In John Howards’ description, the modern Australian Liberal Party is ‘[u]nique’ (1999), in that they are both liberal and conservative. Whilst seemingly a contradiction in terms, there really is no misnomer; the name comes from ‘classic liberalism’ (Heywood, 2003), whereby their priorities are specifically catered toward ‘negative freedoms’ (Heywood, 2003), notable for the absence of restrictions. While there are sometimes tensions between their classical liberal outlook and their social conservative side, this is not uncommon in any other political ideology.
The conservative liberalism of the Liberal Party can be identified in their official political philosophy. Annotated here is a discussion of their philosophy based this promulgated list. ‘We Believe…’ (Liberal Party of Australia, 2011).
- In the inalienable rights and freedoms of all peoples; and we work towards a lean government that minimises interference in our daily lives; and maximises individual and private sector initiative
- In government that nurtures and encourages its citizens through incentive, rather than putting limits on people through the punishing disincentives of burdensome taxes and the stifling structures of Labor’s corporate state and bureaucratic red tape.
- In those most basic freedoms of parliamentary democracy – the freedom of thought, worship, speech and association.
These points highlight their classical liberal philosophy, with the emphasis on individualism, toleration and the minimal role of government. It promotes the individuals’ ability to forge their own links with community on a volunteer basis, and provides for a meritocratic society where the best and brightest rise to the top. Through rationalisation, their commitment to low taxation also shows a commitment to minimal welfare, since they consider that a meritocratic society ensures that inequality must be due to personal failure.
- In a just and humane society in which the importance of the family and the role of law and justice is maintained.
- In equal opportunity for all Australians; and the encouragement and facilitation of wealth so that all may enjoy the highest possible standards of living, health, education and social justice.
This is both conservative and liberalism; classical liberal ideals of ‘formal’ justice (Heywood, 2003) in that all have rights, but similar responsibilities. The Liberal Party is saying here that they don’t agree with ‘special treatment’ of individuals or groups, since all are equal, with equal opportunity to make their own way. An area of contention is the conservative aspect, in that that the private institution of the family takes precedence. This aspect of the party faces a measure of contradiction with the liberal ideal of tolerance of diversity.
- That, wherever possible, government should not compete with an efficient private sector; and that businesses and individuals – not government – are the true creators of wealth and employment.
This is evidence of their economic liberalisation – their belief in small government, minimal regulation, and free enterprise. They expect markets to provide the best outcomes, since it is only by ‘for profit’ enterprises that have an incentive to create what society needs and wants.
- In preserving Australia’s natural beauty and the environment for future generations.
While this may appear as detraction from the Liberal Party philosophy, towards the ‘Green’ movement, this can actually be looked at from both a liberal and conservative viewpoint. Liberal, in the ‘freedom of the individual’ to participate as they see fit, on the principle of no harm, applying Mills libertarian principle to the environment, as opposed to other members of society. A conservative aspect in this philosophy is their underlying value for tradition.
- That our nation has a constructive role to play in maintaining world peace and democracy through alliance with other free nations.
Finally, this position takes a liberal approach, toward recognition of the equality of all (hu)mankind, tolerance of diversity, and the movement toward economic liberalism.
Through examination of their philosophy, the misnomer of ‘Liberal’ is removed.
Heywood, A. (2003) Political Ideologies: An Introduction, 3rd ed., New York:Palgrave Macmillan.
Howard, J. (1999) ‘CLOSING ADDRESS, THE LIBERAL PARTY’S 47TH FEDERAL COUNCIL’, HYATT HOTEL, CANBERRA.
Liberal Party of Australia (2011) ‘We Believe… ‘, The Party: Our Beliefs [online], available: http://www.liberal.org.au/The-Party/Our-Beliefs.aspx