Bert Kelly, The Bulletin, May 5, 1981, p. 118.
I was brought up to believe that, if something was wrong, you shouldn’t do it, but if it was right, you did the best you could to bring it about. I am far from being a paragon of virtue and I stick to my principles only in a tired kind of way, but at least I worry when I am doing wrong. Yet when I got into parliament I found that I didn’t have to worry any more about what was right and wrong; what was important was to have the numbers.
Mavis was always giving me lectures on the subject, particularly after Eccles had started haunting me, pointing out the straight and narrow path of economic rectitude. “Don’t worry about him, dear,” she used to say. “He may well be right, but not many people agree with him. He hasn’t got the numbers and politics is a numbers game; principles don’t matter, votes do.”
Mavis was right, of course, as she almost always is. I am now washed up on the political beach regretting that I did not learn in time that, to be successful in politics, you have to learn to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds. If a young political aspirant is foolish enough to come to me for fatherly advice, I always say, “Get the numbers, lad; go where the votes are and you will almost certainly end up as a minister. And whatever you do, don’t start standing on principle.”
These thoughts were much on my mind as the Peacock crisis unfolded, when Andrew resigned on what he said was a point of principle. “Silly young man,” Mavis said soundly. “He has such a nice smile, but he hasn’t got the numbers. He may be heavily hung about with principles, but has he got the votes?”
I suppose Mavis is right again, but now that I am away from politics I can’t help wishing that principles were more important in politics. I don’t think that our present leaders are greatly burdened with principles. You may remember the story of Ginger, who, when asked which arm of the services he preferred, replied that he would join the infantry. When asked why, he replied, “One day the retreat will be sounded and I don’t want to be hindered by no plurry horse!”
I fear that all our political leaders would agree that it would be foolish for them to be hindered by any plurry horse; to be handicapped by principles. Poor Bill Hayden, decent little man that he is, hasn’t got time to worry about principles; he is too engrossed in jumping from the left to the right of the barbed wire fence that divides the Labor Party, while watching Bob Hawke all the time. He is in grave danger of losing more than his principles.
The Country Party haven’t had to worry about principles for years, not since they sold their souls to the Chamber of Manufacturers for a mess of potage. They used to represent us farmers and they still claim to do so. Yet they lightheartedly lumber of with a tariff burden which costs the average farmers about $1000 a year. But you have to hand it to the Country Party; at least they don’t pretend to have virtues they don’t possess.
Liberals are different in that regard; we fairly ooze virtue. We brag about our dedication to freedom of choice, but the government stops us from buying the car of our choice unless there is a quota for it. We are eloquent about our belief in free enterprise, yet we give our milk to any big company which rattles a big bucket. We short-change the sand miners on Fraser Island to buy the greenies’ vote. Our prime minister goes to Lusaka and lectures the rest of the world about their wicked protectionist ways and then belts home and makes our trade barriers even higher.
When the government jacked up the tariff and quota protection for the clothing and footwear industries just before the last election, I said that we now listened to our politicians with cynical contempt. Even the prime minister’s stirring exposition of Liberal philosophy has not erased that feeling.
If the prime minister were to read this article, I can imagine his puzzlement at what I am on about. “Surely even poor old Bert must know that a leader has to sacrifice principles on the political altar,” I can almost hear him saying. “Surely he would rather I did that than let that other rabble in again!”
Mavis agrees with this philosophy, so it must be right. But I don’t think our politicians realise how the whole country is aching for a leader who really believes in something besides superior footwork, for a leader who believes in principles. Andrew Peacock says that he resigned on a point of principle and some smart commentators sneered at him because he didn’t have the numbers. I do not know whether Andrew’s principles are more enduring than those of the others but, if they are, I reckon it won’t be long before he has the numbers running out his ears.
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hang on to his ear
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