If someone was to ask me what the root cause of the issues with the Liberal party across Australia in 2018 are, I’d argue strongly that the core of the issue is a grass roots branding problem.
I recall back when this bloke named Malcolm Turnbull first became the leader of the Liberal party, I believe in opposition at the time. I was a young man in my early 20s, and was listening to the radio in the car. Mr Turnbull was being interviewed.
I recall the conversation so clearly because it was the first time I had EVER in my life heard the Liberal party’s values expressed how Mr Turnbull did. The gist of his statement was that it was time for the party to remind the public what Liberals stood for, namely, small government, free enterprise, reduced government spending, and freedom.
I had never heard of the word “libertarian” at that time, but if I had to guess now, I’d say it was libertarian values that Mr Turnbull held and was trying to explain to people. The idea that if you “have a go” you shouldn’t be penalised. The idea that government should be as small as possible, not as large as possible. The idea that freedom to do what you want with your life should not be interrupted by bureaucrats unnecessarily.
I had already had one or two forays into the world of small business by that time, and I remember already at that stage being tired of the red tape and meaningless nonsense that stood in the way of a small guy trying to have a go. Mr Turnbull’s words resonated with me then, and stuck with me until today.
Observing Malcolm Turnbull from afar over the years it’s clear he held other libertarian values. He didn’t seem to think he had the right to interfere with who people wanted to marry. He wanted trading schemes with regards to carbon emissions rather than flat taxes. He seemed, within the ranks of the Liberals, uniquely able to understand and empathise with the left and what some call the “far left”, while having no problem advocating for freedom in the marketplace. He seemed to want freedom in ALL domains of life, not just marriage.
But effective market places was not why a lot of Australians voted for the Liberal party, or at least placed them above Labor in their preference rankings.
Many saw the Liberal party as the party of sound morals. They were generally against gay marriage, held the line on the narrative that the family is the bedrock of a healthy society, believed the monarchy was a great system, and recited “christian” mantras more than the guys in red.
But being affiliated with far right religions who want to create laws telling people how they can and can’t live their lives, while simultaneously reciting a mantra of “freedom to run your business how you like” requires a level of cognitive dissonance that even the most politically disconnected member of the community begins to smell.
And this is, what I believe, is the crux of the problem with the Liberal party.
They cannot remain a “ morals/conservative” party that agrees to legislate an ever shrinking part of the community’s values on others, while simultaneously preaching smaller government, lower taxes, and less nonsensical legislation that hinders our freedoms.
People in Australia do actually want many of the things the Liberal party ostensibly stands for. Anyone who’s tried their hand at running a small business agrees that the burdens to get from zero to one is absurd. Anyone who gets a pay slip and sees how much tax they donated to the government so we can (among other things) shoot civilians in the middle east, keep meth addicts fed and clothed, and pay for politicians who don’t show up to parliament sittings has longed for some of that tax money back in their pocket. Anyone who’s ever gone to pay for their groceries only to find that their $200 budget just doesn’t seem to stretch far any more has pondered why we live in a world where our money has to become worth less and less year after year. Anyone who remembers that Australia essentially paid off its foreign debt under Howard and Costello and sees today’s national debt numbers groans inside. Anyone who has their house robbed by a repeat offender only to learn from the Police that the magistrate decided to let the person off with a warning, YET AGAIN, knows something is broken in our judicial system, and the people making decisions are very disconnected from reality.
If the Liberal party stuck to its core values, and stayed on message, rather than trying to appeal to the shifting sands of people’s personal religious values, I’d say it’s message would be seen to be timeless, necessary, and would resonate with far more people than it currently does. Ultimately, a government is a body of public servants. They’re meant to serve us, make sure our bins get emptied, ensure criminals get punished, and build a road or two. We don’t need them to tell us how to live our lives, who to marry, and what we are allowed to put in our own bodies.