Australia to form new radical centrist party

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In December 1944, Robert Menzies opened a formation meeting of the Liberal Party of Australia in Albury NSW, saying: “Never in my life have I been so alarmed as now at the growing threat to all that is good in our beloved country”.

What would Menzies have made of ‘our beloved country’ in August 2020?

In the space of just four months since mid-March, the Australian economy has been trashed, debt is widely forecast to have passed the trillion dollar mark, the ecology of family and small business enterprise – Menzies’ Forgotten People – has been decimated, the early years education for hundreds of thousands of children has gone backwards, and the nation of carefree larrikins has become a nation of burgeoning male suicide amidst an epidemic of mental illness.

Never in our lives have we been so alarmed. The country has ‘gone mad’, as we’ve heard friends and family say so often in recent days.

But the slightly uncomfortable fact for Robert Menzies today would be the realisation that the Liberal Party of Australia, his child of 1944, has brought his beloved country to its knees. Along with the Australian Labor Party, it has imposed a tsunami of fear and panic on the country, ostensibly in relation to covid-19. Never before in our history have Liberal and Labor governments consciously inflicted such social and economic damage on the country, solely on the basis of fear and panic.

The threat to “all that is good” in Australia has come from its political class – the politicians, advisers, and staffers of Liberal and Labor Parties and their vast network of appointees in government agencies and the public service. This threat has come from within. When Liberal and Labor parties undermine all that is good in our country, it is time to draw a line in the sand and change direction. That time has come.

There are ten key drivers leading to a new configuration in Australian politics. The dynamics set in train by these drivers are now unstoppable. You may or may not agree with all ten, but they can’t be undone or wished away, and Liberal and Labor parties are now unable to contain them. We explore these here.

In 1944-45, Robert Menzies convened three conventions to unite fourteen existing political parties and four non-party associations in the Liberal Party of Australia.

The first was a three-day conference in Canberra on 13-16 October 1944. It was held in a community hall, with hard wooden seats, within walking distance of the old Parliament House, with 77 delegates. The second, which focussed on organisational details, took place in Albury, NSW.

The third event was a public launch at the Sydney Town Hall on 31 August 1945.

The main non-Labor party in Australia till this time was the United Australia Party. It’s massive defeat in the 1943 federal election exposed its many structural problems — it had minimal party organisation and outside New South Wales and Victoria had created no extra-parliamentary administration. It relied on external funding, and business interests dominated its policy-making. Menzies wanted a national self-financing organisation that was based on its membership.

Three things about this process are interesting, when viewed from the vantage point of 2020.

First, political parties stagnate. They can wither internally, even when they remain viable electoral instruments. The UAP under Joseph Lyons was in government through the 1930s, but Menzies judged that the UAP was a dead organisation. What would he make of today’s Liberal and Labor parties, which can still win elections but are hollowed-out shells, surely as lifeless internally as the UAP in 1944?

Second, political parties do not just fall from the sky. They have to be consciously created. People have to be brought together and fashioned into a working team. Today’s Liberal and Labor parties are dogs wagged by their tails – their staffers, not the grassroots members, run the show. In Menzies’ time, political parties were not run by staffers – they were still voluntary associations which people from diverse walks of life joined out of civic duty.

And third, political parties in Menzies’ time were socially and culturally mainstream, despite their divergent economic outlooks. They reflected their society’s ethos and culture. They were not ‘woke’. There was no ‘political correctness’ that diverged from ordinary life. Menzies was not a neo-liberal, he wasn’t particularly interested in economics. His primary interest was in what we would now call ‘civil society’ – the health of families, communities, small businesses and voluntary associations.

The purpose of his new Liberal Party was to represent the forgotten people in civil society, not to ‘manage’ things. This outlook is now quite alien to today’s Liberal and Labor elites. Consider these words from Menzies’ 1942 speech The Forgotten People:

“I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs, or in the officialdom of the organised masses. It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.

No politician in Canberra today would ever contemplate saying – in public – that the health of the home ‘determines the health of society’. Yet nothing could be more true of indigenous families, or of working class families, or of immigrant business families.

Because no political party will uphold the basic foundations of our common well-being, we must create one that will.

So mark the date: 5-7 January 2021 Canberra. It is the foundation conference of the Sensible Centre. We envisage a bush setting, with a range of accommodation options to suit all budgets. Partly summer bush holiday, partly conference, entirely socially interactive.

Contact [email protected] to express your interest and participate in this event.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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