The Foundations of Successful Conservative Policy: The Wise and Foolish Builders

Address to the Mainstream Policy Forum, Sydney


‘…the wise man built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundations on the rock…

The foolish man … built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose and the winds blew and beat against that house and it fell with a great crash.

In that parable given to us in the gospel of Matthew Chapter 7, we are taught a valuable lesson. We were taught that the foundations of a house are vital to its capacity to withstand storms.

The parable is equally applicable to those of us involved in politics.

A firm foundation is ultimately everything – for a home as well as for our personal lives and political pursuits.

A firm foundation as the parable tells us will not allow you to escape the storms and the floods. They will come our way no matter what.

The difference is – in the shape you are in after the storm has passed.

I hope we can be agreed that foundations are vital.

It is the strength of our foundations that has seen conservatism continue despite the on-going onslaughts.

The lack of a substantive foundation has seen the demise of national socialism, communism and all sorts of other ‘isms’. In historical terms many a political fad has come along but like with many a fad it succumbs to the letter ‘e’. The fad begins to fade.

By its very nature conservatism is not fad driven.

Conservative policy is driven by the enduring qualities of amongst other things, logic, objective truth, belief in the rule of law and the inherent value of human life from beginning to end. Well – that is how we argue our case.

But on what do our arguments, our advocacy rest?

We need to answer that question.

We need to grapple and wrestle with it. To fail to do so would in the terms of the parable put us into the ‘foolish’ category – a description from which we all would shy.

So let’s get down to what logically are the undisputed building blocks of law making.

Albeit, I will deal with them in reverse order.

Law-making is largely designed to influence behaviour in society. Laws are deigned to either encourage ‘good’ behaviour or discourage ‘bad’ behaviour.

I accept some laws are simply designed to help order our society and have no real moral element to them.

Take for example the side of the road on which we drive. I am sure there is no moral superiority in determining Australians will drive on the left hand side of the road in comparison to those countries where they drive on the right hand side.

But such examples aside, our laws are largely designed to encourage good and discourage bad behaviours.

So what determines what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’? Ultimately those are value judgments which are based on our moral framework.

Our moral framework is built on our world view or religious view.

And in this context one’s religious view can be devoid of a ‘god’. But make no mistake everyone has a world or religious view on which they base their morality – to which they seek to give expression through law-making.

And there is no scientific test per se to prove my world view is superior to anybody else’s world view. Dare I say it – it comes down to a matter of ‘faith’ as to whether you believe in a god – let alone the type of god or categorically reject the notion of a god, or superior being.

Depending on your answer to the most fundamental of questions – the meaning of life itself – will ultimately shape your morality and the laws you would wish for your society.

In case I need to declare I identify as a Christian. That forms the basis of my world view which in turn provides me with a moral code which in turn informs my approach to law making.

The atheist must acknowledge the same for him or herself.

As must the Muslim, the Bahai or the agnostic or those that believe in Gaia the earth spirit like Professor Flannery and Senator Brown.

The point I seek to make is that there is no such thing as a neutral world view.

That is why when the odd journalist seeks to introduce me as someone from the religious right, I ask whether opponents will be classified as being from the godless-Left. Have you noticed – no one ever has been so introduced. Why? Because the thinking – deficient as it is – presumes that godless-Left is the neutral and thus a superior position for public policy making.

Our rich Judeo-Christian heritage as a nation should be celebrated and taught as the foundation of our nation’s greatness.

Those that deliberately attack and undermine this rich heritage don’t do so from a neutral stand point but do so knowing their end game/purpose.

And let me state quite clearly that part of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage is in fact the separation of Church and State. In our thinking is the understanding that we give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. We also acknowledge the two cities principles – the City of God and the City of Man.

Let’s be absolutely clear the greatness of Western Civilisation is not founded on its economic wealth, superior learning, or military powers. Those qualities all in turn are founded on our Christian heritage – as are the all important personal freedoms which we enjoy.

Our society and its well-being – the envy of the world – is firmly rooted in our Judeo-Christian heritage.

As might I add is the Conservative approach to politics. And whilst a topic for another day so is the genuine liberal tradition properly understood.

As Conservatives we believe in concepts such as logic, objective truth and are more than willing to learn from history.

All of which informs us to be on the guard against self-proclaimed earthly messiahs.

Whilst we appreciate the values, leadership and attributes of great leaders like Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and here in Australia Robert Menzies and John Howard, we as conservatives don’t succumb to the cult worship of the Fuhrer or Dear Leader.

But that tendency while subdued is there in the Greens and the ALP. Their capacity to acknowledge publically they were wrong is, to be kind, limited.

We acknowledged WorkChoices was wrong. Have you ever heard Ms Gillard acknowledge her Medicare Gold policy was wrong? Indeed, have you heard the media seek guarantees it won’t be re-introduced?

