How the Left Became the True Conservatives

By Allsop, Richard | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, December 2009 | Go to article overview

How the Left Became the True Conservatives


Allsop, Richard, Review - Institute of Public Affairs


Richard Allsop on who is really standing athwart history.

Given Kevin Rudd's bizarre take on recent Australian history, it is refreshing to read that at least someone in his own party has an intellectually consistent position.

Instead of Rudd's tortured logic trying to differentiate between the 'modernisation' of the economy under Hawke-Keating and the evil 'Hayekian neo-liberalism' of Howard -Costello , NSW Labor President Bernie Riordan, has a logical position - he hates it all.

Riordan, well known for his role in scuttling the lemma-Costa plan to privatise the NSW electricity industry, believes all Australian governments for the past 35 years stand condemned for their roles in opening up the economy to international competition.

In comments to The Australian in September, looking at how 'successive Australian governments as far back as Whitlam have fostered and encouraged privatisation, trade liberalisation and economic rationalism', Riordan concludes that 'the fools that took Australia away from basically a self-sufficient economy should hang their collective heads in shame.'

So, according to the head of the NSW ALP, the last Australian Government that can hold its head up high was the 23 year Liberal-Country one of Menzies, McEwen and their successors. This is perhaps a bit harsh on the Fraser Government, who certainly did not cut tariffs, or do much else that could be considered liberalisation in Riordan's eyes.

This unionist nostalgia for the 1950s and 1960s is not confined to Australia. In the US context, Bill Clinton's Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, has argued that the great period of growth after the Second World War grew out of a social contract that anyone who wanted a job should have one and that those who work should earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty. What he terms modern 'supercapitalism' has ripped up the contract and left workers in a more precarious position than they were in at the time. Suddenly, the monotony of the 1950s factory production line, so derided at the time, has become an ideal.

Another critic of modern Australia, Roy Williams, leaves Whitlam and Fraser out of his timeframe (maybe because his old man worked for Gough), instead limiting his critique to 'the past two decades or so'. In a recent review of a book about the origins of Australia's cricketers, Williams identifies a string of factors which have led to the death of the old Australia, 'eroded away by the acid drip of modernity'. These include 'greedy materialism, smaller families, insidious technology, political correctness, urban overcrowding, indulgent or neglectful parenting, and the terminal decline of most rural and regional areas'.

Actually, participation rates in junior cricket, and football for that matter, have never been higher. Williams probably does not like the Milo Cricket of today, which combines political correctness (girls participate), indulgent parenting (everybody gets a go) and materialism (sponsorship), but many may actually think it is an improvement on Williams' idealised past where many cricket clubs made no attempt to nurture any but the obviously talented.

It is so strange to find that for years critics of John Howard claimed he wanted to take Australia back to the 1950s, and now it is so often his critics who actually seem to have that desire.

There have been several articles, and indeed a best-selling book, recently ,that attack bad manners, lack of civility, and respect for elders. Somehow, the argument is that this is the product of liberalisation. Yet, when I was young, it was radical left-wing baby boomers who said manners were not needed. …

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