Chasing the Norm

Australian academic and blogger on politics, international relations, and culture

Tag: Liberalism

The Right and the Bill of Rights

In (yet another) back down, the Rudd Government recently abandoned its call for a bill of rights. Instead it is introducing a ‘Human Rights test’ for all legislation, leading to much rejoicing by many liberal and conservative Australians (which I’m labeling here right wing, with left wing liberals tending to support Rudd’s -original- push for a Bill of Rights as I do). Yet their joy is somewhat surprising given that the Australian Right wing tend to define themselves (rhetorically at least) by their desire to restrict the reach & power of government and encourage individual freedom. Which is exactly what a bill of rights is designed to do, hence its position at the heart of the US constitution, the most liberal document in history.

Andrew Norton helpfully tries to explain this apparent contradiction in a good post over at his blog:

In a democratic system, classical liberals will tend to be more sceptical than social democrats and the median voter of actual and proposed regulation by the state. But I don’t think this is inconsistent with believing that classical liberal freedoms should be achieved within the persuasion-based, evolutionary and open democratic system. Even within a pro-freedom perspective individual rights and freedoms can conflict – let alone all the conflicts with other values that people hold – and there is little reason to believe (as many opponents of bills of rights have argued) that courts will do a better job of deciding on the trade-offs than democratic politics.

a distinction can be drawn between an in-principle opposition to constitutionalising some rights and a tactical judgment that the bill of rights we would end up with would not support the classical liberal conception of individual freedom. I think this does help explain the lack of enthusiasm for bills of rights among classical liberals, even where they might support constitutionalising a limited list of rights or freedoms. Aided by the various UN treaties, the concept of ‘human rights’ has expanded way beyond what classical liberals have ever supported, to make them the basis for big rather than small government.

While the arguments about risking giving too much power to the courts are valid, and one should always be skeptical if modern politicians can reach the wisdom of political philosophers such as Jefferson & Adam’s, Norton’s comments still seem to me somewhat partisan. His main concern seems the content of a Rudd/Gillard(or Abbott?) introduced Bill of Rights, rather than the concept as such. That it is, had a classical liberal Prime Minister introduced a bill of rights, I expect he would be significantly more inclined to support it. Which leaves me wondering why none on the right are proposing to write their own Bill of Rights?

There’s two good reasons they should: First, if there was a right wing version on offer, the debate would shift from the rhetoric of angry partisans (like this) towards debating which principles and the specifics. A debate about how to code a protection of free speech, or whether the government can compulsory acquire private land would be a useful debate.
Second, if those on the right support the concept (as opposed to their concerns over Rudd’s specific version) then now is the time to propose an alternative. The campaign for a Coalition government to implement economic liberalism didn’t just spring from nowhere in 1996, but was pushed & argued over throughout the 1980′s and maintained until the time was right (whilst critically giving support to the ALP Government when it agreed with this approach). With Joe Hockey the likely candidate to take over the Liberal Party once they lose the upcoming election, liberals have a good chance to gain a leader who will at least listen to their views. Assuming the ALP stay in office for another two terms, by 2016 a Coalition Government could win office and pledge to implement a Bill of Rights which has been around for 5-6 years in public debate (removing the fear factor) whilst adhering to a strict ‘negative’ set of limits on government/society, rather than the more left wing desirer for positive rights to food/shelter/support etc.

I believe a Bill of Rights has a fundamental worth, that will unite people of all political philosophies across the left and right. Guaranteeing free speech, restrictions on discrimination, and basic rights of people who fall under the watch of the security apparatus of the state would help ensure that the ‘democracy of manners’ which rules Australia does so within confines that do not trample over the individual. For those of a liberal persuasion, both the Howard and Rudd governments have infringed individual freedom and shown little concern about doing so, in economic, social and security area’s. There are legitimate concerns about increasing court influence to deal with, however the High Court has already involved itself in these issues (such as ABC v Lange 1997 on free speech). A carefully constructed negative set of rights could infact help clarify what the public want, rather than allowing the much freer interpretation available today where lawyers and judges can draw on all constitutional and legislative documents.

Having an alternate proposal (while a lot of work) would increase the quality of the debate, let those on the right set the terms of what a bill of right should be (helping dispatch poor/unworkable ideas such as a right to an income) and far more than any comparison with UN treaties, let Australians debate and define the basic freedoms we as a people insist on for a good society. Given the move to presidential prime ministers, increasingly invasive technology options for the government and centralising federalism, sitting back and hoping all will be ok is not a sensible option.

Racists have rights too

This apparently is the political story of the day:

A member of the Queensland Young Liberal National Party faces expulsion after he called Barack Obama a monkey on a social networking site.
Scores of party members this morning called on the party senior executive to immediately dismiss Nick Sowden, president Rod Schneider told brisbanetimes.com.au.
Sowden last night posted messages on Twitter while the United States president was being interviewed on the ABC’s 7.30 Report.
“I’m not sure why they paid kerry to fly to america, if they wanted an interview with a monkey surely a Ferry to Taronga would have sufficed,” one tweet said.
“If I wanted to see a monkey on TV id watch Wildlife Rescue,” said a second.

Snowden’s deleted his twitter account and seemingly his facebook too, and set up a lame defence (via the excellent 2UE reporter @latikambourke) “He says it was just a joke for friends which we’ve ‘unfortunately,’ taken out of context.”

But Snowden did say one sensible thing: “it’s a sad day for free speech if the Twitterverse is going to be policed Stazi-style. Says best to have a fake Twitter name.”

What’s really problematic about this is that we have our press jumping up and down over a dumb racist comment by a nobody. Why should we care if he’s a racist? Why should we care if he’s an idiot. It’s not that we have better things to do (from taxes to nukes to healthcare), but rather that he’s allowed to be a fool if he wants, and this mass peer pressure via our media onslaught is just an example of tyranny of the majority at work. Even if its for a good cause – rooting out racist in our major parties, it’s still unacceptable and base mob behaviour.

Over at Catallaxy recently was the argument coherently put (this time about emails encouraging Earth Hour) that classical liberals don’t worry about non-governmental pressure. And generally thats true (such that if your boss is announces he is going to pay you you 3c an hour, that should be nobody elses problem), but there is also in the John Stuart Mill tradition of liberalism a worry just as much that public opinion can be just as coercive as a government regulator. Indeed Mill devotes the majority of his brilliant ‘On Liberty’ to the question of public pressure, rather than legal coercion.

