Blog Archives

The Trajectory of Politics According to Malcolm Fraser

The most recent episode of One Plus One, a one-on-one interview based program was thought-provoking and delightfully honest. It was all about politics, past and present- though it was mainly about the present day political situation. The whole half hour show was about politics in the Australian context and where it is headed. The guest on the show was a former Prime Minister, an outspoken former member of the Liberal Party- Malcolm Fraser. And as always he was willing to tread where few dare when it comes to commenting on and critiquing the political discourse.

The half hour program identified four key issues in the front of Malcolm Fraser’s mind when it comes to Australian politics. Two of these issues are policy-based concerns and the other two about politics in a broader context. In short, the former Prime Minister is concerned about the treatment of asylum seekers, Australia being a dependent nation, career politicians and  that the Liberal Party and the Labor Party are becoming closer. More specifically on the latter point, Fraser is concerned about the Liberal Party and their eroding liberal values.

Malcolm Fraser, as a former Liberal Prime Minister, is perhaps the most well-known in terms of support for refugees and asylum seekers. During his time as the nation’s leader from 1975-1983, Australia took in nearly 250,000 Vietnamese refugees during and after the Vietnam War in which Australia participated.

Since leaving the parliament, Fraser’s commitment to the refugee cause has been maintained, if not expanded. He constantly lambasts Liberal and Labor alike for their unfortunate and often inhumane convergence on the asylum seeker issue.

And he is right to do so. To put it simply, the asylum seeker ‘issue’ is not an issue. There is no “peaceful invasion” and we are not being overtaken by undesirables. What is happening is that we are dealing with a world where regions are in significant conflict. That conflict is either within or between countries. And people movement is an impact of that disruption to peace.

We should take more refugees and can afford to. In the long-run, taking in more refugees will prove a cheaper option than pursuing and locking up those that arrive on our shores, like they have committed some heinous crime- which they have not.

And we need to treat asylum seekers better. There should be no rubbish talk or actions involving turning boats around or issuing Temporary Protection Visas. And we should not send asylum seekers to foreign lands to languish in truly atrocious conditions. These are all concerns held by Malcolm Fraser and he is right to be worried. Australia too should be worried.

There is another policy that worries the former PM and that is what he sees as an increasing dependence on the United States of America in terms of security and Australia’s broader foreign policy. He is both right and wrong.

Australia has had a long-held relationship with the United States of America, dating back chiefly to the signing of the ANZUS Treaty. And we have had strong diplomatic ties since. Our relationship too has escalated, particularly since the September 11 terrorist attacks with our commitment in Afghanistan and Iraq and the recent move to station US Marines in the north of Australia.

But is this immediately a bad thing? Are we immediately, by extension, too dependent on the US? The answer to both questions is no, not necessarily. A number of nations enjoy similar relationships with allies. The trick here is that we not neglect our regional neighbours in the Asia-Pacific more generally and more specifically, in the Indo-Pacific. Australia can pursue an abiding relationship with the US and in our regional neighbourhood.

It is at this point where we begin to look at politics in a slightly broader sense, delving into the world of party politics and the modern politician, both of which Malcolm Fraser is wary of.

A significant concern of Malcolm Fraser’s, particularly in the last decade, has been the trajectory of the Liberal Party. Indeed it proved the catalyst for his resignation from the party he so proudly represented in the highest office in the land.

In short, Mr Fraser believes the Liberal Party is no longer the party of Robert Menzies. And he is largely correct. Over the last decade and a half the Liberal Party has become progressively more conservative in social policy, to the point of being regressive at times. Social liberalism has long given way to social conservatism and the remaining adherents to the former ideology are continuing to disappear.

The Liberal Party was set up, in the words of its founder, Sir Robert Menzies, “to be a progressive party, in no way conservative, in no way reactionary”. And indeed that is what it has largely become. There is still an allusion to individual rights and freedoms, but the conservative viewpoint within the party is clearly in the ascendancy. There needs to be a shift in the opposite direction, as the two theories are largely incompatible.

