Australian Liberals and Deep Thinking

Australian Liberals and Deep Thinking. By Tony Abbott.

Recent Liberal Governments made some noteworthy achievments the media has dropped down the memory hole:

  • Almost uniquely anywhere in the world, the Abbott government has to its credit the complete stopping of a big wave of illegal immigration by boat.
  • The carbon and mining taxes are almost the only major new taxes that any incoming government has ever simply repealed, as opposed to just adjusting or even reluctantly accepting.
  • The Turnbull government was the first in the West to call a halt to Beijing’s influence peddling.
  • And the Morrison government’s AUKUS alliance was much more than just deciding to acquire nuclear-powered submarines. It’s re-engaged the UK in the defence of the Indo-Pacific and finally dispelled two centuries of Australian strategic caution. …

How to regain office:

If the Peter Dutton-led opposition is to defy expectations, and turn the Albanese government into a one-termer, it will find much to learn from the period 2009 to 2013 when the Rudd-Gillard government first lost its majority and then was removed in a landslide. The flip-side of a relentless focus on the then-government’s failures was a positive commitment to “stop the boats, scrap the tax, fix the budget, and build the roads”. …

If, as looks likely, the near future brings sky-rocketing prices and power rationing because of Labor’s emissions obsession, plus rising taxes to pay for runaway spending on programmes such as the NDIS, there’s a few key commitments that could readily form the basis of the next Liberal election platform: namely,

  • keeping coal-fired power stations open,
  • ending the nuclear ban,
  • opening up the gas basins needed domestically and globally (like Narrabri and Beetaloo), and
  • avoiding any new spending that’s not paid for by reductions in existing spending. …

Fightback paved the way for the Howard Government:

These days almost no one acknowledges what the Liberal Party owes to John Hewson. Despite being the main issue in the 1993 election defeat, his Fightback program turned out to be subsequent governments’ policy blueprint.

In turn, Fightback! had built on the policy work undertaken earlier by pro-market think tanks and by the Business Council that had informed much of the Hawke government’s policy innovation….

What has been almost entirely absent from our recent national debate has been a Fightback-style policy platform to inform the actions of a Coalition government. It’s easy enough to identify the issues holding our country back:

  • too many supposedly skilled migrants who end up driving Ubers;
  • too many young Australians going into name-your-topic “studies” courses rather than the hard sciences and practical trades that are in such short supply;
  • couples putting off having children because a home of their own is way beyond reach;
  • too many working-age people who neither work nor have serious caring responsibilities; and
  • the red tape that’s smothering economic activity in the name of health and safety, sustainability, and diversity and inclusion.

Even so, there’s been little deep thinking about how this might be changed.

What’s needed is serious research into the things that should matter for a centre-right government, such as:

  • getting better schools without spending more; making the health dollar go further;
  • creating government structures that get things done rather than slow them down;
  • making our universities genuinely intellectually elite;
  • identifying the dams that would deliver the most water for the least environmental disruption;
  • re-invigorating work-for-the-dole to beat the something-for-nothing mindset; and
  • finding ways to spend the government dollar that would boost high-tech industry rather than just deliver overpriced and sometimes substandard locally built kit.

In Hewson’s day, frontbenchers and the leader’s office led the policy work but a great deal of the analysis and modelling was done by supportive outsiders. …

Liberals should revel in having at least some policies that are starkly at odds with Labor’s because politics drives progress when it is a battle of ideas rather than a mere beauty contest.

As Margaret Thatcher once observed, “the facts are conservative”. Climate change is unlikely to remain the key concern of voters who can’t get affordable 24/7 power. Voters could readily turn against the various strains of identity politics as their kids return from school unsure whether they’re boys or girls and as women have to share facilities with biological men. …

The Liberals’ task is to avoid any compromises with the zeitgeist that might disqualify them from leadership once the worm turns. For instance, Dutton might well have accepted the principle of a constitutionally entrenched Indigenous voice, both to the parliament and to the executive government, and confined himself to complaining about the lack of detail. Instead, he has decided that giving any group a special say over how government works offends against the liberal commitment to constitutional equality and the conservative commitment to limited government.

First issue: Deep cuts to immigration, at least “temporarily.” Any party offering that will immediately command popular support.