This extract is part of Australian Liberalism: The Continuing Vision
...A Government and therefore a Party, such as ours, which looks to be in Government, cannot be entirely representational of what the public wants. We have the duty to lead and at times to do things which are not popular for the longer term management of this community. On the other hand, we cannot fail to represent and to acknowledge that our first duty is to the voters of this country. If we think in Government that we have so much expertise and knowledge that we can forget our role of representation, we of course would get too far out in front and we would suffer one of the oldest problems of politics - we would not have anyone behind.
...It is the majority of individual Australians who possess the Liberal ethic. It is the hundreds of thousands, in fact, millions of people in this country, who want to do their own thing - who want their personal freedoms, the ability to go into business if they want to - the right to accept a job or to reject it - their capacity in their lifetime to own their own home and to enjoy a basis of social security which the Government of the day is able to provide. It is those people who possess the values which form our Government. We perform the valuable role of formalis- ing their ideas - of providing the necessary organisation which is the framework of a Party and a subsequent Government. Sometimes in Party Councils, we have tended to think that we alone possess those truths and on those occasions, we have found ourselves out of office.
...Your title tonight has challenged me to speak of a Liberal Philosophy for the Eighties. As a non-academic and a practising politician for a number of years, I must claim licence to move significantly from the abstruseness of that title in its reference to philosophy to more of a combination of political action and philosophical attitudes.
After all, we express our philosophy in the broadest of terms. We could not belong to this Party unless we believed in the supremacy of the individual in our community. We would not choose to do something by Government activity if it can be done effectively by free enterprise and we would not be in this Party if we did not want to govern for the welfare of all of the citizens of this country. We believe the interests of this country must come before any other and that on the strength that attitude brings, we can take a responsible part in the world around us.
Now, as marvellous as those things are, they mean nothing without the policies which establish our Party in Government and which enable it to fulfil its promises it makes to the public.
Following those general references, I now refer to a necessarily limited number of areas which will deter- mine our future success. The first of these is fairness and equity. The public will forgive us our mistakes if they can sense they have been honestly made with the best of intentions in distributing the Government's favours or imposing its discipline. We probably have far less trouble here than the Labor Party in establishing our credentials under this heading. The Labor Party's close connection and in fact, construction upon the union movement, the recognition that the Parliamen- tary Party is in fact a political wing of the union movement, creates great difficulty for them. However, we cannot run away from our own task of successfully marrying the corner grocer with BHP. Both are wonderful Australians but on the other hand, not always Australians who see themselves as taking the same path in economic development.
I see no problem in continuing to demonstrate compatibility of the "bigs" and "smalls" in Australia as long as we carefully and honestly promote the welfare of both and as long as we maintain an insistence on significant Australian ownership of industry and resources. Small and big are often intermingling single identities. Nevertheless, we will have to keep remind- ing ourselves that a Boardroom decision made in a capital city of Australia is likely to be more orientated toward the benefit of our people than one made in Wall Street or London.
...We should not look to be narrow gutted in the area of fairness and equity. We shouldn't have to defend our reputation - it ought to be seen as a natural attribute of our political operation.
...We all know that State Governments are important. They deal with bread and butter issues and with life and death. They govern your land purchases, they provide you with education and hospitalisation and they can sentence you to life imprisonment.
They can develop immense national resources or they can strangle trade and commerce and if you want an example of the latter, consider the New South Wales' Government's management of the Port of Newcastle.
I have no doubt though, that our Liberal rhetoric has got a little overblown. We have raised expectations to a degree where the Commonwealth/State argument has reached a new pitch this year.
We should cool our emphasis on this a little and recognise that there is not nearly the room to manoeuvre in the exchange of powers that either the Constitution, or the necessity to provide Federal leadership allows. The need for the Commonwealth to exert firmer control, in areas of State loan raising which the Commonwealth had previously eased, illus- trates the need for one base of financial management of Australia.
...In a local community sense, it is one thing to develop a resource as the States are good at doing - it is another to decide how that resource will be used for the national benefit.
For instance, at this moment, we are blithely using our petroleum supplies almost forgetting the crisis years, immediately prior to this current temporary oil glut. One bomb in the Middle East could cause a shortage in Australia.
Consider this. We are about to export huge quantities of natural gas from this country which could with modern technology, be turned into liquid fuels for road transport. State Governments are unlikely to make a national decision - in fact, may not even look for an answer in that area.
The encouragement and the involvement of Austra- lian Aboriginals in their own community, is almost daily becoming a more important question for the future of this country, as the Prime Minister empha- sises our national concern for black South Africa. We cannot take that international posture and leave our reputation at home in the hands of States who will approach the problem with different standards.
