ALSF Address - "It’s Not My Fault"

Address to the Australian Liberal Students Federation Annual Conference 2012

University of Sydney, Sydney

Thank you very much, Christian. Its great to be back with ALSF. It reminds me of a misspent youth. It also reminds me of some very worthwhile activities that myself and some others engaged in because, you might find it surprising, that Liberal Students believed in Compulsory Student Unionism until 1977.  I know thats not in your lifetime. But 1977 was when a group of us took over ALSF  and might I say, since then it has always been in the hands of what we describe as solid citizens  and I am sure it will continue to remain so.

So to those of you who are willing to identify on campus as Liberal Students, can I say thank you and congratulations because it is tough, you do stand out from the crowd. But, can I tell you, one  its a great training ground; two  you meet some very good people, especially at conferences like this and they will remain life-long friends and you will be surprised, after university, you might lose contact with some of them and then they reappear 20 years later at the same Federal Parliament as is the case with myself. Can I suggest, that you make every use of the benefits that you have at this ALSF conference and at future conferences to build up your networks, to make friendships  because they will last a lifetime and they will be undoubtedly of mutual individual benefit but I would also like to think of real benefit of our nation as a whole.

It seems that we all need to grow up. As children, we often like to blame our siblings, the family pets or some other intervening person, thing or event to escape personal responsibility. Today, I want to celebrate taking personal responsibility. In celebrating personal responsibility, we actually oppose the nanny state. We oppose the stifling notion that others owe us a living or that we are never the architects of our own misfortune.

We also oppose the notion that we dont bear responsibility for the needs of others. That is, why you will see the left-wing activist on the street corner with a placard demonstrating against world poverty, whilst the conservative quietly donates some of his income to the less fortunate.

In recent years, there has been an unhealthy trend to outsource our responsibilities to the euphemistic they, or the government. How often have we heard they should do something about it? Or the government should do something about it?

The journalists regrettably never stop to ask the usually emoting person whos all care and concern what they are doing personally or where does individual responsibility cut in. Lets take the scourge of gambling and especially poker machines, I dont know how often Ive seen people on the TV screen arguing against poker machines, they should be banned, they should be limited, they should be all sorts of things, but not once, not once have I heard him say people actually need to take control of their lives. The poker machine is static, it is the individual that walks up to it and decides to put money into it.

Do I like poker machines, do I like gambling? No, but there is also the individual responsibility aspect which is always airbrushed out of the arguments and never talked about.

It seems that we need to limit everything and everyone but the actual person responsible for his or her gambling habit. In the media reporting, I still await the journalist asking what responsibility do you take?, why is the situation not your fault?.

How can you blame the company which puts the poker machine there when the vast majority of people gamble responsibly or within their means. So, is it the machines fault? Or is it the persons fault?

Im just waiting for the defence lawyer to come up with the idea of blaming the TV series Top Gear for his clients excessive speeding. Do we say that it was Top Gears fault because I watched it too much, I tried to emulate it and therefore I got onto the road and started speeding. Well, you are responsible when you get behind the wheel of the car. Similarly when you get behind or in front of a poker machine, you are similarly responsible.

Regrettably, we have this victim mentality becoming firmly entrenched within our community and it really does need to be debunked. My colleague, Joe Hockey recently gave a very good speech about the Age of Entitlement, and ending the age of entitlement and he was right. Because your entitlement is made available on the back of somebody elses disentitlement and of course you would be aware of that in relation to Compulsory Student Unionism and that is a classic case in point. The compulsion for the so-called common-good, as determined by the elite is obtained by subjugating gating the individuals right from his money and access to an education. Someones right to social security is also obtained by forcing someone else to give up some of their wealth that they have earned or created. That is why mutual obligation as introduced by the Howard Government is such an important concept to ensure that safety nets dont turn into hammocks or lifestyles.

When the Government supplies or indeed the company supplies or guarantees something, the incentive to look after that thing supplied is seriously diminished. Take the use of company cars. If you own it, if youre responsible, if you have to pay the excess on the insurance claims, you look after that car a bit better than if you know its just the boss or the companys car or the governments car.

Now in an excellent book, Dambisa Moyos How the West was Lost, explores how it was within the US Government guaranteeing the mortgage institutions of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac that meant bondholders were less robust in vetting peoples ability to absorb their mortgage payments. And of course, if you think about it, if big government guarantees the mortgages, then those who are doing the lending dont feel as responsible because theres that safety net, that soft landing in the event things go haywire. And its very interesting, she postulates about the possibility of  there not having been a sub-prime mortgage collapse and a GFC if there were not these government guarantees.

