Commonwealth Parliamentary Debate - House of Representatives - 16 June 1948
Published by Victor Perton as part of Australian Liberalism: The Continuing Vision
Liberalism (A Resource of Liberal Materials from around the world including definitions of Liberalism)
In Australia, we have been torn and divided and crippled as a national force by a conflict over what should constitute our base policy. No country can afford such a conflict for long. It must resolve finally whether it will go forward in one direction or in the other. As an illustration let us note what has been happening in the United States of America and in Soviet Russia.
In Russia, the people have adopted, for better or for worse, according to one's point of view, the system of communism. I think we can take it to be an established fact that an overwhelming public opinion in that country is reconciled to continuance of communism. That is the national policy of Russia, and the Russians know where they are going.
The United States of America, to take the other extreme, is the home of individualism. All political parties, trade union leaders, and practically all leaders of public opinion are committed to the system of private enterprise and to the political philosophy of individualism. The United States of America is not torn by conflict on the issue whether the country is to become socialist or to remain one in which most of its enterprises are carried on by private persons. The people of the United States of America have made up their minds about the country's basic policy, and they have a chance of getting somewhere because they know where they want to go.
In Australia, however, for the last ten years to my knowledge, and probably for longer, there has been a fundamental conflict among those who seek the people's support. One group, the Labour party, is committed to the socialist objective. The other group, which is ranged against the Labour party, is pledged, if not in written words, at least in action, to oppose socialism, and to preserve opportunity and the freedom of the individual. That does not mean that we who belong to that group see no virtue in State guidance and planning, or in ownership by the State of certain utilities and monopoly undertakings. We recognise that there can be virtue in such ownership, and governments other than Labour governments have acted in that belief. In the United States of America, the home of individualism, there is a substantial amount of planning. Each State has its own planning board, and there is a national planning board to guide and direct national activities. The existence of such planning authorities has made possible the Tennessee Valley Power Project, and other great projects for irrigation, afforestation and the like. This planning and development have taken place in a country where the bulk of the people subscribe to the philosophy of individualism. There is nothing inconsistent in the views which we hold, and our belief that, in a complicated world, there must be a considerable amount of national planning.
There is a great difference between socialism and national planning of the kind that I have described. Socialism, as honourable members who are pledged to a socialist platform should know, means the ownership and control by the State of the means of production, distribution and exchange. That is a very different thing from State planning, State guidance and State assistance. If a government grants a subsidy to a great industry, that is not socialism. If a government plans an irrigation project, that is not socialism. If a government establishes a hydroelectric scheme, that is not socialism. Such things have been done by governments which were resolute in their opposition to socialism, just as they have been attempted by governments committed to socialism. Honourable members who support the Government are pledged to socialism, believing, I think sincerely, that their programme can be put into effect without any great interference with the liberty of the subject. In the words of the Minister for Commerce and Agriculture (Mr. Pollard), they can go on and on with their socialist programme until eventually they form the country into a vast, cooperative commonwealth. In practice, of course, that is impossible. Everywhere that socialism has been tried, in Germany, in Italy and in Russia, it has resolved itself in practice into national socialism, with an ever-growing bureaucracy, and at the top a dictatorial clique able to direct the entire life of the community.
Socialism in practice means the creation of a police state, the restriction of opportunity and the freedom of the individual, and the wholesale suppression of human rights and liberties. In practice, the socialist state never reaches the stage envisaged by the idealists and Utopians, who believe that socialism can lead to the creation of a vast, cooperative commonwealth. It is time the Government realised that a great many people in this country, who supported the Labour party in the past, have awakened to the dangers of socialism. They have seen what has happened in other countries and their recent experience in Australia has convinced them that socialism can lead only to the creation of a centralised bureaucracy, which crushes opportunity and restricts the liberty of the individual. That is why they answered with a resounding "No" the Government's request for a permanent transfer of power to control rents and prices. The Labour party, if it wishes to retain the support of the public, must re-examine its policy in this matter. It would be for the good of Australia if all political parties were to agree that the people do not want socialism, because it would then be possible to agree upon a basic economic policy.
Supply Bill (No 1) 1948-49 Second Reading - Commonwealth Parliamentary Debate - House of Representatives - 16 June 1948
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