Address to the Young Liberal Movement Gala Ball

Theme: The Culture Wars and Political Correctness: how to win the hearts and minds of Australians

I am delighted to fill in for The Honorable Alexander Downer. He is always doing the people’s work, on this occasion at the United Nations (if that isn’t an oxymoron). We wish him well in his endeavors.

Alexander Downer, besides being a great Parliamentarian with a great sense of humor, is a true Liberal conservative with a hunger and passion to advocate the timeless truths of our beliefs.

As Foreign Minister he brought robustness and a no-nonsense approach which was so refreshing.  He was one of those rare foreign ministers willing to call corruption by its correct name, namely “corruption”, not “cultural variations”.

He believes that it is not only the right, but also the desire of all men and women to be free; that all peoples do aspire to democracy, so you can’t justify dictatorships on the basis of the people “not being ready for democracy”, or that “democracy is a Western construct that might be culturally inappropriate”.

In short, Alexander Downer was a great Foreign Minister and his departure was a loss to our Parliamentary ranks. The good news is, he is still overwhelmingly committed to our cause as witnessed by his willingness to serve as federal vice president of our great party and to address dinners such as this.

Alexander Downer either chose, or was given tonight’s topic, ‘The Culture Wars and Political Correctness: how to win the hearts and minds of Australians.’  I have a suspicion that if the topic was not given to him he would have chosen it by himself in any event.  And it is a topic that I’ve thought about long and hard over the last couple of years in particular.

And I’ve come to the conclusion that we as Liberals may have to take a leaf out of Senator Brown’s book.  I believe we may need to take another leaf out of the Republicans book.  Yes it is has been a good summer, and no, I haven’t been struck by the heat, or lost my marbles in the Adelaide heat.  But in case you think it is heatstroke or that South Australian wine is a bit stronger than what I’m used to in Tasmania, or that Cooper’s knocks out the brain cells quicker than Cascade, allow me to explain - I talk of course of Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, of the Grand Old Party The Republicans in the United States of America.  We need to take a leaf out of their book.

The Democrats and Senator Obama took a health plan to the Presidential election.  They won.  But the Republicans who were elected and re-elected on opposing the health plan, (note I won’t call it reform,) said, “Our mandate is to oppose it – that was our manifesto and we were elected or re-elected on it.”  They were willing to say the plan was bad in 2008.  They were willing to say it was still bad in 2010.  They kept standing by their principles.  They rejected the media bandwagon which was so heavily in favor of Obama and his plan, and now, only one year after his inauguration as President, despite his personal presence in Massachusetts, the Democrats lost a Senate seat they had held for over half a century.

The Republicans won on the back of their success in finally getting the message through on the health plan.  (As an aside Massachusetts has a health plan under which 98 per cent of the population is covered.  It seems they knew what they were in for.)  It is also interesting to note that whilst the media continually told us how unpopular George W. Bush was, they find it so difficult to report that Obama, after one year in office, has now registered the lowest rating of any President.  So why take a leaf out of Senator Scott Brown, and the Republicans book?  Because they knew what they believed in.  They stood by their values. They stood by their beliefs.  The health plan was bad in 2008 and it was still bad in 2010.  There was no mixed message, no so called “sophisticated nuanced messaging”.  It was simply straight talking.  And with our leader Tony Abbott we are getting the same.  Back to our basic beliefs, small government, individual freedom, low taxes and reward for effort.  The Liberal Party was in real danger of falling for Labor’s 1996 mistake.  Having lost, believing they had to junk their legacy.  Having done so, the Labor Party left a lot of their previous supporters thinking,  “well I voted for them because I believed in their policies, which they now no longer believe in”.  It led to a crisis of confidence within the Labor Party, and even more importantly, within the minds of potential Labor supporters.

And we were getting ourselves into a similar bind.  Clearly we did make mistakes, like overreaching on Work Choices, and not renewing our leadership.  But John Howard and Peter Costello got a lot right and that’s why they were elected to Government four times, and under Tony Abbott we will embrace the Howard/Costello legacy, and let people know that our values and our beliefs have not changed.

I like to see President Obama in 2008 in the United States, and Kevin Rudd in Australia in 2007 like the owners of a new restaurant on the block.  The waft coming out of the new joint attracted the clientele.  People liked the aromatic sensation.  They walked in and took their seat.  It was only once inside they were told there was a set menu and they would only be advised of the cost at the end of the meal.  Most stayed, because this was a new restaurant and they thought they may as well give it a go.  After all, it was time for a change.  Surely one meal at the new joint wouldn’t hurt.

Fast forward to 2010, and the meals have been served and people don’t like what they’re eating, and they’re horrified at the accompanying bills.

Just witness what the change in our border protection laws has done to the flood of illegal immigration into our country.

And for the politically correct mindset, can I say it is simply astounding that they are willing to champion the cause of the rich and wealthy, who are able to afford people smugglers getting places in Australia before those that have waited for a decade or more in refugee camps in places such as Africa.  I confess I don’t understand the social justice of rewarding rich people who employ criminals to further their own personal wellbeing, over those that do not have the resource to do so.