It is of not much concern that the Liberal Party are economically conservative. It is inherently sensible for government to live within its means and the Liberal Party has a long-established association with this particular ideology, most strikingly, in the Howard years.

Economic liberalism, in terms of support for public goods, is something that the Liberal Party should rediscover. The glory days when the Liberal Party were much more concerned about the provision of education and healthcare in particular have long passed.

The final concern Malcolm Fraser elaborated on during the interview with Jane Hutcheon was about the increasing prevalence of so-called ‘career politicians’. These are people who have little or no experience in the world outside of politics. These are people who have usually studied politics at university and gone to work as staffers of MP’s soon after graduation.

The ‘career politician’ Malcolm Fraser argues, is fast becoming a major issue for our democracy as political parties begin to favour party operatives more than talented candidates.

The major issue for present day politics however is the narrow skill set of our political representatives. Most are lawyers and former union officials and then business people. The latter is fine, particularly if they were small business owners in a previous life and so is a mix of former lawyers and union officials, but the point is that a broader skill needs to be represented in the parliament.

It is unquestionable that politics needs to be on a different trajectory. Right now we are headed even further toward rampant voter apathy and that is not healthy for a democracy such as ours, where to at least turn up to a polling booth on election day is compulsory.

A shift in ideology and in some public policy areas is also necessary.

One Principle of Liberalism Seemingly Forgotten in the Plain Packaging Debate This Week

The federal government’s plain-packaging laws have passed their latest hurdle, a legal challenge in the High Court of Australia which was struck down earlier this week, paving the way for the commencement of the policy from the 1st of December this year. The judgement was eagerly awaited with some predicting the costs of a potential loss at billions of dollars for loss of trademark and intellectual property.

But alas, this never transpired and we are just months away from olive green becoming the most hated colour in the country- or maybe it is already given that it was chosen as the colour for the so-called “drab packaging” that tobacco products will now be clothed in.

On the free choice side of the debate it was all about the right of companies to their intellectual property and trademarks despite the judgement by the highest court in the land.

But there was one element of liberalism that has seemed to be conspicuous in its absence from the debate over the plain packaging laws at least around and since the judgement and that is the ‘Harm Principle’ as defined by the philosopher, John Stuart Mill. This principle states that the actions of individuals should only be limited in order to prevent harm to other individuals. Writing in his book On Liberty, Mill stated “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Since the judgement, people have screamed, “well what about putting alcohol in the same ordinary and uniform packaging boat?”. I’m not exactly sure, but last time I checked, the decision to inhale dangerous amounts of alcohol was completely up to the user and the fumes, while awful and an assault on the senses for those within cooee of a heavy drinker, do not have the ability to kill.

That doesn’t mean the effects of alcohol, which have had increased public exposure recently won’t lead to harm to others, sadly they will and that is an horrific reality of a mind-altering substance. Moves have and will continue to be made in an attempt to reduce that harm that is caused to others around heavy drinkers. The difference here is that there is generally a safe level of alcohol consumption before your behaviour becomes thuggish whereas with smoking there is not. Violent offenders too can be that way with or without buckets of booze in their systems.

Putting harmful tobacco products in uniform packaging has only a little, in itself to do with affecting in a positive way the idea put forward by the 19th century political philosopher. But it may go some way to achieving that end.

To put cigarettes in olive green packs will likely not lead to an immediate cut in the rate of smoking as those already puffing away will likely continue as they know their brands well and the new packaging will have little or no impact on their decision-making processes. It’s even debatable whether or not the changes will have any real impact at all with no practical evidence The graphic pictures which couple with the health warnings may continue to contribute to a decline in the rate of smoking as evidence has shown.

But old-style army colour packaging, while possibly contributing to cutting down in the long-term the amount of people sucking back on a cancer stick, coffin nail, call it what you will, while diminishing the harm caused to others by this dreadful habit, will not completely remove that threat of harm to others. Only other measures can do that.