This of course is not to endorse either snowdens comments, nor the inferiority complex that seems to lead conservatives everywhere to claim they are a minority under attack, and whose conspiracy theories on everything from global warming to Obama’s citizenship ought to be given equal place in our debates. It’s not. But it is a reminded that as our technology to disseminate opinions grows larger & quicker, the role of peer pressure does too. Often this will be for the good, encouraging nation states and societies to stop human rights abuse & give up their inhumane weapons of mass destruction, and to support a pluralist, tolerant society. But if we find ourselves jumping up and down over every little idiot we are simply going to encourage the belief that there’s a virtue in holding minority views no matter how illogical and immoral they are, and giving significantly more attention and hence support to such views as well. In a free society, this kid has the freedom to be an idiot. We should celebrate that by freely ignoring it, and knowing that in this case, even his friends quickly called him on his “joke”. Job done.

The amorality of faith

Stanley Fish, reviewing Steven Smiths “The disenchantment of secular discourse” in the New York Times:

the “truncated discursive resources available within the downsized domain of ‘public reason’ are insufficient to yield any definite answer to a difficult issue — abortion, say, or same sex marriage, or the permissibility of torture . . . .” If public reason has “deprived” the natural world of “its normative dimension” by conceiving of it as free-standing and tethered to nothing higher than or prior to itself, how, Smith asks, “could one squeeze moral values or judgments about justice . . . out of brute empirical facts?” No way that is not a sleight of hand.

Read the full article »

The Trouble with Libertarians pt.II

Via Andrew Sullivan Have Tea Parties and Stimulus broken the bond between liberals and libertarians?

Reason.Com’s Matt Welch: Speaking only for myself, I don’t see libertarianism moving rightward, I see rightward moving libertarian. Which is to be expected, what with the whole not-having-power thing (as Kilgore points out, the Democrats’ wilderness years included such incongruities as Markos Moulitsas penning “libertarian Democrat” manifestos)….What I do care about, regardless of who’s president, is human freedom and prosperity. And I strongly and consistently suspect that when the government accumulates more power, I and everyone else (except those wielding it) have less of which I seek. Republicans diss libertarians when they’re in power, and Democrats diss libertarians when they’re in power. Their changing attitudes toward our little (albeit growing) tribe is mildly interesting, but it’s about as newsworthy (and painful) as a dog biting a chew toy.

Of course it doesn’t seem as if Liberals and Libertarians ever had a real world political alliance (as economic liberals and social conservatives had), but it is unfortunate if major participants seem to be giving up on an idea of closer and more empathetic discussions between those of these two philosophies, given the significant mutual benefit that is possible and the over-riding consensus on the end outcome: Expanding Freedom.
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Don’t be afraid of the public

Discussing the pro’s & con’s of Democrats passing the health care bill in the US, Reason.com’s Peter Suderman writes

the choice for Democrats may actually be whether they want they want to be portrayed as so single-minded in their determination to push their unpopular agenda on the public that they are willing to use party-line voting and any sort of obscure procedural trickery they can come up with to get it passed, or whether they want to be able to make the argument that they responded to the public’s clear concerns and backed off an incredibly unpopular piece of legislation when they had the chance.

Suderman of course doesn’t want the bill to pass, but his reasoning is an all too clear example of the fear the political class have of a voter backlash for their actions. Indeed the political class and Center-Left wing politicians, especially in the USA are almost paranoid in its worry about appeasing the voters, to the extent it ends up doing a much poorer job & therefore looking much less competent than it should otherwise. To fix this, left wing leaders need to take a leaf out of conservatives like Reagan, Bush and Howard and have the courage of their convictions. The media and political class will always be jumpy, but our leaders ought to know better. Obama seemed to promise this at the start, but the fear seems to have crept in of late.
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A new (publicly owned) Bank?

Crikey has the scoop today that the Rudd government is considering allowing/pushing Australia post to expand its financial services into a full blown bank as a way of breaking up the stranglehold of the big four banks.

Crikey can reveal that the Rudd Government commissioned a scoping study into the establishment of a publicly-owned banking capability by Australia Post, with positive results. As Crikey detailed in August last year, Oz Post has been trying to address the long-term decline in postal volumes by encouraging mail marketing and exploiting its branch network to offer a wider range of the sort of services that still require interaction.

This already includes financial services under licence from several banks and up to 70 financial institutions in all, including business banking services from NAB and the Commonwealth. Last year, Australia Post itself began offering insurance services. About 3,300 Australia Post outlets offer external banking services now, just under three times the number of branches of the largest bank network, Westpac/St George.

While the economics have pros & cons, politically this strikes me as a very risky if not downright awful decision if followed through. Rudd already has a reputation as anti-market in the media (being a Labor MP, Stimulus spending, End of Neo-liberalism essay, keeping book tariffs etc). For a party trying to present itself as representing the future over its regressive opponents, going against the 30 year trend to privatization makes little sense. Endorsing the creation of a publicly owned bank would just about drive the economic liberals who dominate the editors/opinion leaders of the press insane and with them a chance to enshrine Labor as the default governing party for the next 20-30 years.

As I’ve argued before, many economic liberals have lost their suction to the Coalition after Howard’s departure. Rudd’s description of himself as an “economic conservative” and talk of efficiency and productivity through his investment in education lured many away. And now with Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce ruling the roost, the coalition isn’t the safe haven of support & re-enforcement it once was, indeed it’s looking decidedly shaky and populist.

Yet Rudd seems to have only made a half-hearted effort at recruiting them. He may talk of productivity as part of his Australia day (week) speeches, but his actions speak loudly to this skeptical and (somewhat paranoid) group. Rudds decision to not support a change in parallel imports of books despite the Productivity Commissions report is a perfect example of a policy with a relatively light cost (from a social democrat/arts supporter viewpoint) and much to gain. Indeed you could almost see the press gallery shift away from Rudd at the end of last year soon after this decision was announced (and even worse is that Rudd ‘excused’ himself in a split cabinet because one of his kids is writing a book). As an aside Bob Carr today makes the obvious point that the impending arrival of Apples badly named but oh so cool ipad makes the ALP’s decision laughable.

Establishing an aussie bank under Australia Post may appeal to many in the public superficially, but its positive political impact is likely to be small and slowly occurring, whilst re-enforcing a big government, big spending, big bureaucracy image that Abbott and the editors of the Australian are trying to pin on Rudd. This is not about the forthcoming election which is already in the bag, but a generational re-alignment of those of a liberal ideology both socially and economically who are giving Labor a fresh look they wouldn’t have considered during the 90s and most of the 2000′s. Creating a government owned Australia bank would probably scare them off, and with it a chance for Labor to establish political dominance for the next 20+ years. (Along with hopefully leading Labor to become more liberal in attitude which is why i want to see this occur along with its political benefits).

