June 3rd 2017


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COVER STORY Left poisons Trump's real achievements

EUTHANASIA It must be war, as truth has been the first casualty

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Dr David van Gend criticises AMA statement

GENDER POLITICS U.S. Target goes gender neutral; pays the price

GENDER POLITICS Where have all the transgenders gone?

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Graceless new book takes hatchet to Cardinal Pell

CULTURAL HISTORY The prophets of eco-doom: a perfect record of failure

LAW AND SOCIETY Religion in the balance in Australia

MUSIC What's it all about?: when no amount of ado will do

CINEMA Alien: Covenant: Creature seeks Creator

BOOK REVIEW Insights for the euthanasia debate

BOOK REVIEW Assistance is an Australian strength

LETTERS

CANBERRA OBSERVED Abbott strives not to join the forgotten people

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Is Cardinal Pell just the tallest poppy of them all?

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CANBERRA OBSERVED
Abbott strives not to join the forgotten people


by NW Contributor

News Weekly, June 3, 2017

Of the many virtues Tony Abbott has as a person and a politician, subtlety is not one of them. So, when the former prime minister wrote an eloquent and thoughtful piece for The Australian newspaper on the 75th anniversary of Sir Robert Menzies’ “Forgotten People” speech, there was little disguising Mr Abbott’s comparison of his own situation with the circumstances in which Menzies found himself when he penned the radio broadcast in May 1942.

Menzies, Mr Abbott recalled, was an “ex-prime minister; not without a role (he was an MP and on the Advisory War Council), but most likely without a political future … As a former national leader, though, he had a voice and was resolved to make it heard on the great issues of the day.”

Who says Tony lacks subtlety?

Menzies, Mr Abbott said, was advocating an uncompromising approach on core Liberal values midway through World War II, when the conservative side of politics was at its nadir.

Menzies had made something of a hash of his first term as PM (Mr Abbott did not mention this), which lasted just two years and four months, but after founding the Liberal Party went on to serve for an extraordinary 16 years as prime minister.

Menzies’ 15-minute speech was broadcast at 9.15pm on May 22, 1942, and, despite its old-fashioned idiom, it has become a bedrock document of Liberal Party values.

During a celebratory dinner in Canberra organised by the Menzies Foundation to commemorate the event, a replication of the speech was performed by actor Peter Cousins and played across the Macquarie Radio Network, courtesy of Alan Jones.

In Mr Abbott’s piece, he said Menzies was appealing to the middle ground. “Putting aside wealthy people who could look after themselves and the unionised workforce who had organisers to look after them, Menzies pledged himself to all those striving to get ahead,” Abbott wrote.

“As a former wartime prime minister, Menzies knew successful leaders had to appeal to the nation, but he also knew they had to do so on the basis of values. His people – the people whose interests and instincts he was striving to advance – were “salary earners, shopkeepers, skilled artisans, professional men and women, farmers and so on … the middle class … the backbone of the nation.”

“They were, he said, ‘not leaners but lifters’. These days, they might be described as everyone who’s ‘having a go’ rather than waiting for others to make things happen.”

Mr Abbott said Menzies’ speech not just explained Liberal values, but defended them at a time when the other side of politics was in government.

He said the speech showed the need for Liberals to know who they represented and know what their values were, specifically “frugality and saving” … and “never shirk a fight in a good cause.”

“What would be the point of winning the war, if in the process we lose our character?”

Mr Abbott wrote that with 50 per cent of Australians paying no net tax, Menzies’ criticism of people who moved themselves “on to list of beneficiaries … from the list of contributors” needed to be revisited.

It was “just as well” Menzies had not given up when he was embattled, Mr Abbott noted, because the future would vindicate his concerns about “the votes of the thriftless [being] used to defeat the thrifty”.

Thrift and frugality are words so out of fashion with the modern mentality of debt and deficits of government and households that they almost jar, but Mr Abbott is clearly advocating for the Liberals not to abandon managing the budget.

“To discourage ambition, to envy success … [and] to distrust independent thought … these are the maladies of modern democracy,” he wrote, “and of Australian democracy in particular.”

“Menzies was entitled to sound embattled, but he wasn’t to know what the future held. Just as well for all of us, he didn’t give up. That is the point of the Liberal Party he founded: to promote individual freedom and personal responsibility and to resist attempts to degrade them. Our challenge is to be as indefatigable in these times as he was in his.”

There is no doubt that Mr Abbott wants to continue to stake his claim on true Liberal Party principles, and be unbending on those principles.

But while it is true that identifying and aligning with the values and aspirations of the centre of politics has been the key to all successful Australian post-war governments, the quandary for the Liberal Party is this: who exactly constitutes Menzies’ “forgotten people”?

Especially at a time when traditional middle-class values have been eroded by educational and religious institutions, the media, and many other forces, and when no government can ignore the political reality that such a great number of people are now rusted on to government handouts.




























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