There are two competing views in this morning’s papers on what “liberalism” means in modern Australia.

In The Australian, an article by Bob
Catley
,
once the Labor member for Adelaide and now a professor of management at
the University of Newcastle, is headed: “The ALP needs to become a more
liberal party.” Despite the promising title, it turns out to be another
rant about how the ALP has been captured by union hacks, inner-city
elites and ethnic warlords. There’s some truth to this, but we’ve heard
it all before. How’s this for a catalogue: “Old style, anti-male
feminism, anti-Americanism, cultural relativism, ethnic separateness,
sexual liberation, post-modernism and national and personal guilt.” For
Catley, “liberalism” seems to refer exclusively to economic
liberalisation; other sorts of freedom aren’t much of a priority.

On the other side (in more ways than one), is a story by Mischa Schubert
in The Age about a new lobby group that features, albeit in a supporting role,
the Liberal Party’s most liberal ex-leader, Dr John Hewson. The group,
GetUp!“, describes itself as
“a new political movement to build a more progressive Australia.” In addition to Hewson, its
board of directors includes Labor luminaries
Bill Shorten and Evan Thornley, and Kate Faehrmann, head of the NSW
Nature Conservation Council. (Maybe Hewson contributed the exclamation
mark – remember “Fightback!”?)

GetUp! tells us: “The media is dominated by a handful of right-wing
voices,” while Catley claims the media “trumpets” the values of “the
intellectual left.”

So while one “liberal” thinks that what’s needed is to jump on the
fashionable anti-Labor bandwagon, another decides to make common
cause with the progressive left. But they have one thing in common: each
sees the main threat to liberalism coming from the party that he once
represented.

Peter Fray

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