Best op-ed of the year

This is as good an op-ed as you will read this year: Dr Robert Dean via the SMH.com.au

The day the sheep sold out the farm
ROBERT DEAN
December 8, 2009

By not backing Malcolm Turnbull, the small ”l” Liberals have betrayed the Menzies dream.

I AM one of the poor bastards who is a liberal Liberal, not a conservative. I’m a lifelong member of the Liberal Party now feeling like I don’t have a party any more. I feel like a child who has been left on the footpath alone because his mother and father had a fight and were so full of each other’s anger and vindictiveness that they stormed off in opposite directions completely oblivious that they had left me standing on the footpath inches from whizzing traffic.
Read the full article »

The courage of their convictions.

A big congratulations to Senators Judith Troeth and Sue Boyce for crossing the floor to vote for the CPRS scheme.

Senator Judith Troeth

Senator Judith Troeth

Senator Sue Boyce

Senator Sue Boyce

For the last month the central debate amongst political insiders was how many conservative climate sceptics were going to cross the floor to vote against the CPRS. No one doubted the threat was serious, and on some of the early amendments they even carried out their threat to vote no. This wasn’t enough for the cons, and following one failed spill motion they resigned on mass, forced a second leadership challenge and though expecting to lose, pulled out a surprise victory in the leadership stakes. Of the 10-15 Liberal senators who still supported of the CPRS in line with a strong majority of the public only 2 voted yes, and the bill failed.

As for Turnbull, he surged amongst Labor voters in his final days for his defiant support of the CPRS, and provided himself an exit narrative far more historically praiseworthy than the already pencilled in outline of having badly lost an election arguing for policies he didn’t support. His biographers have their story, and while not the PM outcome he thought himself destined for, it’s one he can be proud of. (And out of bitterness or convictions he’s still arguing for an ETS. Watch this space.)

So what is the moral of this story: In Australian (&US) politics, it seems only conservatives have the courage of their convictions. In government the conservatives ruthlessly pursued their policies, and now in opposition are fundamentalist in their rejection of the lefts agenda (Such as Tony Abbotts sudden disapproval of mandates). True, this stridency isn’t always the best electoral politics, Bush & Howard went down humiliatingly and Abbott is miles below Rudd on the polling. But in policy and momentum terms it matters. Bush got through much of his agenda (save reforming social security), as did Howard, and in office Obama and Rudd have struggled to get their signature issues through (Health & ETS respectively) and only barely scrapped through a stimulus package (whose debt they now wear like a bad smell). All of which makes their re-election campaigns so much harder as they have little to point to as achievements. This isn’t a startling new observation obviously, but it is worth recognising when it occurs. There’s all sorts of explanations floating around, assigning rational reasonableness to the left & irrational ignorant passion to the right, but it doesn’t really hold weight. Likewise theories that this is just a post-election backlash (as the US teaparties have been seen) don’t work either because the same determination was evident in government.

Instead, it seems to reflect the pattern of the last 30 years. The right emerged circa 1970 with a clear vision of society and agenda, easily won the rhetorical war against the dying remnants of Post-WW2 liberalism, and has stayed in the ascendant ever since. Though the left had some electoral victories (Hawke, Clinton) and has made good advances in some areas (homosexual rights, environmental, retaining welfare net), it hasn’t ever really gotten up from its crouched, defensive position. It hasn’t been willing to be blooded and potentially risk any kind of electoral backlash in order to carry out its policies. It was so anxious to gain government it weakened or deferred most of its real beliefs, and having gained it is even more anxious to keep it. This isn’t always the worst thing, sometimes good government means just pragmatically minding the store, something that is in the best of the conservative tradition. But when it comes to big critical issues, it also can translate overwhelming strength into policy defeat. Rudd’s suffered it here, and we are just waiting to see if Obama can escape it in the US (the public option is dead, but surely something will get through). So good on Troeth and Boyce for having the courage of their convictions that seemingly few other liberals and moderates do. To vote as they see their conscious and beliefs dictate, not based on calculations of self-interest.

If liberals/the left is to escape this, the option is not more strident politicians, but a much clearer and more thought through agenda. One that can carry liberal/left/progressives of all tempraments through, and mutually re-enforce various elements. It’s not enough to support health care & climate change as individual policies, we need to show how these build towards an clear vision of a better country. I’ve started to begin such work here, I hope you’ll join with me on this.

Battlelines: Where the election will be fought

boxing_largeWhile Tony Abbott began his first press conference saying he wasn’t afraid to fight an election on Climate change, it seems likely from early indicates he won’t have to. It will lurk in the background but, cold war style, it’s going to be fought through proxy wars in Economics and Foreign Policy.

Economics: As is obvious from Abbott’s early media appearences, he’s not running to deny climate change, rather the economic costs of acting:


7:30 Report Transcript

TONY ABBOTT: Kerry, I was doing my best to support the then leader. And that’s what frontbenchers have to do. But the Liberal Party is liberated as of today to follow our natural instinct, which is to oppose the Government. Now, this isn’t about climate change, it’s about the mechanism for dealing with it. This isn’t about climate change denial, it’s about stopping a great, big new tax.
….
TONY ABBOTT: Well I’m not sure that anyone is that happy about being out of pocket. But let’s look at the Rudd Government’s ETS. It looks, at this point in time, to be a great big tax to provide a great big slush fund to produce great big handouts administered by an enormous bureaucracy. It looks like a mechanism for a political slush fund more than it does as a mechanism to help the environment.

This kind of rhetoric didn’t take on when Barnaby Joyce was sprouting it, but Abbott is a far more effective comunicator, and the press is already starting to question labor using some of his language. But the more important reason why the politicians will shift from talking climate change to economics is that it is unfertile ground for winning votes. For both groups. As Possum Pollytics helpfully notes views on climate change are effectively locked in. The deniers are stuck fast, and whilst the pro-efforts could ebb some support, those who see the environment as a primary issue already voted Labor in 2007 (or Greens though after their no vote on the CPRS I don’t know why). Instead the fulcrum of the argument is two issues: Timing and Cost. The timing issue is labors to own next year.

Most voters support an ETS despite recognising there will be an economic cost. Abbott can’t shift those voters into denying the environmental need for an ets, but he can make them think the cost imposed by Rudd is too high. Rudd likewise will whack Abbott occasionally on the issue, but he probably can’t shift too many votes on it from 2007. It’s easy to vote for someone pledging action, its much harder to vote for someone who is making your bills higher. If he doesn’t have some big policy on Climate, or looks like he is slipping into denialism he could still (unintentionally) make it the issue again, but I think the moderates will prevail in getting some kind of a policy there.

