Why Tony Abbott is no libertarian

Why Tony Abbott is no libertarian

October 27, 2014

Why Tony Abbott is no libertarian

The Left may be the noisiest of complainers, but there is no group Tony Abbott has let down in a more brazen way than the classical liberal wing of his own party.

We often hear it said that the Liberal Party is a broad church, but Abbott’s actions demonstrate that as far as he is concerned, classical liberals can go to hell.

If you doubt this statement, I urge you to look up a speech he made to the Institute of Public Affairs little more than two years ago about his decision to repeal just a few of the worst elements of the Racial Discrimination Act.

If you read the transcript now you will find a find a speech that was clearly designed to tell the audience what it wanted to hear, but now rings hollower than a beer can after a day at the Birdsville races:

“The Coalition will repeal section 18C in its current form…It won’t just be the current [Gillard] government that the debate over new restrictions on free speech will test. It will be all the commentators and organisations that have ever thundered in defence of free speech, but find their indignation highly selective…

“Essentially, we are the freedom party. We stand for the freedoms which Australians have a right to expect and which governments have a duty to uphold.”

He also quotes Robert Menzies in a way that now makes his conservative predecessor seem like a regular Voltaire by comparison:

“As Sir Robert Menzies declared: ‘The whole essence of freedom (of speech) is that it is freedom for others as well as (for) ourselves … Most of us have no instinct at all to preserve the right of the other fellow to think what he likes about our beliefs and to say what he likes about our opinions… (But) if truth is to emerge, and in the long run be triumphant, the process of free debate – the untrammelled clash of opinion – must go on’.”

It turns out that like some of the disastrous key performance indicators Julia Gillard set herself before coming into office, this is a test Mr Abbott has failed. In announcing his backdown last month, Mr Abbott was quoted as saying, ”I want the communities of the country to be our friend, not our critic.”

A group of Muslim representatives demonstrated exactly how effective is this tactic by refusing to meet him to discuss terrorist threats. It turns out that just like everybody else in history, our Muslim friends have interpreted appeasement by political leaders as weakness.

Far from making friends or influencing people, Mr Abbott’s failure to do anything about the Racial Discrimination Act has not only appalled the libertarians in his own party, but earned the contempt of people it was meant to protect.

I wholeheartedly support my colleague, Senator Bob Day’s introduction of a bill to amend 18C. We all know the political reality is that this bill is unlikely to pass, but we also hope it will encourage some of our elected representatives to reflect upon how they ever came to be in a chamber opposing some of the most basic principles for which they purport to stand.

The 18C issue is important in itself but indicative of the fact that Tony Abbott’s kind of liberalism only has a big ‘L’. Tony Abbott will remind us about the hare-brained grand schemes of the previous Labor Government, but fail to explain why his own grand schemes are any less likely to fail.

He will talk about cutting red tape and smaller government yet his budget did little to achieve that. He will insist on a ridiculously generous paid parental leave scheme that will turn women of child-bearing age into potential liabilities for employers; he will force us to contribute enormous amounts of money for medical research with ponderous self-perpetuating arms of bureaucracy; and he is willing to throw large amounts of our money on wasteful climate change direct action schemes with no measurable benefit.

My party’s principles predate the policies of Tony Abbott’s party by centuries. It’s understandable then that Mr Abbott likes to borrow from our lexicon, especially when he is on a mission to harvest backslaps at an IPA speaking engagement. But as the 18C issue demonstrates, he fails when it comes to the practical component.

The bad news for those of us who care about freedom from government intrusion is that there is simply no evidence to suggest Mr Abbott has a libertarian bone in his body.

The good news is that people who do care about freedom will have the opportunity to vote for my party next time around.

David Leyonhjelm is the Liberal Democrats’ Senator for NSW