Last week I praised the Opposition’s Finance spokesman Andrew Robb for … well … lots of things. Including an excellent policy on dams, courage in opposing his own leader on superannuation, and most recently, an epic speech in Parliament exposing the lies and deceit of Wayne Swan.
In the Weekend Australian, we learned more about the philosophy that is driving Mr Robb.
I like it.
Here are some selected excerpts from a lengthy article that you can read here if you are are paying subscriber to News Ltd:
Seeking a return to freedom of choice
ANDREW Robb, chairman of the Coalition’s policy development committee, is doing more than assembling a political platform for the next federal election. He is trying to build a philosophical framework that will support the platform when its details are revealed and, in the meantime, provide a rallying point for Coalition members that will boost their unity and discipline.
“A very clear set of four guiding principles have shaped our policy development, which are true to core Coalition values and present a stark contrast to the massive growth of government that we have seen under the Rudd and Gillard governments,” he says.
“We will live within our means, reverse the nanny state, back our strengths and restore a culture of personal responsibility. By adhering to these principles it puts us in the best possible position to help people get ahead.”
Robb, a senior figure in Liberal ranks since he became the party’s federal director after the 1990 election, is making a fascinating – albeit tacit – admission. He is acknowledging the Howard government lost its drive, direction and discipline and embraced big government conservatism, surrendering key Coalition points of differentiation from Labor along the way.
He is admitting policy populism and superfluous spending blocked traditional Coalition avenues of attack on the ALP that helped lead to its defeat at the 2007 poll.
“We have reached a point in Australian governance where philosophy really does matter,” Robb insists. “Since the fall of the Berlin Wall there has been a growing perception both here and abroad that there is little separating the two major sides of politics, but in this country at least the fundamental differences between federal Labor and the Coalition have become stark.
“It is the difference between a nanny-state ‘government knows best’ approach, compared with the personal dignity and control that comes from the freedom to make your own choices while taking responsibility for those choices.”
Robb says since 2007 we have seen the greatest growth of government outside the Whitlam years. “We were the only country to re-regulate the labour market during the global financial crisis and the only country I know which is renationalising its telecommunications sector under the guise of the NBN (National Broadband Network),” he begins.
“There was also the failed attempt to nationalise 40 per cent of the mining industry and on top of it all is the carbon tax, which is the highest-taxing, most bureaucratic and interventionist model imaginable and will come at the worst possible time for industry and jobs.
“We have also seen the government shut down the live cattle industry virtually overnight to the detriment of northern communities and relations with Indonesia.”
Robb dismisses Kevin Rudd’s efforts to see Canberra take over health services delivery as “amounting to nothing except more layers of bureaucracy”.
He takes a libertarian line, slamming what he calls “this government’s patronising proposal to impose mandatory internet filtering, which was unceremoniously dropped following public outcry”.
Robb characterises the newly introduced means-testing for the private health insurance rebate as “the erosion of personal choice, a mere cash grab prosecuted with nasty and divisive class warfare rhetoric, the politics of envy which Labor is renowned for”.
Robb is making a very traditional pitch and avoiding any radical policy prescriptions. After all, Robb, as federal director, and his leader, once John Hewson’s press secretary, have seen the Coalition in a position in the polls just like it is in now, yet go on to lose the unloseable election in 1993.
Here Robb returns to philosophy. “As a government the Coalition is committed to living within its means, reversing the nanny state, backing our strengths and restoring a sense of personal responsibility. It is true that in isolation these sound like little more than slogans, but in combination they present a powerful set of markers, the ballast of which guide the direction a Coalition government would take the country.”
Those core principles, that set of markers, that ballast, are designed to steer and steady his own party as much as convince voters ahead of the stormy months that lie between the forthcoming budget and the next election.
Live within your means.
Reverse the nanny state.
Culture of personal responsibility.
A “libertarian” line.
Mr Robb is speaking my language.
And speaking of language … and philosophy … have you ever paused to think about the problems that come from the use, and misuse, and simple misunderstanding, of language?
Let me give you an example.
Your humble blogger is very well-accustomed to being automatically and hastily prejudged on account of the mere title of this blog and Twitter account.
I must be a “right wing” “extremist”, you see, by virtue of my advocacy for the [ _____ ] views of Senator Joyce.
Why did I insert the [ _____ ] in that sentence?
To highlight the reality that we all tend to pre-judge. We “label”.
Folks see a blog title. And instantly make assumptions about the blogger. Without first seeking out more information.
The information needed to fill in the [ _____ ] in that sentence.
In this case, it is the [ debt and deficit ] views of Senator Joyce that this blogger supports, in particular.
But that does not mean they are the only views of Senator Joyce that I support.
Nor does it means that I support all his views.
Indeed, your humble blogger finds it ironic, and laughable, and lamentable, that so many people (especially mainstream journalists) incorrectly label Senator Joyce an “extreme” “right wing” politician … when he has always been an openly self-confessed “agrarian socialist”.
It is no wonder then, that new visitors to this blog and Twitter feed have a natural tendency to make false, hasty assumptions about the blogger, on the basis of no more information than the title, and their own often-false pre-judgments of … not the blogger … but of Senator Joyce.
It may come as a surprise to such folks to see the results of my completing The Political Compass test:
And for comparison, here are some examples of where notable historical figures feature on The Political Compass:
I will let you in on a snippet of my own personal philosophy, dear reader.
“Labels” are a problem.
I despise labels.
Sadly, we all use them.
And they contribute to all manner of personal and social ills.
Of others … and, our selves.
Pre-judging … that is, pre-judice.
Endless miscommunication … and all the ills that result from it.
Superficiality … that is, a failure to appreciate context, nuance, depth of character, and variety of ideas.
I have no doubt that there is far, far more to each and every one of us, than meets the eye.
And while we have all been born into a world and a time wherein it is habitual to use words in the form of “labels” in an attempt to identify or classify “things” and “ideas”, in order to communicate them to/with others, the reality is that every “label” is limited, and subjective.
We do not all attach exactly the same meanings to words.
What I understand a word to mean, may well be subtlely … or hugely … different to how you understand it.
I may attach more, or fewer, or different ideas to a particular “label” than you do.
Indeed, I think that “labels” are, far from being a help to communication, far more of a hindrance.
I hope that all readers of my blog will daily strive, as I (try to) do, to overcome our practiced tendency to rigidly “label” people, and ideas.
I consider that to be “keeping an open mind”.
That is also why I am consciously resisting the temptation to excessive enthusiasm over Mr Robb’s seeming to be speaking my language.
Instead, I wait and watch.
To see if the actions will match (my understanding of) the words.
“Call each thing by its right name”
~ Boris Pasternak, Dr Zhivago