The other reason I think economics will be the major issue of the election is because 2010 offers Labor a historical chance to fundamentally re-shift voters allegiances. John Howard, just like Reagan governed a coalition of economic liberals and social conservatives. But that has broken asunder. Facing a proudly self-identifying conservative candidate, Labor has the chance to peel those economic liberal voters to it long term. It would become the socially and economically liberal party, though keep control of the mainstream & its working class base thanks to its historical support for ensuring fair working conditions. This is what Keating envisioned, what Beazley abandoned, and what Rudd has the chance to complete.

Rudd came to government pledging to be an economic conservative, a term that was widely ridiculed when he launched his stimulus package. This spending allowed Turnbull perhaps his only effective attacks on debt, a theme Abbott will be sure to run on. But Rudd can claim those were extraordinary circumstances, and with a good faith effort on debt, some wise reform in the area of tax, and a couple of symbolic acts (revisiting parallel imports would be an example) he could convince the economic liberals that he shares their values. (His articles here on neo-liberalism havn’t helped, but can be ignored)

Along with the campaign to entice them, Labor is going to try and put the fear in those who have liberal views on both economic and social fronts. Socially Labor will argue that Abbott unlike Howard is not just conservative, but regressive. They’ll raise the concern he may restrict access to abortions, re-introduce no-fault divorce, punish the gays etc. It’s going to be ugly, but could be effective. Economically, note that while Abbott is going to run on tax, debt and ‘freedom’, he isn’t an economic liberal like Costello or Howard. It’s a late adopted faith for him, and his books and speeches are full of reticence about such reforms. Abbott is very much in the mould of a big-government conservative as more perceptive economic liberals like Andrew Norton have noticed. Carefully appealed to we could see those who consider themselves liberals seeing Labor as the only viable party.

Foreign Policy: No PM has come to the job as aware of foreign policy issues as Rudd since Whitlam, but Rudd hasn’t yet had a chance to use that strength to his electoral advantage. It’s like the six shooter strapped to his ankle as backup. But with Abbott having thwarted Rudd’s chance to go to Copenhagen with a deal, it may be pulled out early. Rudd will charge that Abbott wont be in line with international governments, and won’t be able to do advantageous deals with international governments across the ideological spectrum because of his position on climate change. Along a similar line over at The Interpreter there is the intriguing suggestion that the deniers problem with the CPRS is less about the environment than multilateral institutions, hence their revulsion to needing passage by the time of Copenhagen. Rudd can’t gain too much mileage from his multilateral credentials, but it can all fit a narrative of an Abbott government being uncomfortable with issues beyond the shores.
This will be even more potent attack in the context of SE-Asia given Rudd’s steady development of links and influence. Thanks to his strong popularity, and activism on the Asia-Pacific Community (which is starting to get support), Rudd will be able to argue that Abbott will be a foreign policy disaster in the region. He won’t exactly repeat Keating’s line on keating that Asian governments wont work with him, but he could come close.

Rudd also has the natural advantage of incumbency. When Labor won the election in 2007, the liberals were seen as the better party on national security by a 49-26 margin. By Feb 2009, that had essentially levelled. I havn’t seen a more recent poll, but expect the government to now be well ahead. There was always the faint air under Turnbull that the Liberals weren’t comfortable on foreign policy, from his slip of the tounge labeling of China as a friend, to Julie Bishop’s suggestion we should bow to china’s demand and not let in Rebiya Kadeer. Indeed staying just on China, there are also some odd claims in Abbott’s book Battlelines. In his very short section on foreign policy, he claims that in the case of conflict between China and Taiwan, Australia ought to side with Taiwan, “In Australia’s case this would not be choosing America over China, but democracy over dictatorship” (p 160). It may sound good to supporters to base your foreign policy on such ideological choices, but it would raise up the worst of the Bush/Neo-Con incompetent idealism. Remember Latham was very very careful to avoid talking about national security, but still lost badly on this score. Abbott’s lack of desire to talk about this issue is going to be noticed by the public who will interpret it as a sign of lacking competence. If Rudd is able to set the agenda, expect a lot of discussion about foreign policy come election time.

Things could easily change, but while Labor’s new adds are already reticent of 2007, i think the campaign this will mirror more will be 1996. Rudd will present an image of Labor as a party bold and open and willing to engage the world. An Australia on the make regionally and internationally, in a pair of hands whose already passed their first big test (gfc). Abbott may gain some early traction on taxes and welfare, but could easily scare voters with too much policy purity and it’s not likely to swing too many given slowly improving conditions (Rudd will be praying that was the last interest rate rise before the election). Instead he will be seen more to represent a cultural howl against Labor that, inverse to 1996 can only work to Labors advantage, entrenching them as the mainstream party against a rump conservative party. Abbott could be a very attractive leader, but it’s hard to see how he gets that 35% core support to go much higher.

A victory for Liberty

Very pleasing breaking news:

Commonwealth to allow gay ceremonies: Corbell
Simon Corbell says gay couples will still be able to have legally binding ceremonies under the amendments.
ACT Attorney-General Simon Corbell says the Territory has now reached a compromise with the Commonwealth.
He says gay couples will still be able to hold a legally binding ceremony in front of a civil partnership notary.
But now they will also have to notify the registrar-general of their intention to hold a ceremony
.

Assuming endorsement from the registrar-general is automatic, this is a great step for civil liberties in Australia. If we are to be a society which is designed for the promotion of general prosperity and liberty, then this is as critical an issue as any step in recent years. For much of the last 30 years the liberal/libertarian movement has focused its concern for expanding liberty purely within the economic sphere. Social liberties were seen as too hard, or many proclaimed supporters of freedom were distinctly uncomfortable with its actual expansion (such as the many conservatives who regularly invoke the cause of freedom, especially in the US, whilst having no time for any social liberalisation in areas such as Marriage, Euthanasia and Drugs). Likewise one of my greatest differences with Libertarians is their almost sole economic focus, as such I’d be surprised if this decision gets noticed on the libertarian blog Cattlaxyfiles (at least now that Jason Soon has left)

Though this is only significant for at most a thousand Australians (ie Homosexual couples in the ACT wishing to marry), it does allows the idea to become a norm. A social practice, with its effects, pro and con measured and noticed. And as with the US, when the ground doesn’t open up to destroy the modern Gomorrah of Canberra, other states may be willing to take the risk, along with the Federal Government noting the general public acceptance. It surely won’t change under Rudd, but it’s now a real possibility for a Gillard Administration.

This is also significant as a signal to those who hold liberal views on matters both economic and social that the ALP is still receptive to such ideas. Rudd disappointed a lot of liberals with his refusal to end parallel import restrictions, so this is a good change to reassure them.