But being politically correct, of course, does not require consistency.  You see the strength of our side of politics and our political heritage is consistency, in protecting the values that have withstood the test of time, in recognising the values that make our country great and make it the envy of the world.  Just allow me to digress to the illegal entrants again.  I’m always astounded how so many people are always attracted to the Western culture/civilisation.  Why is it that people don’t seem to be going to the Middle East countries, or African countries, or North Korea or Cuba for re-settlement?  It’s simple, they envy our freedoms and our way of life.

But back to the theme.  We as Liberals don’t fall for the latest fad, or we shouldn’t just because it’s “modern” or “the collective wisdom of the chattering classes”.  Let me give you an example: I’m sure you all ‘know’ that Mr. Abbott is very unpopular with women.  Well a Newspoll of women told us 18 percent of women preferred Malcolm Turnbull as Liberal leader, whereas 26 percent of women preferred Tony Abbott as Liberal leader and the other 56 per cent didn’t much care.  But despite this objective, clear evidence, the politically correct brigade like Jill Singer still spin out the line that somehow Tony Abbott is less popular with women than Malcolm Turnbull.

It must be great to be able to simply avoid recognising the objective evidence so that you can spin your prejudices and propaganda.  I do confess that every now and then I wish I could junk intellectual rigor, personal integrity, logic, consistency and straight thinking so I could be part of the politically correct.  Just think about it, no evidence needed, no rational argument, just prejudice and emotion and an ill-founded sense of moral superiority, combined with a capacity to nauseatingly repeat nonsense.  To the politically correct it seems that if you repeat something often enough, the need to produce evidence for the assertion dissipates.

Let’s look at the climate change debate. How often have we heard there is a “consensus” among scientists?   It’s breathlessly reported on the airwaves and printed boldly on the broadsheets, yet 31,000 scientists in the US alone have signed a petition repudiating the assertion.  Here in South Australia we have Professor Ian Plimer, in my home state Professor Garth Paltridge, in Queensland Professor Bob Carter, all repudiating the science.  On any objective analysis the “consensus” argument simply should not be asserted, because it can’t in the face of the numbers questioning the science.  Yet the so called “consensus” argument is continually rolled out, despite the clear dishonesty of doing so.  And for the record, in relation to climate change, I see myself as an agnostic.  But can I tell you the politically correct have got hold of this issue and have been beating it up for all its worth, using it to condemn Western wealth, Western civilisation and to bash up big business.  Unfortunately we as a Parliamentary Party were originally gun shy of the issue.  We allowed the politically correct brigade for a short time so sell the nonsense that climate change meant the need for Mr Rudd’s emissions trading scheme.

But you know what happens with a fad?  After a while it has an ‘e’ put on the end of it – the fad begins to fade.  Remember “the greatest moral challenge of our generation” – that’s right, it was climate change, or so we were told in 2007 by that great moral master Kevin Rudd.  You know the one, “I’ve never been a socialist” but then says in another speech “I’m a Christian socialist”.

You know the one, who bagged out Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies in his first speech, and then swore on television commercials that he had always been an economic conservative, and then scribbled a pathetic essay condemning economic conservatism and the market.

You know, the same one who tells us to respect workers and treat them fairly, and who swears at staff, makes air hostesses cry, and throws tantrums about not having a hair dryer and making bureaucrats work 37 hours around the clock for his own personal political agenda on Fuelwatch.

Well, that record clearly somehow entitles Kevin Rudd to claim expertise to identify the great moral challenge of our time.  That fad seems to have faded.  All his Australia Day addresses this year make not a single mention of this “great moral challenge”.  You see, he knows the fad which enjoyed 80 plus per cent support, has now faded to below 50 per cent support.

The fads are seductive – they make you “relevant” and “popular” – but only for a while.  In my assessment there is no long term substitute for the values we uphold which are tried and true.

And as the custodians of the conservative tradition it is vital we be the fountain, the source of its advocacy, because if we don’t no one else will be its advocates.

I thought I would also take this occasion to remind ourselves that our roots and success, as a Western civilisation, the envy of the world, are in fact firmly embedded in the foundations of the Judeo-Christian ethic.  Unfortunately, even in our own Party, I detect a shift by some who want the construct, who want the house, who wants the castle but without the foundations.

It goes without saying that the construct, the house, the castle however we describe our philosophical construct –will not last without a firm foundation.  As George Washington wrote in his farewell address, “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible results…and let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion” (see page 34 Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto by Mark R. Levin).  Edmund Burke made a similar observation.  I would encourage all Liberals to acknowledge and understand the basis of our great Western civilisation and most of our present day institutions and values that clearly reflect a Christian origin.

