Jeffry Babb, The Australian Financial Review, March 3, 1989, p. 14.
David Sharp is the sort of person no political movement can do without: the activist who does the dull things, year in year out, as well as the more gratifying speeches and greetings of the famous. Doing something because he believes in it.
Mr Sharp is the president of the Australian Adam Smith Club in Melbourne.
“The Adam Smith Club,” he said, “is an organisation dedicated to the principles of freedom. The club was formed to publicise the dangers to our civilisation of the consequences of the failure to promote the principles of freedom in the battle of ideas.”
This says more about liberal conservative thought in Australia than any amount of books, pamphlets or arguments for and against. This movement, essentially libertarian, is called a variety of names including the New Right, the Dries, economic rationalists, neo-conservatives and free marketeers.
New Right is not a term Mr Sharp likes. “It is a term,” he said, “that implies we are against something, namely the Left. We are more positive than that.”
Commenting on the role of the economic rationalists in political debate, Mr John Hyde, former leader of the Dries in the Federal Parliament, has said: “The free-market think-tanks are independent sources of ideas crucial for a liberal democracy. Their role is to set the political agenda by argument alone. They all avoid alliance with political parties or factions.”
And this is the most important point that can be made about the New Right. It is proactive, not reactive, and it is an international phenomenon that has international implications, whether it be called perestroika in the Soviet Union or liberal in Europe.
Apart from the usual sort of juvenile abuse that one has to expect in Australian politics — that the New Right are anti-Left bogey men — it is quite clear that the Hawke Government has done far more to implement the neo-conservative agenda than the Fraser Government did.
From the comments of Malcolm Fraser at a recent book launching in Melbourne, it is quite clear his politics make him a good deal wetter than most of the parliamentary Labor Party frontbench.
Mr Hyde, commenting on the first five years of the Australian Institute for Public Policy, of which he is executive director, said: “We do not mind at all that the politicians who have so far done most to implement our ideas (which tend to be classical liberal) call themselves socialists.”
These sentiments probably account for the increasing feelings of betrayal and missed opportunities that typify reflections on the seven years of Fraser government. Observers from the UK, who travelled to Australia expecting to see the first blossoming of the global conservative revolution, were disillusioned.
Both by observation and local expert opinion, they saw that the statist Fraser Liberal policy of concentrating extensive economic, political and related controls in the hands of the State at the expense of individual liberty was not the way for the Thatcher Government to go.
Having virtually won the battle of ideas on the economic front and placed macro- and micro-economic reforms on the political agenda, the Dries are now moving in new directions.
The motivating force behind the next step in the Dry agenda will be the concept that collective freedom is a contradiction in terms. Once more, the aim will be to set the agenda of cultural and social debate in the same way the economic rationalists have set the economic agenda.
However, this could be where the Dries, now fairly united on economic issues, part company. Contrary to conspiracy theorists on the Left, the economic rationalists come from a variety of backgrounds and there is likely to be considerable divergence in the output of the think-tanks in the years to come.
For example, according to Mr Rod Kemp, director of the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, the IPA will develop its expertise in defence and education.
Concerning education, the IPA has recently taken under its wing the influential conservative education journal, ACES Review, and will in future be working more closely with one of the ACES Review’s guiding lights, Dame Leonie Kramer.
The director of the IPA’s Sydney office, Mr Gerard Henderson, is already involved in monitoring the media, an area where many Dries have felt poorly served in the past.
Another leading economic rationalist, Professor Michael Porter of Monash University’s Centre of Policy Studies, is involved in planning for the private Tasman University.
The Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney, headed by Mr Greg Lindsay, is also likely to broaden its scope of activities.
The other major think-tank, Mr Hyde’s AIPP in Perth, has a major project on the family under way. Headed by Dr Alan Tapper, who has qualifications based on research into social and moral issues and religion, the family project is likely to break new ground in an area with an increasingly high political profile.
The AIPP has also recruited Dr Chris Ulyatt, a philosopher with a particular interest in the history of ideas.
All this is likely to increase the public appeal of the New Right and show it is not one but many.
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