Congratulations federally to Kevin Rudd, Robert McClelland and Gary Humphries (and probably Kate Lundy), and locally to Andrew Barr, Simon Corbell and Jon Stanhope. You have all done your bit for a significant expansion of civil liberty in Australia. That’s something to be proud of, whatever the critics say.

Liberalism in 21st Century Australia

Brandis_speech Thanks to the Australian, we have full access to Senator George Brandis’s excellent speech “We Believe: The Liberal Party and the liberal cause”, delivered at the 2009 Alfred Deakin Lecture in Melbourne on the 22nd October.

Though I urge you to go read the full speech, Brandis is perhaps at his best when he takes aim at the way liberalism was mishandled under John Howard:

John Howard did not see the Liberal Party as simply the custodian of the liberal cause. For Howard, it was as much a conservative party as a liberal party – indeed, with the passage of time, rather more the former than the latter….Now Deakin would never have said that, and Menzies never did. The “two traditions” theory was a specific contribution of John Howard’s. In diminishing the centrality of liberalism to the Liberal Party’s belief system, and balancing it against conservatism; in qualifying the Liberal Party’s commitment to the freedom of the individual as its core value, and weighing it against what he often called social cohesion, Howard made a profound departure from the tradition of Deakin and Menzies.

Brandis goes to great lengths to show the critical importance of liberalism to Deakin and Menzies. However, while philosophically he is right, these two men both made the same practical choice of binding their liberal instinct into a general anti-labor party that created Howard’s broad church approach. In many ways, both Brandis and Howard are right. By 1909 Deakin, wearied and bloodied after a decade leading the continent realised that his middle liberal way was being trampled by the adolescent labor party, and the aristocratic conservatives. His personal philosophy was much closer to Labor, but he could not abide their caucus control, and so chose to make peace with the conservatives and form a party ‘Fusion’ between the two anti-labor forces. This was a practical choice to ensure the survival of his MP’s, but sacrificing the dominant position of liberalism on the Anti-labor side to a more generic mix. Menzies likewise made a similar choice, knowing that a coalition was the only way to ensure they could keep Labor from power. It is this practical history that Howard claims informs the modern liberal party. Yet the Liberal party would be nothing if it was stripped of its liberal elements. Even Tony Abbott in his conservative manifesto ‘Battlelines’ can’t help himself from repeating many liberal ideas without seeming to notice the contradictions to his professed conservatism. Liberalism is the parties soul, it is as Brandis argues, the cause of its proud history

In every age, whenever liberalism and conservatism have come into contention, the victory of liberalism has enlarged the freedom of the individual, which later generations of conservatives have then joined with them in striving to defend. But every time, it was the liberals who were the animating spirit.

No fair analyst of the Liberal party could disagree with this claim. Menzies may have held onto power a long time in part due to conservative scaremongering, but winning power is not the same as using it, and Menzies books (Afternoon Light, Speech is of Time, Measure of the Years) all play up and look back favorably on his liberal actions, guiltily ignoring his more conservative indulgences* in the name of electoral success. Menzies is also an interesting liberal due to his rather Millian take on why freedom is important. Modern Liberals seem to see freedom as an end in itself, and while it is, Liberalism has a second reason for wanting as much individual freedom as possible. From the grandfather of Liberalism, J.S. Mill (again via Brandis’s speech)

“It is not by wearing down into uniformity all that is individual in themselves, but by cultivating it and calling it forth, within the limits imposed by the rights and interests of others, that human beings become a noble and beautiful object of contemplation

That is, freedom’s greatest reward is that it enables individuals to improve and develop themselves, to build their talents and skills, to flesh out and give style to their character. To become who they are, rather than who society might like them to be. It’s also a very powerful political message to the newest voting block: Gen-Y. As Possum Pollytics has detailed, Gen-Y is a quickly rising block that the Liberal party absolutely fails at marketing its message to. But if it was to recast its commitment to freedom as one based on allowing ambitious individuals, or creative individuals the space and opportunity to make of their own lives what they want (rather than being seen as just a stuffy desire to make life easier for businesses), then it could have great appeal to this group. Many of my friends, all solid labor voters looked anew at the party of Malcolm Turnbull when he took the leadership. They saw great appeal in his personal story of achievement, and waited to be given a reason to vote for him. Thus far, they havn’t seen anything like it, and are growing disillusioned. This is an argument Howard could never make, but Turnbull can. Freedom has always been re-defined by every era. In the 80′s it was to liberate societies from protectionism and welfare traps. Today it must be for individualism and towards human flourishing in our newly minted modern societies. This is not some new age spiritualism, it is an honest, humane and civillised approach to mankind, to quote Menzies who whilst Prime Minister wrote that:

“Without minds that are informed, toughened by exercise, broadened by enquiry and fearless in pursuing the truth wherever it may lead, we may never hope to have spirits untrammeled by blinding ignorance or distorting prejudice. And without free minds and free spirits our boasted civic freedoms becomes an empty shell” (Menzies 1958 page 218)

I want to end by quoting Hayek’s ‘why I am not a conservative’ which Brandis also quotes extensively. However while this line is used by Brandis and Hayek to attack conservatism, I think it is actually much more relevant for liberalism today:

…Let me … state what seems to me the decisive objection to any conservatism which deserves to be called such. It is that by its very nature it cannot offer an alternative to the direction in which we are moving. It may succeed by its resistance to current tendencies in slowing down undesirable developments, but, since it does not indicate another direction, it cannot prevent their continuance. It has, for this reason, invariably been the fate of conservatism to be dragged along a path not of its own choosing.

I’ve often come to see Liberalism as akin to a shark, if it stops moving it suffocates. Liberalism today has been forced to become the defender of the status quo (or been taken in directions it is uncomfortable with as a tool of the wealthy and powerful), and in this backward looking, reactive stance it is an easy target. Until it can pivot onto a forward looking position, its calls for freedom will float past listeners ears unheard. While there is important work to be done reviving the history of liberalism, such as its importance to Deakin and Menzies and Australian history (i’ve always seen this country as a Republican-Liberal hybrid far more than the Libertarian-Liberalism that dominates the US, or the incremental Liberal-Traditionalism of the UK), its return to power is dependent upon a coherent, bold policy agenda. Such an agenda would need only 5-6 key policy changes. To be argued at every meeting, before every microphone, in every publication and household. It might look something like this

1. Reform welfare state – End churn of middle class welfare, significant cuts to tax cut, especially for poor.
2. Allow Euthanasia and full marriage equality.
3. End the war on drugs beginning with legalising marijuana and decriminalising use of others.
4. Make competition policy a priority. Break the clasp of the big end on town on the direction of economic liberalism.
5. Commit to transparent modern governance. Publish as much as possible online, have ombudsman to ensure population can see who gets what and when in every bill, every department, every budget handout.
6. Make ensuring privacy for individuals a key concern.