But surely any measure that does have at least some impact in diminishing the number of people smoking in the country surely removes the harm caused to some people and should be celebrated as a positive for public health. Second-hand smoke is bad after all and the less people blowing smoke in your face the better.

But given the danger that smoking is to not just the user, but those around them, the application of the Harm Principle could go much further. Think asbestos. That product causes awful sickness and death too, though smoking at a much higher rate, bu asbestos was phased out late in the 20th century and then banned by the government in 2003.

It is true also that a lot of the harm to others has been removed with many states banning smoking in a variety of public spaces which differs state by state, territory by territory. This can only be seen as a positive step forward.

Moves might continue toward an eventual ban of these slender killing machines, but only when the federal government finds within itself the ability to wean itself off the revenues generated in an attempt to change the behaviour of individuals. Then and only then will the true and full extent of the Harm Principle of John Stuart Mill be realised. That and it might well save substantial healthcare dollars which could be funneled elsewhere.

1950’s Style Brain Farts Continue in Queensland

The Queensland LNP Convention has been and gone over the weekend, just months after the Liberal National Party in Queensland crushed the Bligh Government at the ballot box in an historic victory which saw the ALP reduced to just 7 seats in the 89 seat unicameral legislature. Since the electoral rout pundits have been saying that the LNP would have the ability to do pretty much anything and they have, with some of us, this author included, slow to realise just how far back the Newman Government is prepared to wind the metaphorical clock.

So far, since gaining power the new government have moved to alter, albeit not completely, but 3/4 of the way the civil unions legislation introduced into the parliament by former Deputy Premier and Treasurer, Andrew Fraser.

The LNP administration decided to remove the similarity to marriage as well as the state-sanctioned civil ceremony. To be a little fair, we did expect worse as Queenslanders with the consensus being that a full repeal was on the way. But who’s been hurt by proper civil unions anyway? Certainly not me.

They have also decided to move to ban so-called ‘altruistic surrogacy’ laws brought in by the former Bligh Government which recognised surrogate rights of same-sex couples, single people and couples that have been in de facto relationships for less than 2 years.

And that’s just a start before the over the top and censorial moves that the LNP State Convention agreed to over the weekend.

The first move was a motion put to the convention asking the Queensland Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek to ban what was termed as “post-normal science”, read climate science, from the curriculum and examination materials.

Government simply does not and should not have the right to decide what is right and correct science and individual MP’s and the government’s that they represent simply do not have the scientific expertise to determine what is correct and what is not.

Fair enough if the government simply wanted the raw science of climate change to betaught without it being coloured with some of the extreme predictions which have so far failed to materialise.

And then came that motion from Young LNP State Secretary Luke Barnes, who proposed an end to the Abstudy program for indigenous people. The motion narrowly prevailed despite vigorous protestations by LNP federal MP Paul Neville that passage of the proposal would lead to the LNP being labelled “bigots”.

It’s certainly the case that the motion will lead to the LNP being called bigots, but that is nothing new for the party, they’ve been labelled bigots at the state and federal level numerous times before, including for their stance on civil unions and the surrogacy changes.

The LNP in passing this motion, however marginal the motion victory shows a complete lack of understanding of the importance of the Abstudy program to the principle of equality of opportunity in education.

Indigenous students under the program receive an $8000 grant to assist with education, travel and accommodation costs which are quite high for rural and regional students having to travel large distances to have access to education, particularly at the tertiary and secondary school level.

Indigenous students travelling for study from areas outside the major cities and education hubs are often out of pocket even after having the grant, so any downgrade bringing it in line with similar programs would just make it all the more challenging for this group to be able to continue undertaking a basic level of education that is so important to future life opportunities.

Thankfully after the passage of the motion yesterday, it has been slammed by the federal indigenous affairs spokesperson, Nigel Scullion as an idea that nobody with “half a brain” would want to bring into effect, a glorious slapdown to the brain fart of a suggestion put forward at the convention.

