December 1

Political parties and a politicians’ republic: the Liberals

I was once reported in the columns of Crikey .com for what the then owner and editor clearly considered a heinous offence. This was to be seen publicly reading, on a flight from Canberra, the journal News Weekly, which was founded by an extraordinary Australian, the late B.A. Santamaria. (The role of News Weekly in the Movement is discussed in several places in Patrick Morgan (ed.) BA Santamaria: Running the Show. Selected Documents: 1939-1996, Melbourne University Press, 2008.)

News Weekly remains an excellent journal embracing causes which sometimes outrage the bien-pensants.

The following is from the issue of 22 November, 2008. You will probably not be surprised to know that I agree with it whole heartedly. It is about the Liberal Party,  a two page extract of my chapter in Liberals and Power: The Road Ahead, Melbourne University Press, edited by Peter Van Onsolen.

If I am asked I am also happy to write on the Labor Party and the constitution. As it is as wise as the Australian people are on constitutional issues, I see no need to write about the constitution and the National Party, nor indeed the Christian Democrats nor Family First. However, some National politicians and ex- politicians need to remember what their party stands for.

Incidentally, the then Liberal Senator Vanstone made the argument during the 1999 referendum that had the founder of the Liberal Party Sir Robert Menzies been alive then he would have been a republican. She never explained how she knew this, which went against all that Sir Robert held dear.


The extract follows.

“Liberals also have a strong faith in our constitutional system. This was described succinctly and eloquently by Bolingbroke as "that assemblage of laws, institutions and customs, derived from certain fixed principles of reason, directed to certain fixed objects of public good, that compose the general system, according to which the community hath agreed to be governed".


“The heart of modern constitutionalism is, as it were, a triptych. In one panel there is the rule of law, in the centre, representative democracy, and on the other side, a compelling array of checks and balances, bicameralism, the Australian Crown, the courts. Those checks and balances exist to foil attempts to concentrate power unduly and to prevent serious abuses of that power.


“Menzies would undoubtedly have agreed that the essence of our constitutional heritage is well summarised in the Preamble to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. This recites the fact that the Australian people in each of the several states, "humbly relying on the blessings of Almighty God", had agreed to unite in "one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown" and under the constitution.


“A return to the original intention of the Constitution would bring to an end the states' addiction, their unaccountable dependence on Canberra. Why is that important or even relevant? Until that is achieved, the states will remain analogous to the young and healthy welfare-dependent – they will be irresponsible and increasingly incompetent.


“Unless and until the states become once again accountable to their electorates for the money they obtain, they will be unable to provide the services the people are entitled to expect. By increasing the federal largesse, and handing over the GST revenues, the problem has only been exacerbated. What is happening in New South Wales today is an indication of the direction of the future governance of the states.


“Liberals should also be in the forefront in restoring the checks and balances inherent in the Westminster system, in particular in the traditional separation of powers. This means that Liberals should vigorously oppose the introduction of a bill of rights, which would effectively hand the power to legislate to unelected judges, thus corrupting the judges by politicising them.


“Liberals know that an independent non-political public service is one of the jewels of the Westminster system. They should do what they failed to do when last in office in Canberra – they should reverse rather than join in the politicisation of the top echelons of the public service.


“At the same time they should reduce judicial supervision of public service and executive decision-making. This has reached the point where too many government decisions are now being replaced by the decisions of unelected judicial officers. There is a place for review, but not as wide as it now is.


“A courageous party will offer policies that the rank and file will immediately recognise as restoring governance to the high standards that once prevailed and leaving the people to decide on such matters, which are no business of government.”



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