by Mark Tier in 1975 as a pamphlet, originally published in The Economy Report, October 21, 1974. With thanks to the author.
“Liberal”, according to my own version of The Devil’s Dictionary, “is a label for those people who feel they need a label, but don’t want to commit themselves”. As a description of the Liberal party, that definition is peculiarly apt.
Ever since Sir Robert Menzies formed the Liberal party, they have proudly described themselves as the party of individual rights, of freedom and free enterprise. Over the years since 1949, however, Liberal politicians have played down their supposed commitment to free enterprise until in October, 1974, the Party jettisoned its official commitment to free enterprise, along with its opposition to communism. As a result, the Liberals received the best press they’ve had since they lost the 1972 election.
In fact, their supposed principles were only ever honoured in the breach. While they certainly favoured businessmen over unions, that was hardly because of firmly held (or even loosely held) principles. While preaching freedom, they imposed controls. In 23 years of Liberal government, government expanded more than has it has in 23 months of Gough.
While trying to put themselves across as the lily-whites, the Liberals also tried to paint Labor red. Politics, of course, is the art of avoiding the issue. The consummate politician (read “statesman”) is the man who can fool most of the people most of the time. Since Sir Robert Menzies, the best we can hope for are men who can fool most of the people at election time. (Gough made a a good attempt, but he couldn’t handle the pace.) As a general rule, politicians perform best when avoiding the fundamental issue, which, in Australian politics is: that there are no fundamental differences between the parties.
Just before the May 74 election, Mr Snedden ordered that all Liberal party statement should refer to the ALP as the Australian Socialist Party. Socialism, as we all know, is defined as being “government ownership and government control of the means of production”. The ALP’s policy objective is the complete socialisation of Australia. ALP practice since 1972 shows them to be more fascist, than socialist. Just like the Liberals, in fact.
“Socialism” is used as a smear label by those on the “right”. “Fascism” is usually only used solely as a smear — by those on the “left”. However, just like “socialism”, fascism has a precise meaning: “private ownership and government control of the means of production”.
The important difference between socialism and fascism is in ownership; the important similarity is in control. Ownership without control leaves the owner as a mere puppet on a string, with no rights to his “property”. The difference between fascism and socialism becomes irrelevant, being one of procedure only. Under socialism, when the state wishes to change the head of a particular enterprise, a new one is simply appointed. Under fascism, a few papers are shuffled and presto!, a new “owner”. Fascism and socialism are in fact two sides of the same coin. They are both variants (along with communism) of Statism: the advocacy of the supremacy of government over the individual.
Most Labor acts have been fascist in nature: the government has dictated to private owners what they shall or shall not do with what they own. The owners retain “ownership”, but lose control. For example: the Prices Justification Tribunal (which more than anything attests to the meekness of businessmen; the PJT is nothing more nor less than a standover gang, as the government does not even have any constitutional powers in the area); Connor’s dictates to the mining industry; the Restrictive Trade Practices Act; and so on. Some of Labor’s actions have been socialist in nature: the extension of the AIDC to buy up Australian industry; the Pipelines Authority.
It is quite apparent that the fascist path is the simpler of two. Indeed, the populace at large seems intent on government controlling every facet of its life, and while extension of government controls is acceptable, the extension of government ownership would result in more substantial opposition. In the long run, it doesn’t matter which approach is used: the result, total government control of all human activity, is the same.
Much of the blame for the state of affairs must be sheeted home to the Liberal party. The Liberals have always wanted to eat their cake — and have it too. They have been the first to claim that government controls are compatible with free enterprise (Labor doesn’t make any pretence).
The Liberal party is a conservative party in the true sense of the word: they “conserve” the status quo ante, whatever the status quo may be. The history of the Liberal party since its formation by Sir Robert Menzies has been the history of the retention of the seat of power.
The recent “clean-up” of the Liberal party platform was only confirmation of what had been obvious for years: the Liberal party is not a party of principle, it is a party of power and votes. As such. It does not stand — and never has stood — for a set of principles, or a set of actions. Both are determined by one criteria only: what is necessary in order to retain power.
Sir Robert Menzies was a master of this art, which is why he was our Prime Minister for so long. As though by some sixth sense, he knew when it was time for action: when Labor seemed close to winning an election. When he sensed he had to move, he would steal one or two of the popular ALP policy planks, water them down, and ride to victory. The difference between Sir Robert and McMahon and Snedden is purely one of artistry. Before the 1972 election, when it was apparent to anyone with only five senses that the ALP had a very good chance of winning, the then Liberal government announced a series of policy steals from the ALP. Carried out in an atmosphere of panic rather than cool mastery, the Liberals put the final nail in their own coffin. At election time, the two parties were all but identical — with image on the ALP’s side. Since then, Snedden has been busy building a team which will re-write Labor’s platform so that it fits in with Liberal “principles”.
Do you doubt that? The Liberal party has been putting Labor’s policies into effect for the last 23 years. Even the most recent Labor actions — the ones that everyone has been making a fuss over as being “creeping socialism” — were almost all originally conceived of, planned for or established by the previous Liberal government. The AIDC, the Restrictive Trade Practices Act, the Health Scheme, Foreign Investment Controls … ad infinitum. We even had the spectacle of Whitlam opposing and Snedden promising price controls at the last election — only sixth months after price and wages controls were rejected by referendum! (One of the reasons Whitlam is PM instead of Sneddden: he has a better memory.)
The Liberals do not stand for a set of principles. But they do have principles nonetheless — accepted by default. And where do those principles come from? Where else but the ALP. It is Labor that makes the running in Australian politics, because Labor is a party of principle. While it may not get into office very often, it certainly gets its policies into action.
But while the ALP believes in its platform of statism, the Liberals are only second-rate statists. In an argument between two people who hold the same principles (whether explicitly or by default) the more consistent will always win. Labor’s actions since December 1972 would not have been possible unless the Liberals had carefully laid the ground over the previous 23 years.
The only alternative to statism (in all its forms) is capitalism, which is defined as: private ownership and private control of the means of production. The Liberal party, in advocating private ownership and government control, is clearly fascist in principle and practice. Labor, in advocating government ownership and control is clearly socialist in principle, and is introducing socialism through the back door of fascism.
The choice between Labor and Liberal is the choice between more government today or more government tomorrow. There is finite limit, of course: total government. And that is where the Lib/Lab Syndrome (the failure to perceive essentials) will lead us.
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