Michael Sexton has a very interesting piece in The Australian this morning, making the point that Labor is setting the policy agenda on pretty much every topic and the Liberals are really just a pale imitation of Labor.
We see this in education, health, childcare, climate change, industry assistance, welfare, tax and the list goes on.
Sexton poses the brutal question: does the Liberal Party really have an electoral future?
I guess most Cats would take the view that unless the Liberal Party runs with its own independent agenda – standing for the principles of classical liberalism, individual responsibility, small government, the defence of free speech and property rights – there’s not much point voting for this lot.
Sexton also makes the important point that the crowd on the ‘far right’ – whatever that really means – are not friends of classical liberalism, being advocates of protectionism, industry welfare and handouts to their favoured constituencies. There are also cranks and plenty of conspiracists in this space.
Here is the piece, which I’m sure you will find interesting:
Does the Liberal Party have a future in Australia at the national level?
This may seem an extraordinary question to ask in the light of the re-election in July, albeit by the narrowest margin, of the Coalition it leads, and in view of the fact it has been a mainstay of the two-party system in Australia since its formation by Robert Menzies in 1944. It has held office — in Coalition with the National Party, as the Country Party became — for two-thirds of that period, although half of that time is accounted for by its 23 unbroken years of government between 1949 and 1972, largely a product of the Labor split in 1955.
It may be, however, that the electoral tide is moving against the Liberals, perhaps slowly but nevertheless inexorably.
This is not, it should be noted, because they are a stridently conservative party whose views are largely out of touch with the electorate. The Liberals are at best a centre party — not, however, centre-left like Labor, which in turn is outflanked on the left by the Greens — and the Liberals share with their two rivals widely prevailing views in the Australian community about the substantial role of government in society.
It is largely for this reason that the Liberals have no real solutions to offer to the problem of ever increasing government expenditure combined with relatively static sources of revenue.
The problem is caused by interest groups that constantly demand more money for their constituencies and instantly mount a vociferous public complaint if there is any suggestion of a reduction of funds from their existing level.
The Liberals — quite naturally — try desperately to pacify these groups by meeting their demands wherever possible. The Nationals are of no assistance in any of this because throughout that party’s history its sole objective has been to provide government assistance to its rural constituency, irrespective of the economic merits of these policies.
Despite all this, however, the Liberals cannot match the expenditure proposals of Labor and the Greens. This is a long-term problem when an increasing proportion of the electorate — now almost half — makes no contribution to government by way of taxation but is essentially dependent on government-provided benefits.
Menzies ran several successful election campaigns in the 1950s by asking the question about Labor’s spending proposals — very modest by current standards — “Where is the money coming from?” There would be little point in asking this question today because a majority of the electorate has no interest in the answer.
It expects governments to find the money somehow and problems of revenue-raising are of no concern. In the long or even medium term, of course, all this will eventually lead to an unsustainable budget deficit. Again, however, this seems to be of no moment to the electorate.
None of this means the Liberals may not win the next federal election or the one after that. All national governments in Australia since Federation have ultimately collapsed politically and been replaced by the electorate.
But it may become progressively more difficult for the Liberals to obtain more than 50 per cent of the two-party preferred vote in this political climate. It is also clear that they need more than 50 per cent of the seats in the House of Representatives in their own right as the Greens and almost any independent will support Labor in the event of a hung parliament.
Moreover, the Liberals have to do this without the floods of volunteer workers that opposing groups, such as the ACTU and GetUp, can put into marginal electorates. The Senate is, of course, permanently lost to the Liberals in a way that it is not lost to Labor, which can always rely on the Greens when it is in government.
Even when the Liberals do win government, however, they seem happy largely to accept the legislative framework inherited from their opponents.
Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has been much discussed but it is a useful symbol.
What is the point of being in government if there is not at least an attempt to defend freedom of speech? Over time this passivity on the part of the Liberals allows their opponents to determine the political agenda and so make it harder each time for a Liberal government to depart from the existing culture.
This political climate is not confined to Australia but can be observed in western Europe and even in the US. It is true that nominally conservative parties have held office in, for example, Britain and Spain, but they have pursued very much centrist policies.
The demands on government are increasing so rapidly in all these countries that it has become very difficult to resist them. It may be, therefore, that centre-left or even further left parties are better placed to win office in most Western countries in the immediate future. In any event, it seems the federal Liberal Party in this country is entering a very difficult period of its history.