Address to the Young Liberal Federal Convention - 25/01/2014

You will be pleased to know that the anti-bullying provisions in the Fair Work Act came into operation twenty-four days ago.

I note that Aaron Lane wrote about those provisions in The Australian just last week.

I understand that resort to these anti-bullying provisions will not be needed in the settlement of any electoral contests for your new executive – congratulations to the incoming President Ben Riley and Vice President Chris Browne and Executive.

I wish you success as you build on the legacy of your predecessors.

Tom White, Henry Pike and the whole current executive deserve congratulations for a fantastic year.   The Young Liberal Movement has been particularly well represented at the Federal Executive level of our party by your two representatives.  Also your involvement Australia-wide in the Federal campaign was greatly appreciated and contributed to the excellent results right around our nation.  Your activity was a great investment in the future of our country and in your own personal future for that matter.

On behalf of my Federal colleagues can I thank you.  Speaking of which I acknowledge your patron, Senator Dean Smith – a particularly good Senator - about whom I will have a bit more to say later.

And speaking of patrons, I note the appointment of Senator Brett Mason – an intellect, a fiery debater and a true Liberal.

Over the Christmas break I watched numerous episodes of House of Cards with my son who is a movie buff.

Whilst it was a good watch, the moral bankruptcy, the crass manipulation, the cynicism, were for me all turn-offs.  It was, nonetheless, a captivating yarn.  You will be pleased to know that I was able to assure my son that Canberra politics wasn’t quite as portrayed in House of Cards.  I also assured him that Congressman Frank Underwood engaged in all his unsavoury intrigues in the House of Representatives, and that such things could never happen in the Senate.  I also pointed out that the US Democrats were the equivalent to Australia’s ALP.

But over the Christmas break I didn’t only watch House of Cards.

I also read a number of books, amongst them being two books from one of West Australia’s great sons, Hal Colebatch.

One was “The Modest Member”- well worth a read - on the life and times of Bert Kelly – the great trail-blazer who took up, led and ultimately won the parliamentary and public debate to abolish the expensive and counter-productive tariff system and protectionism - a great hero in the Liberal pantheon.  

The second Colebatch book was “Australia’s Secret War” – a thorough, detailed exposition of how individual unions and their leaders acted to sabotage our nation’s war efforts in World War II. 

Hal Colebatch has recalled this painful chapter of Australian history which saw Australian unionists engage in a range of sabotage actions that were utterly unconscionable.

That systematic campaign of sabotage criss-crossed the nation, from Townsville to Fremantle, and cost the lives of countless Australian diggers and allied soldiers. 

Their actions included deliberately damaging planes, removing valves from radio transmitters that made them inoperative.

Packages and parcels for our service personnel were pilfered.  Coalminers and munition factory workers went on strike prejudicing the war effort, costing lives, leading to unnecessary loss and increasing the length and cost of the war.

Australian women were needlessly widowed. Australian children were needlessly left fatherless.

The book did not receive a lot of coverage and I invite all of you to buy it and read it.

It is a shameful chapter in Labor history. And the then Labor Prime Minister wasn’t much better.

You may have thought World War II was about freedom, liberty, the maintenance of civilisation. 

Whilst Winston Churchill told us the war was about the maintenance of Christian civilisation, Labor Prime Minister Curtin as late as 1943 held the view that “trade unionism – the right of workers to organise for industrial or political purposes – is the real thing at stake in this war.”

What a narrow, sectional and distorted sense of priorities. Yet this Prime Minister is held up as THE great Labor Prime Minister.  But then, when you think of Whitlam, Rudd and Gillard, I suppose the standard is not that high. But really – do we believe our men in the jungles of Papua New Guinea were not thinking of their families but rather of maintaining trade unionism? I think not.

Nor should it be forgotten that the then ALP President wrote on the 25th of September 1939, three weeks after war had been declared, that “every man who leaves Australia to fight in Europe increases our national debt…”

As an aside, this may also be the last documented occasion on which any senior ALP figure expressed concerns about the size of government debt, however gravely misguided those concerns were at the time.

So I do ask: where was the moral outrage of the ABC and Fairfax commentariat when Hal Colebatch exposed all this in his groundbreaking work?

People killed, people injured, the war effort severely compromised – murder, grievous bodily harm and treason, all at the doorstep of the union movement and all largely ignored.

Talk about a topic for inclusion in the national curriculum!

When Miranda Devine pre-reviewed Colebatch’s book in November, a contributor to her blog posed the question: “Where is the media campaign pushing for the unions to abase themselves and seek forgiveness for the very real harm they did to Australians?  Unfortunately in Australia in 2013 that seems too much to ask.”

The union movement must provide a national apology for prejudicing the nation’s war effort, remembering those families who needlessly lost loved ones because of their treasonous activities.  