The exact nature or order of these policies is not important. What is important is having a clear, future driven platform to identify with modern liberalism in Australia. Liberals need to return to defining themselves, rather than as currently letting others define them (such as Prime Minister Rudd’s essay on Neoliberalism). Many elements will be contentious, some are 20+ years away from implementation, but the argument needs to be taken up and begun today. The clearer and shorter the case, the easier it will be to sell and settle into the minds of the voting public as an identifying feature. Only with such a clear image can it regain its rightful place as the “animating spirit” of modern societies, and lay claim to ownership of the 21st century as it has the 20th. The only way to prevent Liberalism sinking into status-quo stance inimical to conservatism is to give it a forward objective. Just as individuals are either on the up or the out, such a humanistic philosophy as liberalism must seek ever greater mountains to climb if it is to remain relevant. There are so many challenges still to be addressed.

* I don’t believe Menzies fits either a liberal or conservative approach, but unfortunately I can’t say why until i finish an academic paper I’m writing on the topic. Look for an announcement here in coming months about it. Sorry for being so cryptic, but I have to be until it’s published.

The real deficit is the one between their ears…

As mentioned below, the Liberals had a press conference this morning on debt reduction, and released a shiny new policy document. Naturally the media ignored the policy for the horse race issue, so your dutiful blogger went through and read the proposal. One problem: It doesn’t actually say anything. Here is the sum total of the Liberals policy for debt reduction 6-12 months before an election:

This morning's conference, from Turnbull's twitter feed

This morning's conference, from Turnbull's twitter feed

1)The Coalition will do more with less by reducing waste and duplication throughout the Australian Government, and between the federal and state governments.
2)The Coalition will immediately upon coming into government establish a Commission for Sustainable Finances to report within three months on waste and duplication in every agency and program of the government.
3) The Coalition will not repeat Labor’s cash splashes. Handing out $23 billion in cash may be popular, but it recklessly adds to debt.
4) The Coalition will pursue a vigorous reform, infrastructure and innovation agenda to lift productivity and increase economic growth.
5) The Coalition will support small businesses, the engine room of the economy, through our Small Business Action Plan.
6) The Coalition commits to a responsible long term objective of returning government’s share of the economy to the level achieved by the previous Coalition Government…. The last five Coalition Budgets had spending of less than 25% of GDP. Only the Coalition can be trusted to return the government’s share of the economy to this level.
7)The Coalition is committed to addressing all of these problems (Complexity, time-cost,reduced incentives etc) in a comprehensive and principled program of tax reform.
8)The Coalition will establish a Parliamentary Budget Office, which will be independent of both the government and the opposition, to ensure the public and Parliament receive honest and timely analysis of the budget, financial results and specific programs.
9) Further, the public will be able to track government debt at a real-time website detailing the size and composition of borrowings, interest paid and projections into the future.

Putting it into a list makes it look far more substantial, but have a look again at that list. Only #8 & 9 deal with specifics (both are good ideas, though the website is more about advertising, as such figures are already on budget.gov.au) Numbers 1,4,7 have been promised by every single opposition since the beginning of time but dont matter at all without specifics. (Here is just one of dozens of press releases labor put out on the issue prior to the 2007 election). Number 5 is just a statement of support, and 3 is utterly redundant (of course they won’t repeat the stimulus given its already in place and the crisis is passed!). Only 6 seems new, though as I’ve mentioned before there is no logical reason why 25% is the ideal figure (indeed in early September Hockey was saying it must be “no more than 24%, but I guess round numbers rule).

Given the bad position the Liberals are in today, only a comprehensive, detailed policy will get them any attention. If Rule #1 of Federal oppositions is don’t repeat the Fightback mistake of 93 (with Turnbull eerily imitating Hewson), Rule #2 is don’t do invisibly small target’s (ala Beazley 98) either. There is a happy balance in the middle. Howard and Rudd both won by proposing a number of key, detailed area’s of policy in ground they wanted to fight on, and then obscuring the differences on everything else. Turnbull can’t win, but he can at least fight a respectable campaign for principles he believes in by being bold. Far better to be remembered for going out fighting for your ideas (that may one day become accepted wisdom as Hewson’s GST now is), than as a front man without the courage of his convictions. (Jason Soon on Crikey makes a similar point about Turnbull’s failure to live up to his hoped-for-liberal creed)

If the brain’s trust in Liberal HQ want some ideas, how about reducing the churn of taxes/welfare as John Humphreys advocates:

The Australian welfare system—including health, education and handouts—costs more than $250 billion per year. Some of this is redistribution from the relatively rich to the relatively poor. However, about half of the welfare is pointless ‘churn,’ where the same person both pays taxes and receives welfare benefits.
Some of this churn is ‘cash churn’ where people both pay tax and receive cash from the government. But the bigger problem is ‘services churn’ where middle- and high-income earners pay tax and receive government-subsidised health and schooling services.

By removing middle-class welfare in exchange for income tax cuts, the government could reduce tax and welfare by about $80 billion without leaving anybody worse off.

Such reform would be bold, enticing (everyone, esp the press would focus on the massive tax cuts this would mean), rally the base (cutting welfare/bureaucracy) and give a radical plan to pay down the debt in their first term, not to mention long term benefits to pay for healthcare (as Humphreys’ advocates). Hell I’d vote for it…

The idea’s are out there, the Government has massive targets that can and should be hit, but so long as the Liberal Party is serving up this shallow pap, the equivalent of a warm towel to fix a gunshot, they will be rightly ignored.

An Uneasy Marriage

Politics involves three things. Power, Relationships and Compromise. And while Power (who’s up, who’s out) and compromise (who has sold out/who’s principled) are topics of endless conversation, relationships are almost never talked about. They are assumed eternal links, the union movement and labor, doctors and the conservatives. But like glaciers, their slow speed should not be mistaken for weakness and when they do bring change (Howard’s battlers) they fundamentally re-arrange politics far more than any policy or polling issue could hope for.

One of the more interesting relationships to watch over the last decade has been the de facto marriage between Economic Liberals and the small business/corporate World. On the face of it, these two groups should get along famously. The former favour a de-regulation of industries, reduced taxes, and the privatisation of government services. For the business world, this means they have to worry less, pay less, and can do more than previously. But the two groups interests don’t always run in parallel.

