Tony Abbott The Australian October 2, 2022
When you’re prevented by law from having large gatherings for the best part of three years, these surely have been dispiriting times. Certainly it’s been hard to practise freedom and enterprise while locked up in your house and with your business closed on account of a virus. And with our country, 200 years on from being a penal settlement, once more turned into a prison island.
For the other side, though, there’s been no such vexation. If your instinct is for a big state, what could be better than awaiting instructions, following orders, dobbing in transgressors and treating normal life as a health hazard?
So as the pandemic mindset slowly subsides, it’s vital that we recommit ourselves to the instincts and understandings that have long underpinned the conservative side of politics.
John Howard famously described the Liberal Party as the custodian in this country of both the conservative tradition of Edmund Burke and the liberal tradition of JS Mill. And in our English-speaking tradition, the relationship between conservatism and liberalism has mostly been a happy one, beautifully encapsulated in Tennyson’s lines about “freedom broaden(ing) slowly down; from precedent to precedent”.
As liberals, we support greater freedom, smaller government and lower taxes. As conservatives, we support the family, small business and institutions that have stood the test of time. And as Australians, we believe ours is the best country on Earth, and want to keep it that way.
But it’s not enough just to have the right instincts; we need the right actions too. In opposition, we have to oppose bad policy, based on what we stand for; and in government we have to propose good policy, based on what we stand for.
That was always my mission as party leader: first, to try to ensure that government did no harm; and then, to try to ensure that government did what it reasonably might to nudge the country in better directions, and to do the good that only government could.
It wasn’t the opposition’s task, I said on my first day in the job, to make weak compromises with a poor government; but to be a clear alternative. Incidentally, we always take seats off Labor when we make climate an economic issue that will cost jobs and raise prices; rather than a moral issue requiring swift change to a survivalist lifestyle lest the planet self-immolate by 2030.
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he was “supposed to be unelectable” as a “conservative monarchist and climate sceptic” reflecting on his time as Opposition Leader. Mr Abbott rose to prime ministership with a landslide… victory following the 2013 Australian Federal Election. “It’s not enough to just have More
The art of politics hasn’t fundamentally changed just because, in fear of a virus, governments around the world have put billions of people under virtual house arrest and spent volumes of money that were completely unprecedented outside wartime.
We still have to be the freedom party. That means getting taxes down, which means getting spending down, which means at the very least no new spending that’s not paid for by savings elsewhere. That means getting regulation down, so good people can make the most of their lives without having to answer to officialdom on everything from the colour of their heat-absorbing homes to the pronouns they use.
That means making government stronger, not bigger, by keeping authority in the hands of elected and accountable MPs, rather than so-called experts, accountable to no one, who may have more technical knowledge but no better judgment than anyone else.
We still have to be the tradition party. That means honouring people in uniform and respecting the job they do; admiring all the lives of quiet faithfulness that bless our neighbourhoods, workplaces, schools and churches; and only changing that which needs to be changed, and even then weighing the inevitable costs of change against its likely benefits.
And we still have to be the patriot party. That means finding the good, as well as the bad, in our past and in our present; honouring our heroes, even if none of them were perfect; and giving our country and our allies the benefit of the doubt. And it means building on our strengths, to make a great country even better.
Being against an anti-corruption commission doesn’t make you anti-honest government; just as being against an Indigenous voice doesn’t make you anti-Aboriginal; and being against ditching the crown doesn’t make you less Australian.
The conservative instinct is that stronger characters will create higher standards in our public life, far more surely than new bodies with a vested interest in finding fault. If public officers may have broken the law, they should be investigated and prosecuted in a court; not be made accountable to a star chamber for something as hard to pin down as “breaching public trust”. If that’s happened, shouldn’t the remedy be defeat at an election?
If Indigenous people are under-represented, more should be elected to the parliament in the normal way, by voters who appreciate this country has an Indigenous heritage to be proud of, no less than our British foundation and our immigrant character.
If our country is thought to be lacking in national pride, the answer, surely, is to strive to be better at all we do, rather than sunder our links to an institution that has been with us every step of our way as a nation, and which adds a grace note to our public life.
Conservatives should never be afraid of saying “no”; even if there might sometimes be a pragmatic case for making change for the worse less bad. We should never allow ourselves to be morally bullied into changing what works. And if something doesn’t work, let’s fix it before we throw it away.
The mark of a conservative is respect for what’s made us. It’s precisely because we don’t find our country an embarrassment that we’re better placed than the other side to bring some inspiration and hope back to our public life.
Though these are indeed dispiriting times, we should never lose heart, because the facts are conservative, as Margaret Thatcher observed, and sooner or later reality will always trump ideology. The virus hysteria has finally dissipated because yearning to live normally eventually overcame neurotic fear of death. Likewise, the emissions obsession will eventually end when weather-dependent power can’t keep the lights on. And the cultural self-loathing will finally stop when people have to choose between liberal democracy and its alternatives.
Things might get worse before they get better but we will be vindicated, provided we keep the faith.
This is an edited version of the speech former prime minister Tony Abbott made to the Conservative Political Action Conference in Sydney on Saturday.
‘1/ We should never allow ourselves to be morally bullied into changing what works’, Tony Abbott told the CPAC Conference in Sydney. Picture: NewsWire / Monique Harmer