Fifth Alfred Deakin Lecture 20 July 1971
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)
We stand now at the start of the last 30 years of this century. We look towards 2000. This paper will examine some problems that lie ahead. I will argue that the uncertainties, the challenges to be mastered will require greater responsibility and independence of decision from Australia, and that the well- being and security of our citizens will depend upon our response to the changing tide.
This changing attitude and approach is entirely consistent with the liberal idea Our philosophy of Government is a vital living thing We apply our basic ideas to the problems of the present and the challenge of the future.
...Arnold Toynbee once wrote twelve volumes to demonstrate and analyse the cause of the rise and fall of nations. His thesis can be condensed to a sentence, and is simply stated: That through history nations are confronted by a series of challenges and whether they survive or whether they fall to the wayside, depends on the manner and character of their response. Simple, and perhaps one of the few things that is self-evident. It involves a conclusion about the past that life has not been easy for people or for nations, and an assumption for the future that that condition will not alter. There is within me some part of the metaphysic, and thus I would add that life is not meant to be easy.
...Before coming to some problems with which this paper will be chiefly concerned, let me state the basic national objective which must be the foundation of our activities.
...In Australia we advance the egalitarian society, we promote equality of opportunity, we seek to relieve hardship, we plan to maximise opportunity. We expand our strength, believing that a stronger, more vigorous Australia will enable us to advance both our foreign and domestic objectives.
Our hope is a people united in common purposes, confident of their ability and energy, prepared to face the world and all its challenges. ... I wish to discuss the possible conflict between competition, the size of units and the interests of the consumer.
Pure competition described by economists probably only exists in economic text books. It is allegedly the perfect state of economic organisation which most benefits the consumer. Competition between a few firms is not so good, so the argument goes, but it is much better than a monopoly. As so often happens, example is seldom as nice as the theory. It is true, however, that the feeling, the spirit of competition is something that many of us support wholeheartedly, at least in theory.
We need to recognise, however, that the modern world is in many ways moving away from competition as we once understood it. The demands of modern technology and science and the efficiency of large scale production units offer great potential advantage to the consumer. Thus we have an immediate conflict with competition. One motor firm may be able to supply the Australian market cheaper than four. If this be so and if we were starting with a clean slate other factors would then need to be considered. What weight should we give to diversity, what significance to the prevention of domestic monopoly power? It must be noted that the monopoly element could only prevail to the extent that import competition was prevented.
We need to ask ourselves what different value we place on competition between Australian firms and competition that may exist between an Australian firm and overseas firms. Are we content to let the overseas firm keep the Australian firm honest?
Considerations of this kind need attention. Omnibus rules cannot be made. Each industry is different and the required decisions involve different sets of circum- stances and facts. It would be unreasonable to expect one rule to operate in all circumstances. Industrially we are smalt but even so there are some areas in which there may be a possibility for Australia to become a market leader, to have a significant influence in one world industry or another.
If the mining discoveries are to be developed to our greatest advantage, Australian operations need secure access to large markets overseas. This could involve overseas investment from Australia Such arrange- ments may be necessary to achieve significantly greater processing in this country. These possibilities could be destroyed if in the pursuit of competition, an industry is fragmented into too many competitive firms. Indeed this may have happened in aluminium.
Our policies have so far been largely across the board. Only in rare cases have they been tailored to particular industries. To a greater extent an industry by industry approach is required in the formation of government policy. This need not involve any great extension of government planning We already have plans within the broad base of a liberal outlook. I would have thought that a government approach would be more likely to meet industry's needs, developed in co-operation with one industry, than they now do seeking general application to all or most industries.
This is one of the areas where the liberal must accept the pragmatic approach. In so many areas the government holds the ring seeking to maximise opportunity for Australia. It cannot deny all respons- ibility here. The requirements of modern technology, the advantage of size and its implications (which we can still regard as unfortunate) will require closer attention lest opportunities are to be permanently lost.
...There are two essential influences, understand- ing and will, without which we will not meet the challenges of the next decades.
Understanding is not easy. Our system encourages debate, contrary views and even divisive arguments. How do we marshal our people to a national objective - we do not like discipline, we are independent. These are characteristics to be cherished, but they put a greater challenge and a heavier burden on national leadership, which must maintain the essential unity of our people.
How does a nation sustain political and public will, how does a nation establish agreed national objectives; how can sacrifice be endured when the danger is only a cloud in a distant sky? What can the generation of the 1930s do, to see that we of the 1970s do not commit the same sins of neglect, of misunderstanding? Is it necessary for each generation to learn that freedom is not inevitable and that it cannot be bought?
We become bemused by our own activities. How can we persuade people of the necessity to look over the horizon, to put decisions in their total setting Govern ments must explain their policies in clear and credible terms. If a policy is difficult or dangerous, its explanation will need to be forcibly put For such policies a general consensus is desirable in the cause of national unity. Our purposes need to be understood, the advancement of our people and the prosecution of peace. We can argue about the means but let no one challenge the objective.
The determination of people and political fortitude can be destroyed by the difficulties of foreign policy or by internal divisions and weaknesses. Thus the two parts of my paper join.
We need a rugged society, but our new generations have seen only affluence. If a man has not known adversity, if in his lifetime his country has not been subject to attack, it is harder for him to understand that there are some things for which we must always struggle. Thus people or leaders can be trapped to take the easy path. This is the high road to national disaster. There are many strands to the maintenance of will - a society that encourages individual strength and initiative, an understanding of events, ability to bear sacrifices, an understanding that there are obligations that precede rights and a belief that work is still desirable.
There is no simple answer. Democracy protects independence of mind and action, it encourages debate but how does a democracy accept discipline unless there is a present need? Democratic leadership must maintain the essential unity of a people, not easily marshalled to a common purpose. We criticise our own objectives, we give the benefit of every doubt to our opponent Do we want to be able to go on our way so much, do we want peace so much that we cannot recognise that others do not all share our objectives? Do we not recognise that this course creates more doubt than there ought to be about our purpose and greater belief than there ought to be about the purposes of our opponents?
The black and white of the Victorian era has given way to a murky grey. It is no longer my country right or wrong Our country must now be right and each person wants to make up his own mind. And so there is a greater challenge to leadership which must explain and win respects for without respected leadership a nation is destroyed.
What is the catalyst that will unite a people - an obvious danger? But that can be too late. Can it be love of country or obligation? Is it liberty, philosophy or material standards?
True democracy is so diversified in its constituent parts that it is difficult to find the catalyst that will light the hearts of men, except when that democracy is threatened. Such a catalyst is the "Holy Grail' of democracy. Its search places particular responsibility and a particular challenge on those who aspire to leadership.
The great task of statesmanship is to apply past lessons to new situations, to draw correct analogies to understand and act upon present forces, to recognise the need for change. We must be particularly aware of the great weaknesses of manŐs idealism which is to forget the frailty of the human race, to believe that man is something that he is not and so construct a view of society that can only exist in the mind. We can only draw reality from our idealism when we can accept that while we strive for perfection, we will not reach it in this world nor our sons after us. Recognition of this truth should soften the radical, bring tolerance to the fanatic, temper the extremes of love and hate. But it will not make our vigilance or struggle any the less necessary.
Thus I come to the end of my path. The problems of economic organisation and policy set the stage for the nation we wish to be, their solution shapes the stature and vigour of our nation, the independence and resolution of our people.
We need these qualities to enable us to forge our own path, to master whatever challenge the unpredictable world may cast our way.
Fifth Alfred Deakin Lecture 20 July 1971
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Re-edited 30 May 2000
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