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Small ideas for a big country

Updated: May 26

What is most extraordinary about the modern Liberal Party is the smallness of its ideas.

The party of RG Menzies was many things but it was never small. It might have looked to the


Mother Country but at least it looked somewhere.


What we have now is a party that looks inward and backward.


This inward looking, almost paranoid, approach to governing was championed by the man we thought was the least visionary politician of our time, John Winston Howard. It has been embraced by the current Abbott Government who are currently hellbent on dismantling every piece of progressive legislation put before the parliament in the last fifty years. Those of us who though Howard was a fifties man find ourselves appalled to discover that his most devoted follower, Tony Abbott, is as committed to turning back the clock as he is to turning back the boats.


Howard’s myopia has not only been embraced by the Abbott Government but  has infected many on the Labor side of politics as well. How else could you explain the rash of self serving analyses of Labor politics that have spewed out of Labor since Paul Keating was given the boot? The recently published self serving “diary” by Bruce Hawker is a case in point.


But at least in government Labor was prepared to have a peek at the future. It could never be said that we are a visionary nation. The brief flirtation with Periclean


Grandeur that characterised the Whitlam years so scared Australians that the word “vision” was erased from the political lexicon for ever. As much as Malcolm Fraser has re-invented himself as a small “l” liberal his government was cauterized by fear and did virtually nothing to rock the boat.


Hawke and Keating had flashes of inspiration but were mindful of the conservative nature of their constituency no matter how much they re-write their own narratives. No-one was going to do a Whitlam that’s for sure.


It’s been pretty much “steady as she goes” ever since Gough crashed and burned. They’ve been moments, of course, and even Howard ventured  outside the square with his uncharacteristically bold response to Port Arthur.


Many of us mocked Christopher Pyne for his public declaration of a preference for Abba over Lou Reed onQ&A. But Pyne is nothing if not a clever political operator and he was perhaps tapping into the undercurrent that suggests we are really more comfortable with Eurovision than Woodstock. Let alone Velvet Underground.


Along with Keating, many of us used to mock Howard’s stated aim to return to the age of the white picket fence when we were all “relaxed comfortable” in our jimmy jams and slippers. Little did we realise that his most loyal disciple would take this retrogressive view of our future to new lows.


The most progressive member of Abbott’s team, a man who professes to be a forward thinking, has championed the roll back of the NBN with the zealotry of the Taliban.

Not only do the Abbott Government and its acolytes believe that climate change is a left wing conspiracy theory, they are too scared to go to the United Nations conference on climate to argue their point. While the rest of the world argues about the future of the planet our government shuts its eyes, pulls up the doona and hopes it will all go away.

While Europe embraces clean air technology we listen to rich farmers who complain that wind farms cause them headaches and spoil their expansive views of the lucky country. As China searches for an alternative to coal we encourage the coal industry to despoil the landscape and pollute the air.


You would think that Joe Hockey’s stated intention to smooth our roads instead of pouring money overseas was some kind of metaphor but it isn’t. He is slashing foreign aid so that he can improve our national highways. Talk about looking into your own backyard. The Abbott Government have no interest in the plight of the millions of people all over the world who are starving and living in unimaginable poverty. It wants our two and three lane highways to be nice and smooth so we don’t get punctures.


Looking inward has caused us to close our minds as we try to close our borders. We are putting up the shutters. We don’t want to see what’s going on outside our wide brown land. We’re quite happy to wish the rest of the world away.


The shrinking of our reach and our imagination sees the Abbott Government searching for ways to water down the Gonski reforms so that public education is allowed to wither on the vine. The Abba loving Christopher Pyne wants schools to return to the “good ole days” of the 1950’s when teachers wore suits and sensible dresses and students respected their elders.

We once led the rest of the world on female suffrage but that flash of daring has scared us so much that we are too frightened to embrace gay marriage.


What do children do when they are frightened? They cling to their parents for reassurance.

What does a timid and inward looking Abbott government do? It clings to the coat tails of Rupert Murdoch and the mining magnates who have helped themselves to our shared resources.


We all thought Abbott would be a bully boy and drive a right wing agenda. He’s left the bullying to his mate Campbell Newman who is singing from a song sheet popularised in Germany in the 1930’s.


Abbott has  displayed a timidity and a fear of the world at large that is driving the country backwards into a place we have never been, even in our darkest hours.

I don’t think we can all sit back and let it happen...

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© 2020 by Ned Manning.