The clearest example of this can be found in the US at the moment, in the debate about Health Care Insurance. For the Libertarians/ardent Economic Liberals, Government shouldn’t be involved in the industry (like regulating about pre-existing conditions) and certainly shouldn’t be subsidizing or offering a public run insurance service (like Medicare). Given that health insurance is so critical, in the US businesses have slowly had to adopt a health insurance package as part of their salary offers. The problem with this is that it is very costly (and ties workers to jobs). So US firms that may compete with Canadian or European or Australian firms, have significantly higher overheads. Of course businesses in the Insurance industry love this set up, but for the vast majority of businesses in America, this is just a hassle and a cost. For them, it is far better for Government to provide Health Insurance. In this case the interests of the Economic Liberals and the Business community diverge, which Obama has been exploiting to aid his legislation, and confound the Republicans

In almost all cases, the relationship is dominated the corporate world. Business has resources to pressure politicians, and emotional arguments (you don’t want us to toss the workers onto the street) that dominate the usually more pragmatic than principled support for economic liberalism espoused by western politicians these days. In short the corporate world wears the pants over the economic liberals, and so have avoided most harmful changes save the short term pain of moving to low tariff economies for western countries in the 1980′s & 90′s. That however was offset consistently with increased corporate welfare. This payoff earned the ire of some economic liberals (though somewhat appeased as they had colleagues in government). It means taxes were higher, but whenever changes came through, like reduced tariffs, FTA’s, deregulation of industries, natural challenges (drought) or man made (airlines pre & post 9/11) the government was willing to step in to help the corporate and business world through. It contradicted all good economic policy, but it made pragmatic sense, kept business happy, workers employed and could generally be afforded.

I was thinking of all this whilst reading some recent reviews on the topic of the stimulus package in Australia. On the face of it, the Stimulus package has been a roaring success with Australia, almost alone among countries, staying out of recession. Indeed news today is that unemployment has fallen for September. On the other hand, it’s much much harder to link that spending to the economic performance of the country. We haven’t gone backwards, but nor have we gone forwards. So While the economic liberals point to this as evidence such spending routines are a complete waste of money (Malcolm Turnbull is currently making the exact same point at a press conference this morning), it’s important to note the business community isn’t completely on side with such claims.

For business, the stimulus meant a psychological and fiscal guarantee. It meant the bottom of the economy was never going to fall out, that taxpayers would in effect subsidize their continued operation, and therefore that they could continue to operate as normal. Economists models may try and sideline the role of psychology, but for the business community, such re-assurance is vital. The lure of extra corporate welfare, government spending (school construction for instance) and subsidies (pink bats) at least ensured that the economy would continue as normal, which is the pattern that we have seen. While business owners are also individuals with tax rates and an ideological worry about the debt, it has been noticeable how little energy or emotion came from the corporate world over the stimulus package. They don’t like government, but they knew they needed it. As such, economic liberal politicians who lack this connection to business (Turnbull, The US republicans) have been forced to throw themselves into the fray, without their usual cavalry, -in the form of the business lobbies-, to attack the government. They have become lonely soldiers on the battlefield, as business either holds back, or throws its self-interested lot in with the Keynsean big spenders in the hope of getting some of the loose dollars.

The relationship between economic liberals/libertarians and the small business/corporate world will continue to endure. They’ll patch things up over healthcare, and having seen off the economic crisis, will revert to attacking wasteful government spending and reject any cost cutting/tax rises to pay for the debt. But a smart politician who comes up against this collective force should recognise the fault lines in the relationship. There is a reason Howard (whose dad ran a suburban petrol station) was never keen on competition as an economic principle. There is a reason business is being very quiet about the ‘SOCIALISM!’ that Obama is supposedly introducing with his health care insurance policies, and likewise Rudd and his deficit spending. For this reason, Turnbull and Hockey this morning* are probably wasting their time trying to convince Australians they are the better economic managers by being so concerned about the debt. The public is only superficially concerned about it, and the silence of their favorite barometer, the business world, will tell them all they need to know about why they should stick with Rudd. The same thing happened in 07, when business failed to go into bat for workchoices. Noticing the quiet, the people decided that the policy was an over-reach that wouldn’t help the economy that much, and so could safely be rolled back under Rudd.

* The purpose of Turnbull & Hockey’s press conference this morning was a debt reduction strategy of 25%, which I found out about on Twitter. But when I looked for a news link, not a single one even mentioned the issue of debt. Not the SMH, not The Australian , not the ABC, or news.com.au. I love a good leadership story as much as the next political junkie, but surely just ONE reporter could actually mention the purpose of the press conference or attempt to talk about something different. I’ve seen schools of fish with more independent mindedness.

Update – Finally on the 14th, 6 days after the press conference we get our first serious engagement with the Coalitions 25% cut plans by a major media outlet. I hate that MSM v blogs argument, both are useful and necessary for different reasons, but this is a pretty stark comparison in how the media has become obsessed on personalities to the exclusion of everything else. The Australian people deserve and need better.

Words both old and new

Apologies for the low post count in recent days, but I’m under the hammer to deliver a few new chapters to work. But around the media have been two fascinating pieces: An inside peak into the PM’s inner sanctum at Parliament House, and a Liberal Senators efforts to seek a party resurrection through a return to its history.

As a sign of its confidence, it seems the government is finally willing to allow journalists to have a peak into the way the government operates when in Parliament house. In a long, interesting and yet strangely detail free piece Katharine Murphy spends the day with the PM’s Media Unit. Charting the young ‘alpha males’ (her term) who run the office it’s more west wing than the office, but still leaves them unilluminated.

A few times, walking through, watched furtively by onlookers, flanked by Harris and Kelly, I fancy I’ve fallen into an episode of Entourage. The running joke in the office and among the senior ministers drifting in and out for tactics is I am there to do a profile of Harris. When I mention the Entourage sensation to one person, he immediately casts Harris as ”Turtle” – the wannabe driver to the A-List Hollywood star in the HBO series.

A reception area divides the apparatchiks from the departmental liaison officers, who scurry about in the pre-question time period, and the speechwriters, Tim Dixon and former journalist Maria Hawthorne. The speech-writing pod has a think-tank vibe: there is a designer chair, and Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama look down from walls that are otherwise packed with books. Across from them is a private dining hall, a monstrosity of the 1980s, complete with mirrored panelling. Back a bit is the sitting room, where a television crew from A Current Affair is camped out patiently, waiting for three minutes with Rudd.

Meanwhile, Mark Davis offers up the plan for the Ground Floor ministerial wing as a sure fire guide to who is in and out in the Rudd Government:

Front and centre, naturally, is the PMO – the Prime Minister’s office, an L-shaped suite of offices housing Kevin Rudd and his advisers. Next door is his deputy, Julia Gillard; behind her and also immediately next to the PMO is the Treasurer, Wayne Swan. Across a corridor is the Transport Minister and left-wing factional chief, Anthony Albanese.

But most interesting of all is the location of Mark Arbib, the NSW Right factional chief who became Employment Participation Minister in Rudd’s frontbench reshuffle in June. Arbib is the only junior minister domiciled on the ministerial wing’s ground floor…

Both a worth read for political junkies. Of more substance however is some more media attention for Liberal Senator George Brandis’s efforts to re-cast the history of Australian politics. There is an old saying that winners write the history, which is often interpreted in a military sense: once the fight is done only those left standing will be able to say what happened. But politically it is better seen as ‘those who write the history will be the winners’. Those parties or individuals who ignore or sideline their history are constantly at the mercy of the opposition who will define them in ways they do not seek or enjoy (As John Howard did to Labor for the better part of a decade), Brandis, easily one of the top 2-3 smartest men in parliament is instead turning his gaze on his own party with a rather odd formulation:

In May this year, Brandis lamented that nothing was organised to celebrate the centenary of the fusion – the event on May 27, 1909, when the two non-Labor parties – Alfred Deakin’s Protectionist Party and George Reid’s Free Traders – merged. To Brandis, this was the origin of today’s Liberal Party which, although formally established by Menzies in 1944, has drawn from ”a long Australian tradition of liberal and anti-socialist politics”.

In an subsequent essay for the Spectator magazine, The Party that Forgot its Past, Brandis said the Liberal Party ”did not spring from the mind of Menzies like Athena from the brow of Zeus”. The Liberals risked being a ”one-hero party”, its history the ”veneration of an icon frozen in time”. ”Great though Menzies’ achievement was in reconstructing the non-Labor side of politics, what he created was a new party structure, not a new set of political values.

Brandis raises a good point, though I’m not quite sure its the one he is seeking to make. Brandis is seeking to use this history to re-claim the strong strand of liberalism for the Liberal Party, by reminding them theirs is a history beyond the conservatives Menzies, Fraser and Howard. But instead the story of Fusion best demonstrates that Australian politics is governed not by ideological debates, but by the forces of Labor and Anti-Labor. What unites the non-labor parties has always been what they oppose rather than what they hold in common. Today it is the same story, with the only reason the Nationals have to sit with the Liberals is their united hatred of Labor.

Unfortunately the Spectator piece seems to be down at the moment, but Brandis at least deserves credit for seeking party renewal in the pages of history. Indeed while there are many conservative accounts of Australian history (Kelly’s “The March of Patriots” being the most recent), there is prescious little about the Liberal party and especially Liberalism in Australia. It is a great story un-told (one i’d once planned as a PhD project, and would like to return to one day). If the Liberal party was actually liberal (and smart) it would have men such as Brandis front and center, but it doesn’t leaving him with the free time to speculate on the absent history. A good effort, but likely to be one soon forgotten.

Today’s real lefties: Cops and Soldiers

Conservative politicians and commentators regularly complain about the left wing bias of government run institutions such as public television and radio. But what they don’t notice is the institutions which are really promoting a liberal/left wing agenda: The Police and the Army.

From an Op-ed in the Washington Post by two policemen:

Nationwide, a police officer dies on duty nearly every other day. Too often a flag-draped casket is followed by miles of flashing red and blue lights. Even more officers are shot and wounded, too many fighting the war on drugs. The prohibition on drugs leads to unregulated, and often violent, public drug dealing. Perhaps counterintuitively, better police training and bigger guns are not the answer.

Drug manufacturing and distribution is too dangerous to remain in the hands of unregulated criminals. Drug distribution needs to be the combined responsibility of doctors, the government, and a legal and regulated free market. This simple step would quickly eliminate the greatest threat of violence: street-corner drug dealing.

Having fought the war on drugs, we know that ending the drug war is the right thing to do — for all of us, especially taxpayers. While the financial benefits of drug legalization are not our main concern, they are substantial. In a July referendum, Oakland, Calif., voted to tax drug sales by a 4-to-1 margin. Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimates that ending the drug war would save $44 billion annually, with taxes bringing in an additional $33 billion.

Without the drug war, America’s most decimated neighborhoods would have a chance to recover. Working people could sit on stoops, misguided youths wouldn’t look up to criminals as role models, our overflowing prisons could hold real criminals, and — most important to us — more police officers wouldn’t have to die

Whilst most left wing politicians are still a full decade away from even beginning a debate about legalisation, here is an authentic voice of the police pushing for it immediately. To them it is not an abstract question of the morality of condoning drug use or being ‘soft on crime’ but clearly evident that only with legalisation and regulation will we be able to tax and protect users, whilst financially destroying criminals from misguided youths through to bikie gangs and mob types.

A similar point can be made about the army, which is equally taken for granted by conservatives to be an institution on their side in foreign policy debates. Whilst many soldiers do relish the fight, just as many and their more experienced commanders prefer to be sent in only when and where they can make a significant difference or are undertaking their core responsibility: defending their country. Instead of being the first option as a way to respond to a problem, most in the armed forces would prefer that as a country we focus heavily on aid and development so as to prevent other countries from sliding into failed state/civil war conditions. Rather than being sent to be shot at whilst trying to stabilize and re-build in places from the Solomons to Afghanistan, it would be better to have focused on stability and long term development before these countries became problem children in the worlds eyes requiring a police or military solution.
Army_police
Likewise idea’s such as ‘Human Security‘ which change the way we think about security from a national focus to a question of the individual, (including their right to food, shelter and basic liberties, along with their physical safety) have been picked up quite strongly by thinkers within the defence forces. These liberal/left wing ideas are often ignored by a lot of civilian International Relations/Security scholars, who are keen to prove their bona fides and toughness. Yet it is the very people who have to put their lives on the line for these concepts are coming to see their correctness and worth.

Conservatives often take for granted that police favor harsher measures against criminals, and that the defence force wants to cruise the globe in search of foreign monsters to destroy. Though obviously some join these institutions seeking such a struggle, many more have come to see that their chance of coming home alive, and making a real contribution to the world (the reason for which the vast majority undertake these risky careers) require that we move to different strategies and policies. They know first hand the costs of our current failed policies, even if todays political leaders are too weak (or afraid of being labeled weak) to advocate for real change. Liberals and the New Left need to begin to work to give voice to these institutions, to encourage their contribution to the debate. We need to show that policies such as preventative development, and drug legalisation are not abstract feel good ideas, but instead practical, hard headed responses that are coming to be endorsed by those on the ground with the strongest knowledge of our current failed approach. It is time we started listening to them. It is time we on the left dropped these cowardly half-way measures for fear of being called weak, and instead recognise the real strength that comes from open and honest advocacy of policies that offer genuine change and improvement for our fellow citizens both at home and in the wider world.

Photo used under a creative commons licence by user Army.mil