Alfred Deakin Lecture 1967
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)
...The art of politics has not changed all that much since Walpole's day or from Deakin's day. But the practice of politics has, and of course the issues and causes have.
The British blend of representative with party government, from its beginnings, left a politician no choice but to use his best endeavours to defeat his opponents and, while that habit is still with us today, we do it in a rather more sophisticated way. What we are concerned with are the principles that guide us in power and which govern our conduct in opposition. This is where we recognise the constancy of liberal- ism. It is a philosophy, with a translation in practical terms into a party platform, and always matching the contemporary scene.
Gladstone asked and answered the question: "What do I understand by Liberal principles? I understand in the main, this, by Liberal principles: the principle of trust in the people, only relieved by prudence. But, by the principles of their opponents I understand mistrust of the people, only relieved by fear."
I am talking to an audience largely composed of Liberals tonight and it is worthwhile us all remember- ing that the Liberal Idea is permanent, though the forms of expression are shaped to the times in which we live. We are in the words of our own party platform, "dedicated to political Party and the freedom and dignity of man"
Deakin wrote "we are liberal always, radical often and never reactionary". There has inevitably to be change in emphasis according to the needs of the times. There are today issues of great importance to the nation which occupy the attention of politicians but they are not of a nature that attracts radicals nor do they call for radical thinking in the terms of these early years of federation There have been changes in our Party and in the Opposition forces, and in the Parliament itself. New systems and methods of com- munication between the politician and the public have changed our habits and the tasks which fall on Ministers and back-benchers alike. But the old values remain. It is because of the very fact of our pledge to political liberty and individual freedom that we can absorb change and maintain our identity.
...The issues before us are those of national growth, the welfare of our people, national security and our place in the international community. We are deeply committed to the orderly and energetic develop- ment of the rich treasures of this continent, a better education for our young people, improved health for the population, security for the aged and infirm, the advance of our technological skills, aid for the under- developed nations, a strong defence system, fulfilment of our obligations under treaties and the continuing encouragement of a special relationship with Asia.
These things carry us forward, and others drop away into the mists. The imperialism of Deakin's time has gone and the "White Australia" cry from his first platforms does not have the same relevance, and happily the term is no longer used by us. It is true that we have an immigration policy with restrictive aspects - as to all countries in one form or another - but it is humanely shaped, it takes special note of our geo- graphical position in Asia and it has recently been liberalised. Today we have just on 40,000 people of non- European origin living in Australia, of whom almost half are now Australian citizens by birth or naturalisation.
We are proud of our British heritage, and proud to share it with these new Australians. While some of the old forms have disappeared, ties of kinship remain and the traditional institutions of Britain are mirrored in much of our life today. We have added to this special relationship with Britain a complementary friendship with America, which too has drawn heavily on British stock and institutions in the beginnings of its growth to be a mighty power.
Liberalism is not static - it belongs to the old world and the new. In all the movements that have taken place it has been flexible, pragmatic if you like, and yet has never lost sight of fundamental principles.
Alfred Deakin Lecture 1967 (Copyright - Alfred Deakin Lecture Trust)
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of Victor Perton
Re-edited 30 May 2000
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