Address to the Ralph Honner Leadership Forum

It's great to be amongst friends. We are here today to pay respect to one of our past elders.  That itself bears voluminous testimony to our theme “Leadership and Conservative Values: An Enduring Legacy”.

May we as a Nation and through this initiative of the NSW Young Liberals ensure that Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Honner's OBE DSO MC legacy endures…

…That his legacy and the legacy of those that served with him are on parade in the modern Australia of the 21st century…

A country of liberty, a country of freedom, a country of security, a country of unparalleled wealth – a country the envy of the world – after all – all those boat people can’t be wrong!

Nor were my parents for that matter when they emigrated to Australia in 1961, also on a boat but I hasten to add – with permission – indeed we were assisted.

The citation for Ralph Honner’s Military Cross included four qualities “courage, cheerfulness, calmness and skill”

Those characteristics, those traits, those descriptions which I’m sure we would all wish applied to ourselves don’t just happen – especially the first three – “courage”, “cheerfulness” and “calmness”.  They are the expressions of the person’s inner being.

It is noteworthy that Lt Col Honner came from a family of faith – a faith that he strongly embraced.

Indeed the strength of his family’s faith was such that given he was born on the 17th day of August (St Hyacinth’s Day) his mother named him Hyacinth Ralph Honner.  Suffice to say “Hyacinth” was not a hit for the young boy who ensured he would be referred to as Ralph.

That is how well meaning parents with the best intentions in the world leave a beloved child an issue with which he must deal for the rest of his life.

As for me, the name “Hyacinth” immediately conjured up visions of that wonderful, yet pathetically sad, fictional character “Hyacinth” better known as “Mrs Bucket” or as she would prefer “Mrs Bouquet”.

And that got me thinking, what a stark contrast.

Hyacinth Bucket; Hyacinth Ralph Honner.

The one – self absorbed, always, as the show is entitled “Keeping Up Appearances”.  Selfish, pretentious, overbearing and insert all your own descriptions that you might want to.  A person whose uneasy sense of self worth was built on belittling others, exaggerating her own circumstances and bossing everyone around.

What a juxtaposition to the Hyacinth Ralph Honner a true leader of men whose service to our nation we celebrate in the name of the Forum.

His traits – the exact opposite of those of Mrs Bucket.

May I suggest his faith had a role to play.  He was a devoted Catholic.

So let’s examine the virtues of the Catholic or Christian faith.

The great Christian characteristics include:

  • that one accepts that before God we are all equal – made in His image and fully dependent on His Grace;
  • that all things are ultimately in God’s Hands;
  • that we are called to serve (not necessarily to succeed).

If these characteristics are brought to leadership one can understand how someone like Lt Col Ralph Honner was able to be cited as courageous, calm and cheerful – especially in circumstances where the natural reactions would be the exact opposite.

As Conservatives – as leaders – we have a duty to remind ourselves and our Nation of the roots of our traditions, beliefs and social structures.

In this connection the Judeo-Christian ethic has been the underpinning of so much that we cherish in our society today.

Those values need to be promoted.  Those values need to be taught.  Those values need to be instilled.

Those values need courageous advocates in the face of the current relentless onslaught.

Let me give a few examples.

Recently we were told that the National Curriculum would do away with BC and AD for purposes of historic time lines.  Instead we would have the “common era” and “before the common era”. 

Now what if Freddie were to ask his teacher – when did the Common Era start?

Would the teacher be allowed to say “at the birth of Christ”?

And then would Freddie be allowed to ask, “Why”?

And could he also ask – “why did we change?”

And what would the teacher say?!

The intellectually dishonest attempt to rewrite history in the National Curriculum, and teaching by airbrushing out the impact of our Judeo-Christian heritage is disturbing.  Our Education ministers have been strangely and disappointingly silent.  Really who dreams this up and how does it get this far!?

Another area in the education system is the Howard Government initiative of School Chaplains.  A wonderfully successful and valuable programme.  It is currently being challenged in the High Court and Minister Garrett has watered down the spiritual dimension.

Interesting that our journalists and commentators can breathlessly report on the spiritual values of our wilderness areas, or the spirituality attached to the lands of our indigenous peoples but reject out of hand Christian spirituality as the foundation of our society to which the overwhelming majority adhere.

Let me point out the danger to the future of our society if this trend continues.

Surely the foundation of any society must be its laws.  All nations or societies have laws.  To be without laws is to have, anarchy and by definition lawlessness.

So what do laws try to do?  Laws try to discourage behaviours and activities that are deemed bad, wrong, and anti-social whilst encouraging those that are deemed good, right and for the benefit of society.  In short laws have their roots in morality.

So where does morality come from?  Morality is not something that we can scientifically test.  It is based on beliefs and constraints that by their nature are “religious” – even if not related to the concept of a god or superior being.