Instead the MUA is currently funding a hagiography about the refusal by wharfies in 1938 to load pig iron destined for Japan – an incident the Left is still milking for indignation.

I contrast the lack of attention so far paid to Australia’s Secret War - Hal Colebatch’s book, with the affected morale outrage over another recently released book, which I can confirm I have also read cover to cover, word for word, and which I would also commend to you. 

It was written by my colleague, Senator Cory Bernardi, and entitled The Conservative Revolution

Friends, I suspect none of its critics had, or have since, actually read the book before they engaged in their ignorant commentary. 

If they had, they wouldn’t have made their comments or they would be apologising for them.

In a hundred and sixty two pages there are 137 footnotes of supportive references and studies, providing a substantial body of research to underpin its author’s thesis.

What was disappointing was the rank misrepresentation, from either sheer dishonesty or ignorance, by the gaggle of critics, of the inescapable conclusions of peer reviewed research cited in the book.  

Labor Leader, Bill Shorten, claimed to be“offended” by Senator Bernardi’s commentary about so-called non-traditional families’‘As a step-father I am offended,’ he said.   The media simply ran the ‘I’m offended’ line. 

You know the trip; “I claim victimhood.  I declare that I have taken offence.  So you cannot question me or assail me with undisputed, objective studies”… studies which actually tell us time and time again that the gold standard for the nurturing of children is a married man and woman with their biological children. 

Do some such family units fail? 

Of course they do. 

Do some single mums and dads do a fantastic job?  Of course they do. 

Do some blended families work exceptionally well?  Of course they do. 

But that does not disprove the undeniable evidence that the gold standard and best practice model is the traditional family!

The thesis of Senator Bernardi’s book is that, as a consequence, public policy should be supportive of the traditional family. 

Our would-be Labor Prime Minister claimed to have been offended by the articulation of these facts. 

Mr Shorten, thinking that he had a knockout blow, rhetorically asked on what basis Senator Bernardi was suggesting these children are more likely to be criminal? 

Well, let me answer Mr Shorten’s rhetorical question with a substantive answer, by reading to you what is in Senator Bernardi’s book, and I quote: 

“we know the statistics – that children who grow up without a father are 5 times more likely to live in poverty and commit crime;  9 times more likely to drop out of schools and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.  They are more likely to have behavioural problems, or run away from home, or become teenage parents themselves. And the foundations of our community are weaker because of this.  Can I simply observe that for the sake of our society these things need to be said.”

Oh…. and for the record, can I confirm the quote that I just read was an extract from Senator Bernardi’s book  - quoting President Barack Obama’s Father’s Day address of 2008. 

I wonder if the would-be Prime Minister Shorten would be as critical of and disrespectful to President Obama as he was towards Senator Bernardi?   I think not.

Our very own House of Representatives Committee in 1998 sought to estimate the financial cost of marriage and family breakdown and came up with a figure of at least $3 billion per annum.  I remind you, that was in 1998.  I suspect it could well be double by now.

So can I say to those who in turn might say they were brought up by a single parent, or in a blended family, and turned out okay, take pleasure in this, but ask, was it the ideal? 

Would life have been even better if, all things being equal, you had been brought up with your other biological parent coming home every night to provide an even more nurturing environment?

It has always seemed to me to be somewhat contradictory for some policy makers to invoke the importance of the biological bond between parent and child if being critical of certain church institutions or state authorities, while elsewhere discounting the importance of biological bonds in traditional family raising.

The fact that this ill-informed and embarrassing criticism came from Bill Shorten was bad enough.  Regrettably some came from within our own Party. 

One criticism was that we could supposedly dismiss Senator Bernardi’s thesis and all its evidentiary basis because it was a minority view. 

Going back to Bert Kelly, ‘Black Jack’ McEwen’s spectacularly unsuccessful tactic was to disparage the robust propositions put by Bert Kelly by claiming they could be ignored because Kelly’s view was a minority view.

The good news is, it didn’t work for Jack McEwen – I trust it won’t work in this situation either.

Can I remind you, it was also the tactic of the flat-earthers all those centuries ago. 

But I do take issue with the proposition that Senator Bernardi’s thesis is a minority view. His book by the way is on a second print run.  A third is being considered.

I have no doubt that for centuries it has been the majority view and that only in the last thirty or so years has this view come to be questioned by a number of social theorists, commentators and interest groups.

I think it is still the majority view, but, even for those who disagree with Senator Bernardi and myself I ask, why, in a more complex, fragmented and changeable society, are we obliged to disparage what for generations has been accepted wisdom?

I would invite the Young Liberal Movement and young people more generally not to consider whether Senator Bernardi’s is a minority view or majority view, but whether it is right or wrong, given all the peer reviewed studies.  Nor should Bill Shorten’s alleged offence take precedence over robust research.

