Official Launch of Dr Andrew Southcott’s Journal – Looking Forward, Senate Alcove, Parliament House, Canberra

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Official Launch of Dr Andrew Southcott’s Journal – Looking Forward, Senate Alcove, Parliament House, Canberra





What a great pleasure it is to be here to launch the journal of ideas Looking

Forward. At the outset, I want to pay tribute to Andrew Southcott for his

editorship of this journal. Andrew is one of the new breed of Liberals:- highly

qualified as a medical doctor; a sportsman; and an MP:- a renaissance man. And

now of course he is a distinguished editor, judging by the contributors that

you have here Andrew, people of the calibre and capacity of Senator Nick Minchin,

Nick Park, Dr David Kemp, my old politics professor – David Kemp was my politics

professor and Andrew Theophanous was my tutor – Michael Keenan who makes a distinguished

contribution and David Crawshay.

Looking Forward of course was the name of the pamphlet published by

the Victorian IPA and written by C.D “Ref” Kemp. Robert Menzies

called together a meeting of the non-Labor organisations, first here in Canberra

in 1944 and subsequently in Albury to put together a non-Labor political force

which would be capable of contesting the 1946 election. At that conference –

and we can see a picture of those who attended, we believe this is the Albury

conference – Menzies concluded by reading a quote from the pamphlet Looking

Forward which has been authored by “Ref” Kemp.

Australia was then going through the Second World War and the war was drawing

to a close. A great deal of thought was being given to the nature of post-war

reconstruction and the way in which Australian society would be organised. There

were two contending schools. The first was the incumbent Labor Party view which

in order to fight the war had extended control over the economy quite considerably,

and wished to maintain it, with a very large government role in the post-war

reconstruction. The second was that put together by Menzies who believed that

Australia’s future would be a private enterprise economy.

Chifley won the 1946 election. In 1947 the Chifley Government introduced legislation

to nationalise the banks. That legislation was passed. Under legislation passed

by the Commonwealth Parliament all the banks were to be nationalised and the

Government would take control of the banking sector. I imagine that in 1947

banks were as unpopular as they are today and that to stand-up and to defend

the private banking system against nationalisation would have taken a great

deal of courage.

The issue could not be fought on the issue of banking alone, but on the greater

principle of what role the State should play in the post-war economy and what

role private enterprise would play. As we know, the bank nationalisation legislation

was struck down by the High Court which was affirmed by the Privy council. But

the Chifley Government was not finished yet. In 1948, through referendum, it

sought the power to control rents and prices. It was defeated in that referendum.

But if those suite of measures had remained in place, by 1948 the Government

would have controlled prices, rents, banking. It would have been an economy

looking suspiciously like the command economies of Eastern Europe.

The great electoral contest in 1949 was between two alternate visions for the

Australian nation. One was price control, rent control, bank nationalisation

and the other was a system of private enterprise, private savings and market

economics. The 1949 election was the great turning point for Australia. If the

Liberal Party had not been elected in 1949, Australia would have gone much further

down the socialist route, which took hold in Britain after the war, which had

taken hold in New Zealand before the war, and our economic potential would have

been much more limited.

It is true that Chifley had an obsession with banks and hated them. But the

moves that he put together on behalf of the Labor Party were very much in accord

with the objective for which the Labor Party was founded. Let me remind you,

to this day, the objective of the Australian Labor Party is:- “the democratic

socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange to the extent

necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these

fields.” That was the objective in 1949, it is still the objective today.

The difference is that in 1949 apparently the Labor Party believed it.

But this is Labor’s problem. Today, the Labor Party has at its heart

an objective which it no longer believes in. And because it no longer believes

in its central founding objective, there is a hollowness to its ideas and to

its political platform. When the question is asked, what does the Labor Party

stand for, the answer you cannot give is that it stands for its constitutional

objective. And that just invites the further question. If we know what it doesn’t

stand for, can we answer the question of what it does stand for?

Now, as you know I enjoy reading books. I was quite taken with a book about

postcodes which was recently authored by one of the Members of the House of

Representatives. In the book called Postcodes, the author sets out five

principles that the Labor Party will follow in relation to economic management.

One, ensure the Budget remains in balance over the cycle:- the objective we

laid down in 1996. Two, have an effective monetary policy with an independent

Reserve Bank:- the policy we laid down in 1996. Three, spending through savings

and re-prioritisation rather than debt:- a policy we have pursued since 1996.