This Federation has been built out of State adminis- trations. They provide daily essential services for our existence and their Constitutional responsibilities are contained within their borders. We should not encour- age them to think that we want to surrender national responsibilities which are inevitably within the prov- ince of the Commonwealth to them.
In fact, in areas where they will not operate effectively, we should step in. And as a citizen of Australia I say quite simply, that unless the Commonwealth Government assumes a direct leadership role in the development and protection of the whole water resources system involved with the River Murray, there will be dire consequences for all of those many people who rely on it.
...I refer now to a subject, which may have influenced some of the things I have already briefly mentioned. There is a sort of vague, perhaps ill-defined feeling abroad in Liberal circles that we might somehow be able to return to the more simplistic philosophical and practical approach to our politics where we get right out of the way of the public and let them do their own thing. We don't interfere with business - we let competition run riot - we always let the user pay and somehow heaven will develop on earth, and particularly in Australia.
This vision of a pristine aloof role, of guidance only, tends to centre on the purity and effectiveness of competition in the business world and the general deregulation of the community.
It is a fine concept the only question is - does it work?
Mr. Milton Friedman highlighted this when he visited Australia not long ago and addressed those interested in both political parties in Parliament House in Canberra - at two separate meetings, I might add. There are those who think there is merit in his teachings and that his influence is significant on our policies. Yet, one of the most notable statements he made in his short talk to Members was that his vision of world economic order would only operate in a completely free trade system. He does not envisage tariff barriers of any sort.
The only sensible observation one can make about the Australian scene in the face of his statement is that his policies will never be tried here because we are deeply interventionist as a Liberal Government in the economic community.
As much as we may at times, tend to think of a dream world where Government can get out of regulation of business, we are always brought back to earth in the knowledge that we heavily restrict trade into this country. Despite what is said about the North/ South dialogue and the necessity to bring the value of the Australian dollar down in relation to our trading partners, there will always be, at least for the rest of this century, some significant protection of Australian jobs.
There are too many people who are employed in industry and there are too many people who run industry, who are dependent on that protection for any Government to successfully take it all away. Despite our protestations, we are quite interventionist in the business community. And, as long as we are sensible about it and remove ourselves from every unnecessary involvement, there is no reason why, as Liberals, we shouldn't continue to do what is necessary. Competition in the market place is an enormously powerful force for the promotion of new ideas and their products and for the efficient production of goods and services. If we didn't believe that, we would lose one of the lynchpins of our philosophy. But that belief doesn't mean that competition will always exist as a natural order of things.
...What I am trying to say to you now is much better summed up in a statement recently made by Dr. Jim Forbes, our Liberal Party's South Australian President. Dr. Forbes was speaking to a motion, placing on record the achievements in South Australia of the late Sir Thomas Playford. I quote this part of the speech that Dr. Forbes made - "Tom Playford was clear sighted enough to see that sometimes in the short term, one Liberal principle must give way to another. Tom Playford taught us that those who do not pragmatically establish priorities for their principles end up languishing on the Opposition benches. Tom saw clearly that the Party would not thank him if he led the Party to nurse its doctrinal purity on the Opposition benches"
Sir Thomas Playford developed South Australia at an enormous pace. In the middle sixties, we took in twenty-nine per cent of all British migrants on assisted passage who came from the United Kingdom. He did it by massive interventions - by establishing a partnership between Government supplied housing and industry, Government supplied factories and industry,
Government technology and industry, Government supplied power and industry - in short, an enviable partnership in which competition flourished and it did so because of the State Government planning of the day.
I am not suggesting that the Federal Government should look at all of those local planning areas which States do best. But where we have to take a position of Government involvement in the planning of our community, there is no real position in past Liberal Government activities, Federal or State, which doctrinally prevents us from doing what is necessary and from doing what free enterprise cannot or will not do.
...There is no real answer I guess to what is a Liberal. We might get closer to it if we said - "who is a Liberal?" For me, they are the people whom I contact daily. The part-pensioners and superannuants who come into my office with their fringe benefit problems - the Liberals who take me to lunch and tell of the dire consequences if we remove tariff protection from their industries - these are the people, the ladies of the Liberal Party of Adelaide who responded with such shocking ferocity to the prospect of a twenty percent increase in Parliamentary salaries.
They are the people who protest at unfairness and inequity anywhere in the community and they are the people who believe that Government should be no bigger than necessary, and yet, that it should stand by those who are in need.
Address to Young Liberals - 30 July 1981
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