Another positive, if it can be called such, is that the federal government controls the Abstudy program and so the Queensland LNP, whilst now being forced to call for the abolition of the grant is unable to touch the important and essential policy, especially after the glorious slapdown by their federal counterparts.

All of these moves are a sign of a party at least as far as Queensland goes and to a similar extent the federal party sliding to the right and further away from the ideology of liberalism that gives the party its name.

Yes, from the beginning it is true that the Liberal Party was founded on a combination of a liberal and conservative tradition, with the latter always particularly based around a form of religious conservatism and that still clearly holds true today.

However, progress should be toward more individual rights  and promoting more opportunities for all as well as less government intervention in the day-to-day lives of the individual and their relationships.

A very strong separation of church and state is also required where at present the collective church is wagging the government tail, more so at the Queensland state government level, but this observation also applies to an extent to the federal government and the opposition.

Of course too, as already highlighted, these moves are in large part a result of the unprecedented power that the LNP gained at the ballot box, especially aided and abetted without an upper house to put a check on extreme use of power to deny individual rights and progress.

It’s about time to head down to that op shop for some trendy 1950s garb, but at least one decision by the state party won’t take Queensland any further back in time despite strong efforts at the weekend.

Turnbull Appearance on Q&A Again Launches the Twitter Derp

There’s just something about Malcolm Turnbull going on Q&A, pretty much anything publicly other than talking on broadband and communications that results in the unleashing of unmitigated derp from both sides of the political spectrum. Combine this with a predictable recipe of asylum seekers and marriage equality, with a bit of a healthy and thoughtful discussion on the arts and at least some of the chaos and stupidity was held back.

You see, the situation is quite strange when it comes to Malcolm Turnbull being a part of the public debate on a broader range of issues than his present shadow portfolio.

Pretty much everyone on the moderate left at times profess some kind of what they say and act like is undying love for Mr Turnbull when he isn’t so much in the spotlight, or more rightly when he might well be saying something that they tend to agree with, like on climate change, after last night somewhat on the arts and also to a large extent on marriage equality.

There are even people on the left who shout “Malcolm for PM” but would surely recoil from that belief were there a Liberal Party government in power, even with Turnbull at its head.

And so it goes that there was all of that fake, ‘soft’ love from the left for Malc0lm Turnbull that would surely diminish again among this demographic were he to return as leader.

Some too may profess a love for Malcolm Turnbull now but forget they used to decry his substantial wealth, self-made no less, undoubtedly much of it to do with people in this country seeming to despise entrepreneurialism and success and yes that tall poppy bashing syndrome definitely rings true.

There are those however, somewhere around the centre that would and do accept Malcolm Turnbull as a sensible and at least relatively balanced choice for leader of a Liberal Party that more and more lacks the ideology in its name. Turnbull is one of the few you’d consider to be a liberal in the modern Liberal Party or at the very least, someone with strong liberal tendencies.

Then you get started on what the right of the party, though more often the more right wing supporters of the Liberal Party think of the man and that’s where things start to get just a little misguided.

Those on the right of him decry him for sticking up for markets, for advocating that for the most part, the market is by far the best response to a range of things, notably climate change, though the electoral reality with this is that the idea of a market response has lost after having prevailed just years ago.

Then comes the socially progressive stance of the former Liberal Party leader, particularly on marriage equality, which closely behind his climate change stance attracts the most ire from Liberal Party supporters. He wants a conscience vote on the matter, said so some time ago, a conscience vote being a long-term stance of the party on controversial matters.

Mr Turnbull also over the weekend backed calls for a compromise of a nationally backed civil unions scheme which will be seen by many on the right of the party again as too far even though it is just a compromise position, though some on both the left and right will not see it that way.

The Twitter response last night mirrored the public thoughts on Turnbull with some soft backing and the next minute complete disavowal of all Turnbull believes in from the left and the occasional outright condemnation, simply because he’s a member of the “evil” Liberal Party.