Four, combating price inflation through pro-competitive reform policy:- which

we have pursued since 1996. Five, investing in the productive capacity of the

economy with emphasis on productivity, participation and population:- the law

of the three P’s which the Government laid down in 2002.

The Labor economic policy as put forward in this book is to follow Coalition

policy. But why would you vote for a Labor Party to implement Coalition policy?

Surely, the voter would be better advised to vote for the Party that not only

laid it down but in its heart of hearts believes it.

As we look back on the election of 1949, the great economic struggle was between

market economics and nationalisation or the command economy. The international

argument over this raged for decades but was decisively ended in 1989 with the

fall of the Berlin Wall. For the Liberal Party, it managed to be on the right

side of history. The Liberal economic idea triumphed. We can see that clearly

today but in a way which was not so clear in 1949. This gives the Liberal Party

great moral authority in relation to economics and economic policy.

Now since the outcome of the 2004 election, Labor has changed its tune somewhat

and now says it stands in the tradition of the market economy and market economics

as represented by the Hawke and Keating era.

You should give tribute where tribute is deserved, and I always have. The Hawke

– Keating Government moved to a floating exchange rate – a very significant

reform and one which they were supported in doing by the Liberal Party –

and the reduction of tariffs – another very significant reform and one

they were supported in doing by the Liberal Party.

But you would hardly join Labor if your principle motivation on economic policy

was to promote markets, competition and private enterprise. It would be a long

way home to that policy objective, to join a Party whose constitutional objective

is “the democratic socialisation of industry production, distribution

and exchange.”

It would be possible, I suppose, to promote the Holy Roman Catholic faith by

joining the Presbyterian Church of Northern Ireland – but it would be

a long way home.

It would be possible to work for a Collingwood Premiership by joining the Essendon

Football Club – but it would be a long way home.

It would be possible to seek to promote open markets, low tariffs, enterprise

bargaining and privatisation by joining the Labor Party but it is not the most

immediately obvious way to support those objectives. When Labor claims that

this is what it believes in there is a hollow ring to its declaration.

Now we who do believe in a private enterprise economy, open markets, enterprise

bargaining, competition and have chosen a shorter way home. But we must never

rest. We must always be on our guard because the threats to open markets and

competition will come now in different guises. It won’t come in the guise

of nationalisation, that has had its day. But it might come to us in the guise

of monopoly suppliers who want protection from competition. It might come to

us in the guise of marketing schemes where people’s produce is appropriated.

It might come to us in the guise of arbitration which infringes an individual’s

right to negotiate their price of labour. The challenge to the open market and

private enterprise will continue to come but in more concealed ways. We must

be on our guard.

Adam Smith famously said in The Wealth of Nations: “People of

the same trade seldom meet together even for merriment and diversion but the

conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public or in some contrivance

to raise prices”. Every time I see a lobbyist walking the halls of Parliament

House I think of that quote. We in the Liberal Party must always be on our guard.

We were on the right side of history in 1949. We were on the right side of

history in the great argument between the market economy and the command economy.

Now today what we as Liberals have to do better, is to explain our social policy.

And if a journal of ideas can do that then it will add considerably to the intellectual

force of our political party.

Because we are Liberals we are wary of State power. We know that individual

freedom often has to be defended against the State. We are suspicious of grand

plans in social engineering. Sometimes our social policy looks less visionary

because we don’t believe in the grand schemes. A Liberal would never support

the planning schemes of an Albert Speer. We would be too worried about individual

property rights and individual dislocation. We would be too worried about the

impacts on families and communities. Our social policy will always be wary of

Government intervention and respectful of the non-Government institutions of

society. We will always defend non-Government institutions. Why? Because we

see them as a protection against the State. We see the family as a protection

against State power, we see the church as a protection against State power,

we like those institutions because they can defend the individual against State

power and maximise human liberty.

[Ringing of the Bells]

I bring my speech to an end, before I reach my crescendo by wishing well to

this publication Looking Forward. This is a journal of ideas. Our Party

is a Party of ideas. We want to see those ideas flourish. We were on the right

side of ideas in the past and we want to be on the right side in the future.

It is a great pleasure to launch this magazine.