Liberalism after 2007

By Hunt, Greg | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, January 2008 | Go to article overview

Liberalism after 2007


Hunt, Greg, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


A blueprint for leadership

We have reached a point of paradox in Australian politics.

On the one hand the history of the twentieth century and of the first part of the twenty-first century has witnessed the triumph of the ideas of liberalism. This is so not just in Australia but ever more so around the world.

The eleven-year period of increasing prosperity under the Liberal Party leadership of John Howard and Peter Costello was defined by five great economic revolutions:

* First, the commitment to a policy of budget surpluses as a means of reducing public debt and public demand for money. This, in turn, has taken significant pressure off interest rates and completely displaced the Labor orthodoxy of public debt.

* Second, the revolution in waterfront productivity.

* Third, the restructuring of our tax system to provide incentives for those who work harder.

* Fourth, the development of incentives to give the most disadvantaged a path from welfare to the dignity and security of work; and

* Fifth, the freeing-up of small business owners to create jobs by protecting them from 'go away money' and union intrusion.

The result of these revolutions was to create perhaps the world's most successful developed economy-with all the human benefits-of the last decade.

Despite their vehement opposition at the time, the Labor Party has committed to retaining the first four of these revolutions and is likely to keep significant parts of the fifth. While there are questions about whether they can maintain these commitments, it is clear that the ideas have certainly triumphed.

The paradox, however, is that at the very time when the ideas of open markets, open workplaces and open societies have triumphed, the Liberal Party, which has been a custothan of those ideas, finds itself out of government throughout Australia.

The Labor Party has won the last 21 consecutive State and Territory elections, and now a federal election. The last Liberal Party victory at State level was in South Australia in October 1997, and at Territory level in the ACT in February 1998.

The question, then, is why, with both the success of liberal ideas and a truly successful economy, the Liberals find themselves out of government throughout Australia for the first time.

The answer to this question and to winning back the federal government within one term, as well as returning to government in the States, requires two elements.

We must understand the nature of the contemporary governance challenge and we must establish a process to help win the battle of ideas and to develop a partnership with the Australian people. In addition to any internal review of the last federal election, there should be an external process of bringing together younger Liberals to create the new reform agenda. This agenda, or Liberalism Project, should focus on maintaining our commitment to continuing reform and modernization.

The challenge

The challenge, then, for liberals is clear-if not simple. We have to maintain our leadership as the great economic modernists of Australia, while twinning this with a sense of hope, aspiration and compassion.

There are three fundamental principles which we should consider in pursuing this dual combination of economic leadership and deep human concern.

First, liberalism must not relinquish its commitment to reform and economic modernization. A healthy economy is not the end of governance, but it is the indispensable means to a great society. The raison d'être of Australian liberalism has always been to create the opportunities and conditions by which all Australians can unleash their potential. …

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