“With the increasing secularisation of society and the current emphasis on multiculturalism – especially in matters religious – the massive impact that Christianity has had on civilisation is often overlooked, obscured or even denied...In the ancient world the Christian ethic elevated brutish standards of morality, halted infanticide, enhanced human life, emancipated women, abolished slavery, inspired charities and relief organisations, created hospitals, established orphanages and founded schools.  In medieval times Christianity almost single handedly kept classical culture alive, through re-copying manuscripts, building libraries, moderating warfare through truce days and providing dispute arbitration.  It was Christians who invented colleges and universities, dignified labour as a divine vocation, and extended the light of civilisation …In the modern era Christian teaching advanced science, instilled concepts of political and social and economic freedom, fostered justice and provided the greatest single source of inspiration for the magnificent achievements in art, architecture, music and literature that we treasure to the present day.” (See pages 7 and 8 of How Christianity Changed the World by Alvin Schmidt, Zondervan, Grand Rapids Michigan, 2001).

The reality is that today’s secular morality could hardly have been possible without a prior Judeo-Christian ethic that has influenced generation after generation. In short, no other religion, philosophy, teaching, nation, movement, whatever has so changed the world for the better as Christianity has done (see page 9 of How Christianity Changed the World, Alvin Schmidt, ibid).  Its shortcoming, of course, are there.  But on a balance sheet, any shortcomings are heavily outweighed by benefits to all of mankind.

It is because of that rich heritage that the left elites and the politically correct are so anxious to denounce anything Christian and of course take great delight in criticising our leader for suggesting that the education system might just include an understanding of our Christian heritage.  We need to acknowledge our heritage, we need to advocate for it, because without it the basis for our institutions and values are removed.  And if they are removed we won’t be left with a vacuum, because vacuums are always filled by something. And what we find today is the playing out of that truism, ‘if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.’  And as a society we are starting to fall for the nonsense of “relativism”.  We’re into excuses.  We’re not allowed to judge or discriminate.  That’s unless you want to have a shot at the so-called “religious right” or Tony Abbott.  As Tammy Bruce, in her wonderful book entitled Exposing the Left’s Assault on our Culture and Values: The Death of Right and Wrong says, at page 185, “the Left elite know that if the truth of history is unleashed, if morals, values and character help make dreams come true, then their morally vacant world of victims, anger and hatred will collapse like the house of cards it really is.”  And isn’t that a great summary of the elite Left.

It was the Judeo-Christian construct of giving dignity to labour that produced profound economic effects. Johnson, in his treatise Enemies of Society, says that “Christianity was one of the principle dynamic forces in the agricultural revolution on which the prosperity of Western Europe ultimately rested… and which gave men in the West the will to industrialise and create our modern material structure.”  Moreover, he says, “Christianity provided the moral code, the drill and the discipline – as well as the destination which enabled the unwieldy army of progress to lumber into the future.”

Rabbi Daniel Lapin has also observed that “It’s no accident that a capital market has never arisen indigenously in any non-Christian country.”  And as Milton Freedman in his book Capitalism and Freedom said, “A society which is socialist cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom.”

As Liberals, as conservatives, we fully understand that individual freedom and economic freedom are inseparable.   And if you have a look at the history of that construct you will find that they are products of the Christian ethic.

So in short, how do we win the culture wars?  Very simply we have to be proud of our culture, we have to be proud of our traditions, we have to understand the roots of our culture, traditions and institutions.  We need it taught.  We need advocates.  And over a period of time people recognise that the conservative approach is the right approach.  Yes, the politically correct have the fads and sometimes short term popularity.  But we have the facts, the history, the tradition, the heritage which has been fashioned and evolved to withstand the tests of time including the latest fads.

It stands to reason that there will be ebbs and flows in the support for our beliefs. Indeed from time to time leaders may let us down, but ultimately the conservative construct built on our Judeo-Christian ethic has clearly been the best force for good, for humanity, that the world has ever known. If ever you doubt the approach which I’m suggesting just recall the children’s story of “The Emperor with no Clothes”.  Long story short, the political elite were suckered into believing that whilst the emperor was walking around in his under garments, he was in fact fully clothed in the richest of fineries.  And of course if you couldn’t see that he was clothed in the richest of fineries, then you were somehow unsophisticated and not operating in the right intellectual framework.  It took a little child who watched the emperor parading to make the obvious statement, ‘the emperor has no clothes.’ And everyone else, timidly at first, joined in.  Whilst all the adoring public were foolishly swooning over the wonderful finery of the emperor’s non-existent clothing, it took one little child to ask why the emperor was in fact not wearing any clothes.  It needed one person with courage to debunk the fraud and myth.  That’s our task, to debunk the politically correct and those that are engaged in the culture war of repudiating our proud history.  Like the emperor with no clothes, so are the politically correct.  We see it in the immigration refugee debate.  We see it in the climate change debate.  We see it in the economic debate.  You know the great thinking that you overcome greed by mortgaging the future of the next generation, that is your generation.  You overcome excessive private borrowing by excessive government borrowing.  

We have a great tradition.  We have a great heritage.  Let’s all be proud of it.  Let’s advocate for it.  That’s how we’ll win and win we will.

Let’s make 2010 the year we win the trifecta in Tasmania, South Australia and Canberra.

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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