Liberalism, in its full expression, demands a free and open society, where people may freely, within tolerant laws, express their views, and where the processes of government, legislative and executive, are open to the view of the citizen. One of the aims of Liberalism must be to increase public understanding of the instruments and mechanisms of government. Watchful to protect an open society it must be constantly on guard against it being manipulated by sectional interests.
There will, of course, always be pockets of political, industrial and economic power and opinion concerned with separate interests. Yet these should not be inconsistent with, or allowed to entrench upon, the maximum measure of personal freedom and liberty. An open society demands greatly scattered areas of independent initiative, whether economic, political, or of opinion.
...I shall confine my remarks to certain powerful interests within our society which are in very large measure governing the lives of thousands and thou- sands of people and directly, or indirectly, able by their activities, to condition, for good or ill, the economic fabric of our society, and in consequence, in lesser or greater degree, affecting us all. Liberalism emphasises individual initiative and free competition in a free enterprise economic system. In particular it asserts the rights of an individual to work in the callings and localities of his choice. How is all this working out today?
Our economic system is, of course, subject to the laws of its Parliaments, yet we have reached a stage when more and more it is in fact, controlled by organisations outside our Parliaments through the concentration of economic and industrial power in the hands of a comparative few - massive corporations and highly organised and powerful unions. Each in an increasing manner is subjecting the people, or large sections of them, to its own power.
Great and ever greater corporate aggregations are acquiring effective dominion of the resources of many countries, including our own. It has been estimated that within the next two decades less than one hundred huge international corporations will be exercising effective control of most of the world's production and distribution, wielding, in its effects on mankind, a power superior to and more far reaching in its authority and consequence on the economies of countries than that exercised by many national parlia- ments. This great aggregation of power is to be witnessed in rapid growth in Australia.
This is one side of the coin. The other is displayed by powerful Unions, or association of Unions, able, par- ticularly when they occupy a vital and strategic position in the economy, to paralyse large segments of it, indeed to bring it, in a few days, nearly to a halt.
Both the large corporate aggregations and the Unions are highly organised, each performs very important and useful functions in our community. Each, however, is concerned with its own separate interest and advantage, to which the interests of the ordinary man and woman is subordinate. The conse- quences of the policies pursued by each of them, may, and on occasion do - distort and harm the national economy. Each greatly affects the pattern of life in the country. Each controls directly or indirectly much of the lives of all of us. Their separate or combined activities can, in particular, be prime contributing causes to inflation and the depreciation of the national currency. Between them the area of free enterprise the right of an individual to work in the callings and localities of his own choice is being steadily eroded.
...Liberalism directs itself to the welfare of the people as a whole. Its governments are not concerned with the class warfare, which is the base on which so much of Labor dogma has been constructed. Liberal- ism's accent is on people, whoever they are. Its concern should especially be for the old, the poor, and the unprotected in the community.
R G Menzies Lecture 1970