So, no matter what some from the left may seek to assert, moral values are in fact legislated.  In the case of abortion for example the moral values are the right of the child to its life not being deliberately cut short or, as others would argue, the superior right of the mother to dispense with the unwanted child.

No matter which side of the debate you take, you must, as of logic and necessity, have recourse to a set of moral values to justify your stance.

Lord Denning that great British jurist acknowledged “Without religion there can be no morality; without morality there can be no law”[1]

Which begs the question: on which religion shall we, in Australia today, prefer to base our morality and therefore our laws?

Some ten years ago the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences tried to ascertain the reasons for the dominance of what we refer to as our Western Civilisation.  At first they thought more powerful guns, and then they thought it might be the political systems, then economic systems.

Finally they concluded “In the past 20 years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity…  The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the transition to democratic politics.  We don’t have any doubt about this”[2].

If academics from Communist China can come to that conclusion why can’t we?

So, let’s be perfectly clear – different religions are reflected in different moral values and different moral values are reflected in different laws - in short, in different societies.

As Conservatives we have a right, indeed a duty, to advocate for the best type of society. And from history we learn that the accepted religion will be the determinant of the make up of that society.

We therefore cannot walk away from the Judeo-Christian heritage of our society without walking away from all those characteristics of our society that make us the envy of the world.

As leaders in a liberal democracy we need to acknowledge our heritage.  For our society to deny its heritage is to prejudice our society its rightful future.

Let me ask:

Are all football teams the same? In Grand Final season, of course we all say no.

Are all sports the same? No.

Are all past-times the same? No.

Are all political parties the same? No.

I assume at any dinner party we would reach unanimity on these questions.  Even the leftists would tell us Labor is superior to the Liberal Party or Collingwood is better than Carlton.  We would all agree to answer no to each proposition.  No problems so far with making value judgments.

But try posing the question – Are all religions the same?

The posing of this question too often sees the flight of reason and rational thought.

We’ll be told its all “relative”.

We’ll be told about “cultural sensitivity”.

You all know the lines.  But why can we no longer say without fear of being adversely labelled that our overwhelming preference is to live in a Christian society?

Let’s transport ourselves back to WWII where Ralph Honner found himself.

Was it right to call the forces of Japanese Imperialism “evil”?  If so, why?

Was it right to call the forces of National Socialism “evil”?  If so, why? Indeed, Churchill called National Socialism a threat to Christian civilisation.

Was it right to call the free world’s cause the “just cause”?  If so why?

Instinctively we all know the answers to be “Yes”, “Yes” and “Yes”

The evil of Japanese Imperialism and National Socialism lay in their world view or “religion” which became the foundation of their moral code - such as it was.

Ralph Honner and his men fought with right on their side – their world view being firmly rooted in the Judeo-Christian ethic.

If it is acceptable to say I prefer Carlton over Collingwood or Liberal is better than Labor – Why can’t we proudly advocate the greatness of our Christian faith and advocate our society’s heritage?

If we study our Nation’s history we see the God of the Bible acknowledged in our Constitution.  We know a Christian prayer is offered up at the beginning of each day the Parliament sits.

If we study our Nation’s legal system and our common law heritage it is clear it is built on the Biblical injunctions.  So why don’t we teach them?

It has regrettably become fashionable to either ignore or deliberately deny the positive results of Christianity on our society and the world.

Professor Schmidt in his book How Christianity Changed the World highlights how many of the things we take for granted have their origins in Christianity.

In the ancient world Christ’s teachings elevated brutish standards of morality, halted infanticide, enhanced human life, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired charities, created hospitals, established schools and founded orphanages.

In medieval times Christianity kept classical culture alive, invented colleges and universities and dignified labour as a divine vocation.

In the modern era, Christianity advanced science, installed concepts of political and social and economic freedom, fostered justice and provided a great source of inspiration for the arts in music, literature and architecture – all which we treasure today.

In short no other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation or movement has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done.

These Christian underpinnings of our Nation have sustained us in the past and still do so today.

But as Margaret Thatcher said of her country and it applies equally to ours; "we are still able to live on the spiritual capital passed down to us, it is self-deceiving to think we can do so forever.  Each generation must renew its spiritual assets if the integrity of the Nation is to survive”[3].

Men like Ralph Honner served our Nation, willing to sacrifice their lives to protect our way of life.

It would be unworthy of this generation to so disregard that self sacrifice to allow the values for which they fought to be defeated from within.

To preserve the values and ethics of Ralph Honner, to ensure the maintenance of those values and ethics within our society, to guarantee the longevity of those values and ethics for the benefit of future generations…

We must display in their defence and promotion, the same qualities that were enumerated in Lt Col Ralph Honner’s citation for his Military Cross namely courage, commitment, cheerfulness and skill.  If we do, like Ralph Honner and his men we too will succeed.


[1] The Changing Law P79

[2] As quoted by Cardinal George Pell – The Spectator 3/4/10 pvii

[3] The Revival of Britain pp126-7

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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