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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.

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.

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