‘But Labor’, to quote the 7th April edition of The Spectator (pi), more so than any other political party, constantly seeks a great leader capable of inspiring the masses.  Whether it be the Light on the Hill or the Tree of Knowledge, the ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’ or true believers’ Labor mythology likes to imbue events and personalities with qualities above and beyond those of mere mortals’.

Conservatives – through our foundational beliefs acknowledge that humans are fraught, humans are frail and that humans fail.  That is why we seek to limit the size of government.

That is why we seek to separate powers in our governance structures

That is why we believe in the rule of law.

The election for the ‘true believers’ was short-lived.

The Rudd phrase/slogan ‘greatest moral challenge of our time’- namely man-made climate change is now used as a joke and a phrase to highlight the silliness of hyperbole.

As conservatives we genuinely pursue evidence based policy.

We use reason, not emotion, to establish our policy positions.

We reject the notion of inevitability – remember the Republic – which now has less support that it did a decade ago.

Or remember how ANZAC day was denigrated as numbers dwindled. It was a dying institution we were told. Now some 20 plus years later the crowds are at record levels.

We should never be intimidated by the sloganeering and the assertion of ‘inevitability’ so often used by the Left to avoid rational argument.

It will only become inevitable if we give up.

Today that challenge is before us with the definition of marriage.

The Left accuse us of being anti-gay and wanting to regulate bedrooms.

In this context it is important to understand the conservative approach on social issues.

Firstly, we have no intention of making people the objects of social experimentation.

Secondly, we are opposed to same sex marriage, not because of the legal implications of marriage but the moral implications.

You see, morality based upon reality teaches us that marriage is deeply rooted in the nature of the family. And the heterosexual marriage creates a possible natural child rearing and child bearing natural family.

The so-called tolerant Left requires society to deny morality a stake or even a claim in the society which in itself is in fact a new morality.

The focus of the Left is on the individuals – their feelings – after all love is love.

But if we apply logic to that assertion there is no reason why 10 people could not or should not all be married to each other at the same time. That is, if the Left’s new tests were to apply.

The logic we conservatives apply make us the adults in the room. We are the ones who apply logic, shun the leader cult and the big statements. In fact we critically test the big statements against objective standards.

So it is with abortion on demand. I know – a very sensitive issue. Abortion does not become right because the pregnancy may stifle my lifestyle. Abortion is either right or wrong irrespective of the individual or financial consequences other than in self-defence where the ongoing pregnancy may endanger the mother’s life.

In brief – humans are humans. Does the act of birth or being born make something which was not human human? If so, at what stage does the child become human? The child can sue for injuries it sustains in the womb, yet the mother can willfully abort it. No logic there. No consistency.

And if we countenance the extinguishment of human life out of convenience, then why not infanticide or euthanasia. Of course both are now accepted by Peter Singer and the Greens.

Interestingly during the early abortion debates this slippery slope argument was rejected as being extreme. Extrapolation of the logic of the morality inherent in supporting abortion on demand was dismissed as hysterical.

The so-called ‘hysterical advocates’ have now regrettably been proven to be the realists, the prophets.

The value we place on human life is based on the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Life is unique. It is God given. Therefore any cutting short of its development from conception to death is to be condemned as playing God – a role we should never give ourselves. History also informs us as to the consequences of such behaviour.

One’s approach may well be different if one sees humans as being random creatures – of no greater value than the other species we eat. And if you believe that you might begin speeches with ‘Fellow Earthians’.

The Conservatives bases all of his views in society by appealing to pure philosophy and principles, logic, morality and the rule of law.

Just recently, we had the disturbing and regrettable case of the Federal Court ruling in favour of a female worker who whilst on a work trip in her private time after hours engaged in vigorous horizontal activity that resulted in an injury.

That according to the judge was worthy of workers compensation.

As a result we have another workers compensation statistic! Really?!

It is this victim mentality, it is this entitlement mentality, it is this mentality that nothing is ever one’s own individual fault. Somebody else has to be accountable. This thinking lies at the heart of left wing ideology seeking to make everybody dependent upon the state and the laws that the state develops, rather than taking personal responsibility for themselves.

That is also why, for example, Labor and the Greens oppose more wide spread support for private health insurance. The concept of encouraging somebody to take responsibility for their own health care is never as good as making everybody dependent on the public system, according to the Left, even if it does cost the community more both in dollar terms and provision of service.

We Conservatives welcome and salute success, hard work and self reliance in an individual because we know that that enhances personal self worth and personal happiness. We know it helps the family unit of which they may be a member and imparts good positive values. We know that it helps the community in which they live as the truly needy can therefore be looked after and other people always benefit from success and hard work. That’s why we oppose the concept of a super profits tax.

