referendums, with only one item not vetoed by Australians.

Then the ultimate threat of socialism – bank nationalisation – arrived and aided the Liberals to oust and deny Labor power for nearly a quarter of a century.

However, in the mid-1980s the Hawke-Keating team swung Labor towards Thatcherite privatisation – sales of Qantas, Commonwealth Bank, airports – thereby burying Labor’s socialist millstone.

That prompted many voters to move away from the Liberals.

The 1980s also marked the collapse of Bolshevism, which was to Labor’s advantage since many traditional Labor voters preferred the Liberals, even if via Democratic Labor Party preferences, due to Bolshevik activism across the Labor movement.

Another reason for voting Liberal thus vanished.

There was now only one substantive reason remaining for supporting the Liberals – their long-time support for federalism, backing viable states rather than expanding Canberra’s powers to further weaken belief in small government and lower taxation.

But the Howard years also witnessed the scrapping of federalism and significant growth in the Canberra bureaucracy.

Mr Howard’s discarding of the Liberal Party’s long-held commitment to small government meant it was only a matter of time before Labor produced a Kevin Rudd as an identikit Howard.

Little wonder Mr Rudd willingly copped those snide remarks about his copy-catting when he marketed himself throughout 2007 to voters as a “conservative”, which he’s not.

There’s no longer any reason to vote for the Liberal Party since the socialist and Bolshevik threats have gone.

And finally, the possibility of small decentralised governance via the Liberal Party’s long-time federalist commitment was also discarded, with Sydneysider John Howard opting to outdo his Sydneysider counterpart, Gough Whitlam.

With estimates of cost of governmental duplication varying from $9 billion to $20 billion annually, the case for Canberra to immediately vacate big spending areas like education, transport and health remains overwhelming.

Now that all three threats are gone, there’s really no reason for the Liberal Party to exist, except to be a phoney rival or foil to Labor.

It simply has nothing original or farsighted to offer beyond warehousing another parliamentary grouping to perhaps one day exercise power.

Little wonder its three most senior MPs are indistinguishable from Ruddite Laborites.

Whatever else one may say of the Howard years, the one thing that’s difficult to deny is that they witnessed the death of Australian Liberalism.

With Labor and the ‘Lib-Lab’ party machines now so generously (and compulsorily) taxpayer funded – election costs met plus communications, printing, travel, postage, and other expenses covered – all their MPs need be is obedient, especially during election campaigns, when well-paid advertising agency spin doctors are hired to direct Newspeak and other meaningless jargon at pre-occupied electors who must vote, otherwise be fined.

And politicians, academics and teachers have the gall to call this democracy.


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