The foundations of successful conservative policy
This is an edited version of The Foundations of Successful Conservative Policy, an address by Senator Eric Abetz to the Mainstream Policy Forum, Sydney:
When the odd journalist seeks to introduce me as someone from the religious right, I ask whether opponents will be classified as being from the godless-Left? Have you noticed? No one ever has been so introduced. Why? Because the thinking—deficient as it is—presumes that godless-Left is the neutral and thus a superior position for public policy making.
Our rich Judeo-Christian heritage as a nation should be celebrated and taught as the foundation of our nation’s greatness.
Those that deliberately attack and undermine this rich heritage don’t do so from a neutral stand point but do so knowing their end game/purpose.
And let me state quite clearly that part of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage is, in fact, the separation of Church and State. In our thinking is the understanding that we give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. We also acknowledge the two cities principles: the City of God and the City of Man.
Let’s be absolutely clear. The greatness of Western civilisation is not founded on its economic wealth, superior learning, or military powers. Those qualities all in turn are founded on our Christian heritage, as are the all important personal freedoms which we enjoy.
Our society and its well-being—the envy of the world—is firmly rooted in our Judeo-Christian heritage.
As, might I add, is the conservative approach to politics. And, whilst a topic for another day, so is the genuine liberal tradition properly understood.
As conservatives, we believe in concepts such as logic, objective truth and are more than willing to learn from history.
All of which informs us to be on the guard against self-proclaimed earthly messiahs.
Whilst we appreciate the values, leadership and attributes of great leaders like Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and, here in Australia, Robert Menzies and John Howard, we, as conservatives, don’t succumb to the cult worship of the “fuhrer” or “Dear Leader”.
Labor’s “messiah” complex
“But Labor,” to quote the 7th April edition of The Spectator Australia, “more so than any other political party, constantly seeks a great leader capable of inspiring the masses. Whether it be the Light on the Hill or the Tree of Knowledge, the ‘greatest moral challenge’ or ‘true believers’, Labor mythology likes to imbue events and personalities with qualities above and beyond those of mere mortals.”
Conservatives, through our foundational beliefs, acknowledge that humans are fraught, humans are frail and that humans fail. That is why we seek to limit the size of government.
That is why we seek to separate powers in our governance structures
That is why we believe in the rule of law.
The election for the “true believers” was short-lived.
The Rudd phrase/slogan “greatest moral challenge of our time”—namely man-made climate change—is now used as a joke and a phrase to highlight the silliness of hyperbole.
As conservatives we genuinely pursue evidence-based policy.
We use reason, not emotion, to establish our policy positions.
We reject the notion of inevitability—remember the Republic—which now has less support that it did a decade ago.
Or remember how ANZAC Day was denigrated as numbers dwindled. It was a dying institution we were told. Now, some 20-plus years later, the crowds are at record levels.
We should never be intimidated by the sloganeering and the assertion of “inevitability” so often used by the Left to avoid rational argument.
It will only become inevitable if we give up.
Rights and responsibilities
We believe, as Sir Robert Menzies said, that rights connote countervailing responsibilities. That is where our logical approach of balancing rights with responsibilities is so different to the jargonising of the left who always talk about rights without developing the concept of responsibilities.
Common sense dictates that a world simply based on rights will ultimately collapse and crash. Just ask the Greeks.
As conservatives we reject judicial activism because it denies the people the opportunity to determine policy and to have public debate surrounding the issue at stake. That is why the Left always celebrates judicial activism because it gets them out of having to win the argument in the marketplace. That is why the Left always want officials of all sorts to tell us what we are doing wrong and how we need to change our ways according to their ideology.
Bringing it all together
It seems to me that there are some fundamental issues on which all conservatives agree. The first is respect for the rule of law and as a result our Constitution and its unwritten Conventions. By submitting ourselves to the rule of law, we acknowledge that we are all unique individuals. The rule of law requires the separation of power because we acknowledge the inherent propensity for humans to do evil, which of course has its foundation in, dare I use the term, “original sin”. If we were all innately good, conflict of interests surely would not arise.
Secondly, conservatives respect life as a natural, inherent and inalienable right for all individuals at all stages. This informs our approach to abortion, and euthanasia. And as conservatives, tough as it may be, it needs to inform us even in circumstances where it may not necessarily be pleasant. This is where logic and morality needs to overcome one’s own personal circumstances.
Thirdly, conservatives believe in personal responsibility. The concept that the individual is actually accountable for all of his actions and his actions alone.
And we also have the view that government in its most limited format should be insisted upon so it does not come into conflict with each individual’s rights and freedoms and so that it too remains subject to the scrutiny of the law.
Tasmanian Liberal Senator Eric Abetz is the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations. The complete version of his speech is available at the Senator’s website.