Simply ask - does it have any inherent philosophical or practical basis to commend it?

I am delighted that reputable commentators like Piers Akerman, Andrew Bolt and Paul Sheehan exposed the hollowness of many of the criticisms of Senator Bernardi’s book.

The so called ‘minority view’ criticism was the limpest of all. 

I won’t dignify the other criticisms, except to make an appeal for tolerance towards what was simply the articulation – albeit bolstered by learned scholarship – of a traditional and, I actually believe, mainstream view.

In the past, when colleagues in the Liberal Party have expressed views on contested issues, divergent with Party policy, to which, unlike Senator Bernardi, they were bound, they have not been publicly criticised in such an inappropriate manner.

The Liberal Party is a broad church and those that sit in the front right-hand pews are deserving of the same respect as those sitting in the back left-hand pews. Discipline is a two way street.

In summary, I salute Bert Kelly on his free trade stand.   Telling it as it was and is, without fear or favour. 

I salute Hal Colebatch for exposing the shameful, treasonous history of trade unions during WWII – something for which the trade union movement still needs to apologise to our nation. 

And I salute Cory Bernardi for arguing for the values that underpin our society, our culture, our way of life – the freedoms and prosperity that we enjoy.

I also salute the courageous stand taken by local West Australian Senator, Dean Smith, on the Local Government recognition referendum.

This particular proposal demonstrated how fragile and short-lived supposedly ‘majority views’ can be if they are not supported by robust facts and serious analysis.

It also showed how quickly ‘minority views’ can prevail when they are based on sound principles and have capable and courageous advocates.

A similar fate befell the Republic referendum.

The Liberal Party will always need people with the courage of their convictions to speak out on such issues of principle.

Well done Senator Smith.

As we enter 2014 with economic challenges the likes of which we have never experienced before in our country, courtesy of Labor, let’s remember that our Party is not just about good economic management, vital though that be. 

The true value of a nation and its people is not to be measured only in dollars and assets, though they are part of the total equation. 

Can I suggest to you that the true value of a people and a nation is actually to be measured by their values, which underpin and hold the society together. 

And, it is those values which actually determine the economic and political wellbeing of its people. 

Lest some of the commentariat get too excited – or perhaps rush to declare how offended they are - let me remind you and then of the study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences of about 20 years ago which tried to ascertain the reasons for the dominance of what we refer to as our western civilisation. 

At first, they thought more powerful guns, then political systems and then economic systems.  Finally, they concluded:

“in the past twenty 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”.

If communist academics from China can get it, I would’ve thought it would be a no-brainer for say Senator Lee Rhiannon and the Greens, who are pushing to remove reference to our Christian traditions by expunging the Lord’s Prayer from Parliamentary proceedings. 

Make no mistake ­– if we walk away from our traditions and institutions, we weaken our civilisation and our country.

Tonight I have brought with me a supply of Sir Robert Menzies’ seventeen founding principles for the establishment of the Liberal Party in the little document ‘We Believe’. 

I would invite you all to read and consider these founding principles and then reflect on the basis on which the great Sir Robert Menzies founded our great Party. 

You will see that our Party’s foundations are rich in values and rich in principles. 

Indeed, can I ask rhetorically where do you believe that “improved living standards” came in the list of seventeen? 

It was well past half way.

It came in at number eleven.

I think the great Menzies wanted us to realise that getting the societal values right was not simply linked to economic wellbeing but was in fact its fundamental prerequisite.

Allow me to repeat that: getting the societal values right was not simply linked to economic wellbeing but was in fact its fundamental prerequisite.

As we concentrate on the vital task of managing the economy to ensure that we undo the damage of the profligacy of the past six years, as we restore our economic fortunes, let us also remember that to succeed in that task we need to restore the societal capital, the values and the foundations of our nation’s non-economic features. To ensure the social legacy we leave future generations will determine the economic foundations and structures that we also leave behind.

Australia’s economic security will ultimately be a reflection of its societal security.

I believe that the Liberal Party too often has sold itself short by over-concentrating on matters economic, vitally important though they be – vacating the ground when it comes to our society’s actual foundations.

I am reassured by the fact that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were of the same disposition. 

You can’t have a great economy without a strong, stable society.

The values expounded by Menzies are values which need to be given greater priority and for which it is worth fighting.

To conclude, let me thank the Young Liberal Movement for the wonderful contribution it makes to our Party and to our electoral success and to our nation. 

Can I also encourage you, in your discussions with family, friends and colleagues, to respectfully remind people that the future well-being of our nation is not wrapped up in the economic management of our nation, but ultimately in maintaining the social and cultural values and traditions that have in fact given us the unparalleled personal freedoms and wealth which makes us the envy of the world. 

Let’s work together in 2014 and beyond to rebuild our country – socially as well as economically.

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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