So even in the corporate world, government guarantees to relieve people of their individual responsibility creates problems and we are now seeing that with a former Geelong Grammar School student seeking damages from her former school after she failed to qualify for her preferred university course.

Of her time at Geelong Grammar, she said: ''I didn't ever feel I was getting the support I needed to really excel.''

Her mother is also suing the school for lost income and other expenses.

We can all understand disappointment in not getting into ones chosen university or choice of course but surely this sort of court action is just ridiculous. The twist in this story is that the student could have studied her chosen degree at a range of other universities, not to mention that it appears she wasnt the brightest student in any event.

In my own portfolio of Workplace Relations, I recently learnt courtesy of a Standards Australia report that gender bias could occur when employees described, analysed, evaluated and graded jobs. Indeed, some job titles imply a gender bias  like fireman or secretary. As a result, we have more potential victims, more potential people who have been discriminated against.

In the Governments harmonisation of Occupational Health and Safety laws, the Government is currently developing codes of practice  one in particular, is the bullying code, and this entrenches this culture of victimisation.

The code countenances the following  scenario: where an employer unintentionally bullies me, I don't consider it to be bullying but another sensitive employee has observed this and he actually interprets this behaviour as bullying  albeit it was unintentional and it wasn't taken as bullying but the sensitive employee did see it as bullying, he would be entitled to compensation, counselling and all the rest.

If all that isn't bad enough, I trust that you may have heard of a recent Federal Court case about the public servant injured on her work trip whilst engaging in some vigorous horizontal activity. She engaged in this activity after hours in her free time and she injured herself in that vigorous activity.

The Judge said words to the effect that if she was sitting in her hotel room playing cards and got a paper cut she would have been entitled to workers compensation. As a result, premiums go up. As a result, you have another statistic for workers compensation and a workplace injury to show how bad Australian workplaces are and how unsafe they are.

It begs the question, if the employer is responsible, should the employer have a right to supervise the activities. The Judge never allowed the logic of his conclusions to go that much further.

But more seriously, what type of mentality is that encouraging? And to boot, the public servant was a human resources manager. So what a fine example she sets to all those she is seeking to manage. One would have thought that time off was your own time and if you were having time off at home, playing cards, and got a paper cut you shouldnt get workers compensation. Similarly, if you are travelling and have time out, sitting in your hotel room playing cards and get a paper card, it should not be workers compensation nor should the other injury.

One of the other problems we have is that we do have less than objective journalists in the media claiming the government is the victim of a non-cooperative Opposition, I simply ask you who did the deal for Government? It was Ms Gillard and for those of us who remember after 2010, Ms Gillard was touted as this wonderful, skilled negotiator that outfoxed Tony Abbott. That she had undoubtedly honed those skills while an Industrial Lawyer at Slater and Gordon and she was marvellous at being able to negotiate her way through. The fact is, she sold her soul on a whole range of issues and those problems are coming back to haunt her and we as an opposition should have cooperated!? Where are all these wonderful negotiating skills that she allegedly had? Surely they could have been put to good use, yet an asylum seeker policy couldnt get through the Parliament.

Similarly, the alleged poll deficit from which the Government is suffering is from the unrelenting negativity of Tony Abbott and the Opposition and a lot of the commentators say, poor old Julia Gillard and the Labor Government, theyre suffering because&, never do they ask are they the architects of their own problem, namely did they lie to the electorate? Did they sell themselves out and as a result now no longer have the trust of the Australian people?.

Now, before I get too melancholy about this trend, the great thing is that you are present here today because you are into the business of self-improvement, you are into the business of having values and ideals and willing to stand up for them. It is the ideals and values of Liberalism that says there is such a thing as individual responsibility. So what I would invite you as individuals to do is, dont let victimhood seduce you if at first, you dont succeed at whatever you try to achieve in life.

Similarly, dont encourage the victim status in others, well-meaning though it may be. Often when people want somebody to hear them out, often they want you to say you were hard done by. Rather remind them difficulties occur in life, and if we allow everybody that has a misfortune in life be described as a victim, we will become a nation of victims as opposed to a nation of innovators, a nation of people who are self-reliant, who want to achieve and it is ultimately the sum-total of all self-reliance of all individual achievements that makes your nation self-reliant, that makes your nation an achieving nation. A nation that is not in debt, a nation that has a positive outlook in the world, a nation that can make a genuine contribution to the world. If I might say, the Western civilisations have done exactly that for humanity and victimhood has not been part of it until recent times and we need to fight against victimhood.

In short, outsourcing consequences inhibits the taking of responsibility.

So lets celebrate that great Liberal virtue of self-reliance, take on individual responsibility and spread that message wherever you go because at the end of the day, that is whats going to determine our individual success, our societys success and our nations success.

Thank you very much for hosting me this morning.

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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