Once again, The Liberals are again attempting to impose a
radical economic ideology onto the nation and, as before, the
Australian people are rejecting it, writes Shaun Crowe from the ANU (via The Conversation).
FEW MEMBERS of the 20th-century political right were more important than Milton Friedman.
As an academic, author, television presenter and adviser to Ronald
Reagan – who once described his show Free to Choose as a “survival kit”
for the Cold War – Friedman helped initiate the free-market revolution
that swept the world in the 1980s.
For all that, there was one title Friedman would never accept: 'conservative'.
In his book Capitalism and Freedom, he made the observation that economic liberals weren’t there to preserve the status quo, nor maintain the
'... state interventions that interfere so greatly with our freedom.'
A better term, Friedman thought, was 'radical'. After all, economic liberals favoured 'major changes to social legislation'.
Friedman even believed that, if they could practically administer them,
private corporations would ideally run community parks, charging users
for entry and upkeep.
the new Family First senator for South Australia – whose vote the
Abbott government will need to pass much of its legislative agenda – is a
great admirer of Friedman.
Day is what we might call a 'conservative libertarian'. Like Friedman,
he advocates extensive economic deregulation, while at the same time
supporting the preservation of families with a “natural mother, natural father”.
Before he entered parliament, Day’s economic advocacy tended to ring loudest. As Housing Industry Association president and HR Nicholls Society secretary, he conducted a one-man crusade against state intervention. Day once compared the fight against the minimum wage to the fight against slavery, likening himself to a 19th-century abolitionist. In 2005, he criticised WorkChoices for not going far enough.
Since being elected to the Senate, Day’s campaign has gained speed.
In August, he made his clearest move yet, offering treasurer Joe Hockey a deal.
If Hockey followed his advice on industrial relations, he would help
the government pass parts of its budget. Day argued that young people
should be allowed to opt out of the Fair Work Australia system,
letting them bargain away their minimum wage and benefits in exchange
for a job. While it would represent a profound change to Australian
industrial law, Day considered it a “silver bullet” for dealing with
Even the Council of Small Business of Australia considered Day’s proposal extreme.
Director Peter Strong argued:
"We should have a system where you can’t accidentally take advantage of desperation."
While Day’s plan might eventually go nowhere, or be implemented only
in parts, it reflects an important trend in contemporary Australian
politics: the conservatives are now radicals.
If there’s momentum to upend and replace traditional institutions,
it’s now coming from the political right. Universal health care, the
welfare state, a regulated higher education system, the ABC and
industrial relations — each in its way is part of the foundations of
Australia’s social life; each is under attack by self-identifying
Historian Associate Professor Greg Melleuish confronted this same question when defending John Howard’s conservatism after WorkChoices.
He argued that economic institutions aren’t worth preserving because laws, not social conventions, uphold them:
'The principles on which Australian society rest[s] … should be founded on voluntary co-operation and not state coercion.'
But this argument only makes sense if we accept that these laws
aren’t themselves the product of society, or the institutional
expression of what people actually want. Here, political history
disagrees with Melleuish.
Every time the Liberal Party has recently attempted to revolutionise
Australia’s economic life, it has run into the same problem – public
In 1993, then-Liberal leader John Hewson advocated
ending the awards system and Medicare bulk-billing. Despite Hewson
being in a supposedly “unlosable” position, Labor won a fifth straight
In 2007, Howard defended his Government’s WorkChoices legislation — then lost both his job and his seat.
Hockey’s budget has gone much the same way. An affable treasurer has been transformed in the popular imagination into a cigar-chomping fat cat.
Each of the three examples suggests that Melleuish is wrong. Economic
institutions like the minimum wage and award system aren’t imposed on
an unhappy public. If anything, the opposite is true. A largely content
public is reluctantly forced back to the barricades, defending the
institutions that shape their economic life.
(Image via March Australia)
The political left is waking up to the fact that it might be now on
the side of tradition. You can hear it in the language of its leaders.
Ged Kearney, head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, described the budget as:
"… nothing short of a savage assault on the Australian way of life and famous egalitarianism."
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has variously accused the budget of being “unfair” and “radical”.
It’s hard to reconcile the term “conservative” with these attempts to
overturn and remodel traditional institutions. But when it comes to
economic policy, preservation has never really been the goal.
As former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher put it back in 1981:
"Economics are the method: the object is to change the soul."
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article here. The
author will be on hand for an author Q&A session between 3 and 4pm
today (September 3) on The Conversation website . Post any questions
about conservative politics and radicals in Australia in the comments
below the story on that website. Read also managing editor David
Donovan's 'James McGrath and the libertarianism of the Australian Tea Party'.
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