Of course then, at the same time from the right was the complete disavowal of all he’s ever said even though the vast majority, if not all, is fully aligned with what the Liberal Party is supposed to stand for.

The reality of the situation is that Malcolm Turnbull on social issues lies somewhere around the political centre without being radically progressive but still being open to social progress that can’t be delivered by markets.

On economic issues Turnbull is clearly of the right so that clearly makes Turnbull centre-right overall which should at least in reality give comfort to the knocker’s on his own side of the spectrum but it does not.

Stay tuned for much of the same before, during and after the next installment of Q&A featuring Malcolm Turnbull, complete with predictable leadership comments masquerading as questions and the “you have him, no you take him” fight between right and left which is sure to spawn more of the most lovely derpiest derp.

Social Progress and the ‘Invisible Hand’: It’s Not All About the Economy Stupid

There seems to be a constant battle between those who think that all social progress comes from good economic management and those that think the government needs to be responsible for most if not all social progress. The truth is that the solution (and solution is probably the wrong word) lies somewhere in between a completely free market/economic response to social progress and a government response which can either be to get out of the way or to legislate for social improvements.

In all likelihood on the ‘free market/it’s all about the economy in social progress and government intervention is the best way to ensure social progress’ pendulum the best answer would likely be very close toward the ‘let the economy sort out social disadvantage’ end of the pendulum. Note that it’s only the best answer. Not one single political ideology offers a solution that will completely solve pretty much every single problem and that is both a political and electoral reality.

Now back to that pendulum. While it is self-evidently true that much social progress comes from a strong economy there is also a need for limited government intervention, be it legislating in an attempt to benefit society or stepping away from legislating in areas that might act to prevent the advancement of the people, most importantly the individual regardless of social group.

So what work does the economy do as regards social progress? Well, a strong economy provides many with the opportunity to be employed in a meaningful job. A strong economy means that more jobs are created and more people will have the opportunity to live at the very least a modest and comfortable lifestyle in what is becoming an increasingly expensive world.

More jobs too means more tax being collected by the government without having to raise taxes for any one group and that means for those who do happen to fall through the cracks, and there will always be people that do regardless of effort and exertion and economic circumstances in the nation and the world, it means that there will be assistance available for them for as long as they need it.

So having a job or a business and earning an income is certainly a big part of social progress but there are things which cannot be provided for by a strong economy or the free market.

A free market does not, will not and cannot stop forms of discrimination, particularly relating to participation in the economy, though in some small way the more people able to be given jobs then it flows that less discrimination may well exist because some ordinarily discriminated against may well be invited into employment opportunities.

Ordinarily though, discrimination will exist and will continue to exist and should at the very least be responded to by educating people about diversity and difference.

Anti-discrimination legislation is also a necessary evil though in many cases it is nigh on the impossible to determine when real discrimination, particularly in employment exists, even though the statistics on minorities show in a broad sense that it is clearly an issue. But again this kind of government intervention needs to be coupled with educating people of the capabilities that people from all works of life possess.

One thing that a free market can never bring, not at all, though I’m sure we’d like to see it happen is the very topical issue of marriage equality. Try as it may, the ‘invisible hand’ just cannot bring about people being able to take the tangible hand of their same-sex partner in marriage.

Same-sex marriage is one area in which the government can either intervene to legislate for marriage equality or completely bugger off from the whole process. Reality says that government, in an eventual move would vastly prefer to legislate for same-sex matrimony rather than to say “hey we really have no place here” and that is okay as long as it is inevitable and you’d have to say it is.

For the most part many of us would love for the government to stay out of our lives and the biggest forms of social progress can be provided for with little or no government intervention, but there will always be a place for government particularly when that means correcting ills that they have fostered or fomented, but that power cannot be unlimited.

My Kind of Liberalism/Liberal Conservatism is Mixed with a Bit of Big Government

I would like to take the chance today to outline in a broad sense the kind of liberalism/liberal conservatism that I identify with personally and how that translates into my thoughts in different policy areas, be they economic or social.I fully expect to lose a number of followers in the hours after this post gets out as people discover that I am not quite as conservative as I thought I once was.