Our opponents on the other hand always welcome and salute victim hood, dependence on Government and the sense of entitlement. We know the logical and corrosive consequences of those behaviours.

It is because we are the realists that we end up being the ‘go to’ people in tough times. Regrettably conservatives have often sold themselves short by just asserting their credentials as good economic managers. Conservatives are a lot more than that. They are level headed and commonsense type people.

But why are we good economic managers, why are we level headed and commonsense people - because we believe in such concepts as objective truth, we believe in fundamental virtues such as self reliance. That is why we shun grandiose schemes and big Government and prefer thrift and keeping Governments small.

The reason we are good managers is because we are conservatives and we need to sell our philosophical roots and the logic and morality of our position in a way that we have failed to do in recent times.

You see we don’t believe Government is the answer. Indeed, often it is the problem. That is why we rejected the proposition of the Government being able to save us from the global financial crisis with huge deficit spending underpinned by borrowing.

We recognize this as simply dishonest deferred taxation. We see this as betraying the next generation. We know that big Government means big taxes. We know that less tax means smaller Government and therefore more personal freedom. We believe that an individual spending their money personally will on the whole be spending that money a lot more wisely than the Government would if it compulsorily took that money off them via taxes and then spent it on their behalf.

We believe, as Sir Robert Menzies said, that rights connote countervailing responsibilities. That is where our logical approach of balancing rights with responsibilities is so different to the jargonizing of the left who always talk about rights without developing the concept of responsibilities.

Commonsense dictates that a world simply based on rights will ultimately collapse and crash – just ask the Greeks.

As Conservatives we reject judicial activism because it denies the people the opportunity to determine policy and to have public debate surrounding the issue at stake. That is why the Left always celebrates judicial activism because it gets them out of having to win the argument in the marketplace. That is why the Left always want officials of all sorts to tell us what we are doing wrong and how we need to change our ways according to their ideology.

As Conservatives we have a difficulty with the concept of multiculturalism as expressed by some. I think many people confuse Australia’s multi-ethnic heritage as meaning multicultural.

For a society to be successful it needs to have a degree of cultural homogeneity. And by that I don’t mean banning pizzas or sauerkraut.

By culture I refer to the true meaning and root of the word culture which basically has its foundation in the word ‘religion’ or ‘world view’.

It stands to reason that a successfully functioning society cannot have at its root and at its base half a dozen different world views that are in conflict.

That is why Senator Cory Bernardi was so right when he argued against any flirtation with Sharia Law. And let’s be quite clear.

Our society either respects females as equals or it does not.

Our society either accepts arranged marriages or it does not.

Our society either accepts genital mutilation or it does not.

Our society either accepts the kidnapping of women for wives or it does not.

Our society either accepts that all children should be provided for in a will irrespective of their sex or it does not.

Our society either believes in a Caste system or it does not.

And these fundamental issues are too often ignored in the name of ‘tolerance’. But tolerance to evil itself can become a crime.

Let’s bring all this together.

It seems to me that there are some fundamental issues on which all Conservatives agree. The first is respect for the rule of law and as a result our Constitution and its unwritten Conventions. By submitting ourselves to the rule of law, we acknowledge that we are all unique individuals. The rule of law requires the separation of power because we acknowledge the inherent propensity for humans to do evil, which of course has its foundation in, dare I use the term, ‘original sin’. If we were all innately good, conflict of interests surely would not arise. There would be no need for a Register of Parliamentarians’ Interests or a Criminal Code. We would all automatically do the right thing. There would be no hindrance to being prosecutor, jury and judge all at the same time. But because we are Conservatives we have learnt from history and personal experience that that is not a good thing to do.

Secondly, Conservatives respect life as a natural inherent and inalienable right for all individuals at all stages. This informs our approach to abortion, and euthanasia. And as Conservatives, tough as it may be, it needs to inform us even in circumstances where it may not necessarily be pleasant. This is where logic and morality needs to overcome one’s own personal circumstances.

Thirdly, Conservatives believe in personal responsibility. The concept that the individual is actually accountable for all of his actions and his actions alone.

And we also have the view that Government in its most limited format should be insisted upon so it does not come into conflict with each individual’s rights and freedoms and so that it too remains subject to the scrutiny of the law.

To fully understand someone’s conclusion or policy setting one must understand the steps leading to the conclusion or policy.

For the Conservative logic, morality and history are vital ingredients based in the Judeo-Christian ethic. That approach has served us well. It is tried, true and tested.

The Conservative approach will continue to serve us well. But only if there are citizens like you and me willing to be its advocates. So let’s be the wise men and advocate the cause of Conservatism.

And remember our success will depend on our foundation.

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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