...Modern liberal theory has sought to amalgamate the ethical - spiritual - theological justifications of state activity with those of the market - capitalist philosophers (each described in this address). In this respect there has also been a unique contribution in the writings of Alfred Deakin who added further thoughts regarding the building of a new nation and the establishment of a new national economy. These Deakin initiatives are also to be found in Menzies address "The Forgotten People".
...Finally one needs to bear in mind the use of direct, active indeed coercive state power by reformers such as Wilberforce, Shaftesbury, T. H. Green, Edith Fry and others to bring to an end such 'free market' operations as the slave trade, the exploitation of child labour, corrupt penal systems, unsafe factory conditions and the like.
...In Australia, liberals had to contend with the need to found a new nation, to unify the separate colonies and to give impetus to the whole programme of national development.
Let us consider how this was reflected in the ideals of the Party's two great founders, Alfred Deakin and Robert Menzies and how it has been articulated by our two most recent leaders Malcolm Fraser and Andrew Peacock.
In 1985 Deakin asserted that:
"The reconstructive element in Liberalism must come to the fore...by fixing a minimum rate of wages and wise factory legislation, wealth would be prevented from taking unfair advantage of the needy and the latter would be saved from leading wretched and imperfect lives."
Later, after pioneering the protection of the fledgling Australian economy and with a special eye to the development of our manufacturing and industrial base, he proclaimed that:
"...the machinery of the state was to be employed to cope with the very great injustices which at present beset our social system so that citizens might enjoy equal laws and opportunities, healthy lives, honest toil, fair wages, fair prices and fair conditions of employment, safeguarded by the state from cheap imported goods made by the serf labour of less happy lands and from poverty, distress, antagonism, preju- dice and social discord."
While today we might not accept Deakin's thesis about trade protection, it served Australia well in its day and his views about the quality of individual and social life and about equality of opportunity remain central to our thinking
Menzies in 1942 looked forward to a new post-war order of things. He said:
"If the new world is to be a world of men, we must be not pallied and bloodless ghosts, but a community of people whose motto shall be 'to strive, to seek, to find and not to yield: Individual enterprise must drive us forward. That does not mean that we are to return to the old and selfish notions of laissez faire. The functions of the state will be much more than merely keeping the ring within which the competitors will fight. Our social and industrial obligations will be increased. There will be more law, not less, more control, not less."
Again while we would want to reject the more control not less thesis there is no denying the view that our role as Liberals in government is more than just keeping the ring It was this thesis which impelled Menzies to his greatest creation - not our Liberal Party, but rather Australia's great university system.
In 1964 Menzies told Federal Council
"We have no doctrinaire political philosophy. Where government action or control has seemed to us to be the best answer to a practical problem we have adopted that answer at the risk of being called socialists."
By contrast Malcolm Fraser never really attempted to deal clearly with the issue of how he saw the role of the state per se. In Mr. Fraser's case I suspect this contributed largely to areas of policy confusion and contradiction by his government.
In his major discussion of these issues, a 1980 speech entitled "The Philosophical Basis of Liberalism," Mr. Fraser attacked the use of state power for two reasons - in the first place because it was "likely to be in many ways an inefficient and wasteful provider", and secondly because "the more you ask of the state, the more power-you must give it." By the time of his 1982 Inaugural Edmund Barton lecture, "The Strength of Liberalism" he appeared less hostile to the state because he could see no other way to combat what he described as the excessive growth in trade union power and the power of "selfish and powerful private interests".
By June 1983 when he gave an address "A Liberal Philosophy" the positive role of the state had once again vanished to be replaced with a commitment to patriotism, ethics, family, distribution of power, small institutions, the rule of law, the creation of wealth and personal responsibility.
I would hold that this confusion led to a totally ad hoc approach to government. State power was used to prohibit the export of mineral sands but not to confront union lawlessness and anarchy. Every aspect of the economy was fiddled with, but the standards of our education system were permitted to decline without intervention.
It is only if we have a clear sense of the proper role of the state that we can also develop an understanding of what is an improper or excessive role. In the absence of such a test or standard all decisions are bound to be ad hoc and a fair proportion of them will be quite wrong
It is only by describing the role of the state that we can limit it: limiting the role of the state must be a clear priority for us.
Andrew Peacock has, I believe, started to address this. In his 1983 Deakin lecture, "The Liberal Approach to Change" stated:
"...Liberals believe that the proper role of government is to create a framework for the economy and society as a whole so that the opportunities change offers can be grasped. In particular, we see the government's role as creating a climate where change is seen as opportunity, rather than a threat."
He went on:
"... although there are excellent social reasons for governments to intervene in the distribution process, it will be counter-productive if it damages the machinery of wealth creationn..."
which he saw as central to economic growth and personal development. He also identified a role for the state in aiding the truly needy and in limiting the power of sectional interests.
In his 1984 Federal Council address Mr. Peacock stated:
"Government must play a more constructive role in Australia. The market alone will not solve all of our problems, the need for effective government action across a range of areas has always been recognised by Liberals."
In preparing for our return to government I see nothing as more important than this willingness by our leadership to try to pursue a positive vision of what the legitimate role of the state really is. The lack of this clear perspective hampered the Fraser administration; it in my view is the fundamental weakness of the so called 'dry' case. It is the hallmark of hollow conserva- tism. By contrast a clear perspective on this matter is the strength of the radical liberal or even libertarian position, it will I think be a powerful determinant of the strength of a Peacock government.
In essence it is the weakness of a government which knows only what it is against compared with the strength of a government which knows what it is for.
I want to try now to identify what I see as the legitimate role of the state in the hands of a future Liberal Government and equally make it clear where I see the state as having little or no role. If within the Party we can get some agreement on at least these fundamental points then we will be able to bring a coherence and a sense of certainty to decision-making which I believe the electorate will welcome and support.
So what do I have on my check list for the role of the state? I offer the following in no particular order of priority:
If one sums up these points simply it would be to say that the legitimate role of the liberal state is to help promote and protect the physical, social and economic environment in which free men and women can exercise and enjoy their equal freedoms in which respect for their individual dignity is paramount, in which decency and civilised behaviour are fostered, encouraged and supported and in which individual and family life can be lived with dignity and to do so in a way which does not derogate from any of these goals and is constant with the goals themselves.
If we accept this then we can define a positive role for the liberal state and equally we can be clearer in our own minds as to areas in which the state has no role, such as interference in the bedrooms and boardrooms of the nation.
This would be a stunningly important contribution not only to the Liberal Party and its philosophy but in terms of tonight's seminar to the identification of a key landmark on our path back to government.
Address to Young Liberal Movement (Victorian Division) Melbourne - 25 July 1985