On economic policy I would consider myself to be strongly of the economic conservative faith, believing that, for the most part, government spending should be kept to a minimum. I also believe in trying to avoid deficit spending, a key facet of fiscal conservatism as well as lower taxes and deregulation of the economy.

In saying this, I do not believe that all government spending is evil and should be avoided, there are some areas where government should be spending, particularly in the area of providing public goods making me also by definition a fan of the theory of economic liberalism.

Although both of these theories argue for limited government intervention in economic decision making and regulation, I do believe it is a political reality that there is and needs to be some level of limited regulation in the economy that provides some kind of protection to the individual. In saying this I, do not believe that regulation needs to be drastically added to, on the contrary, I think in many areas that regulations can and should be eased.

On social issues I consider myself to be a bit of a mixed bag again, combining some social conservatism with social liberalism, though I think that the latter is the predominate issue in my thoughts on social policy.

I firmly believe as social conservatives do, that the family is one of the most important institutions that exist in society along with the courts and other bodies that have long been a foundation of western society and our beliefs.

Where I differ with social conservatives  and where my social liberalism comes in is a firm belief in basic human rights, including freedom of speech, that have for a long time been an important and essential consideration in policy and political discussion.

While I believe that the family is an essential institution, I do not believe, like many social conservatives seem to, that the family is under threat from gay marriage. It is a ridiculous claim in my view, to assert that the family would be impacted in a detrimental way if same sex marriage were to become law in Australia. The family will continue to exist after this inevitable change is made and in any case is more under threat from the incredibly high levels of divorce in many western nations.

There are also areas of social policy where I would also consider myself at times to be a fan of a big government approach. The biggest of those would be disability policy.

I am a firm supporter of the Gillard Government policy of a National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) providing that it allows individuals to exercise their own free choice of which particular service or services they need to or choose to access which is best suited to their own individual needs and is not overly influenced by any healthcare practitioner or government regulation.

I also believe that the government needs to step in to strictly regulate areas which impede equality of access for people with a disability that destroy the ability of those of us with a physical or intellectual impairment from participating fully in the day to day activities that any “able bod” is fully able to enjoy at any given time.

For me this means strict accessibility provisions imposed upon both government and private institutions to, wherever possible provide all reasonable access for people of different physical abilities in everyday life. This means widespread accessible transport, buildings and housing.

I therefore think, as I have stated before, that principles of ‘universal design’ ought to be mandated by government, to provide the 1 in 5 Australian’s with a disability and the rapidly ageing population ready access to new dwellings built to these strict construction guidelines.

Furthermore, guidelines for accessibility to buildings need to be much stricter than they are at present and both local and state governments need to stoke up the courage to deal with this important area.

On transport, I believe that all transport  provided by local or state government should be accessible for people whether they are in a wheelchair, on crutches or have a slight physical impairment. No particular group in the community should have to organise for a particular form of transport to be made available to them because they happen to have been born with a condition impacting their ability to move around freely.

On transport infrastructure, where possible, I believe that all possible efforts should be made to transform all possible facilities related to public transport into disability friendly ones. I concede that there is a possibility that, because of the surrounds of some particular transport infrastructure, that because of topography, accessibility may be an almost complete hindrance to accessibility.

Also on social policy, I believe in some form of freedom of movement and therefore am against the fear that conservatives seem to have toward asylum seekers. This by no means indicates that I think people movements should be completely unfettered, they should not. We do need as a nation to discourage, wherever possible the unsafe journeys that people fleeing persecution continue to make.

So let the accusations of me being a “leftie” begin to fly as they inevitably will after this becomes public knowledge, I’m prepared for it. But the simple fact is that I am in wide, almost complete agreement and most of my thoughts completely consistent with the principles which underpin liberal philosophy and that of the Liberal Party which also embraces conservative political ideas. So bring it on.

%d bloggers like this: