Legacy of a Liberal Liberalist

I’m not a fan of the term ‘conservative’ when applied in a political context. I have more often than not voted for the Liberal National Party coalition, but I wouldn’t consider myself to be socially conservative. The Australian political landscape is so complex, but we often want to boil it down to right versus left. In a perfect world, if voters actually listened to the policies put forth by politicians we would realise that there is value in many of them, even if they don’t match our individual political alignments. In the current climate, politicians are reluctant to even release robust policy in fear of the 24 hour news cycle – which as we know can make or break a political career.

Malcolm Fraser was living proof that political alignments are more complicated than media sound bytes would have us believe. He was known as an extreme right winger in his early political career, yet he took a strong stance on refugee policy and believed Australia should cut all military ties to the United States. He had a hand in overthrowing a leftist prime minister, yet was a fan of 19th Century activist William Gladstone. He was the first prime minister to argue for native title rights, against apartheid and for a more humane refugee policy, but he was responsible for the biggest ever political swing in Australian history when he defeated ALP leader Gough Whitlam at the polls. He refused right wing economic reform which was championed by other global conservative leaders such as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and later left the LNP to align with Australia’s most left wing party, the Greens. So was he conservative or progressive?

I find it difficult to take the position that Malcolm Fraser fit neatly into either camp. But for some reason, we want to measure people’s political values on a straight line continuum – a person is either on the right or the left, or they swing from one end to the other. I think that’s unrealistic, and the fact that up to 40% of Australians are swinging voters speaks volumes about this method of reasoning. Unfortunately for Fraser, who simply acted on his own personal values rather than strictly aligning with on end or the other, this may have contributed to his undoing. He was abandoned by his party after losing the 1983 election to Bob Hawke largely because he had moved away from a hard right economic stance. He was hated by the left for his role in Gough Whitlam’s undoing, and found himself in political no mans land. Some may see this as a cautionary tale against speaking your mind in politics.

The evidence certainly points to the voting public being too easily swayed by three word slogans on both sides of politics.  Personally, I think we could do with more vision and belief from all politicians. As a voter, I am craving some kind of cohesive way forward. I’m not interested in outrage – I want to know what politicians really value before I give them the precious commodity that is my vote. In the current political landscape I would love to see a leader stick to their beliefs so I can vote accordingly. I’m jaded by constant political point scoring on both sides, and I think listening to someone speak about their values and beliefs and how they plan to engage them in the future of our country would allow voters to make up their own minds. If political leaders really believe in a particular stance, surely they should have the confidence to just that. Political discourse has almost become a dirty word and discussion thereof sits somewhere between personal hygiene and religion on the list of things never to talk about at dinner parties. Like Malcolm Fraser, I think we should talk about it. Respectfully.

So I’ll go first. My name is Kate and I would describe myself as moderate – not a fence sitter, but someone that genuinely believes in a moderate and considered stance on most political and economic matters. If I had to pigeon hole myself I would say I sit slightly to the right economically and slightly to the left socially – and yes, I do believe one can be socially and economically disparate.

I identify strongly with economic liberalism in its purest form, though I believe it has been bastardised over time. The current government seems to be moving away from its roots, the ones that led Robert Menzies to found the Liberal Party, just as the ALP seems to have abandoned some of its social roots.

I believe in helping people that genuinely need help, but I also believe that people are self interested. So extreme socialism does not work and neither does pure capitalism. I believe any person of any orientation has the right to love and marry any consenting adult that they choose to. I believe asylum seekers deserve our help. I also believe that people smugglers can be unscrupulous and callous to the loss of human life. I believe governments should intervene in the economy as little as possible, but that there should be some regulations to protect consumers – and I hate means testing in all its forms.

Some will see Fraser’s legacy as a dumped Labor Prime Minister. Some will see it as jumping the Liberal Party ship. I see it as far more than that. I see Malcolm Fraser’s legacy as an example of how we can all – voters and politicians – do better than expecting each other to singularly align ourselves with one overriding philosophy. I see it as giving us the opportunity to start a political conversation, and I hope we don’t let him down. Vale Malcolm Fraser.

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