Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has vigorously re-entered the “culture wars” debate by decrying the lack of recognition of Australia’s Western heritage and Christian principles in our national conversation.

Crikey has obtained the audio of Abbott’s speech to a sold-out gala dinner in Melbourne last night celebrating the 70th anniversary of the libertarian Institute of Public Affairs, with Rupert Murdoch as guest of honour.

Unlike most of Abbott’s recent public appearances — in which he sticks closely to Coalition talking points — his speech was heavy on philosophy and laden with religious imagery:

“In contemporary Australia we have well and truly, and rightly, left behind the old cult of forgetfulness about our indigenous heritage. Alas, there is a new version of the great Australian silence — this time about the Western canon, the literature, the poetry, the music, the history and above all the faith without which our culture and our civilisation is unimaginable.”

The term “great Australian silence” was coined by anthropologist W.E.H Stanner in 1968 to describe how Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders had been all but erased from Australian history and consciousness. He continued:

“‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ is the foundation of our justice. ‘Love your neighbour as you love yourself’ is the foundation of our mercy. Faith has weakened but not, I’m pleased to say, this high-mindedness which faith helps us form and which the IPA now helps to protect and to promote.”

Abbott thanked the think tank for its work defending “Western civilisation”:

“In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve believed they could do almost as they pleased. But freedom has its limits and its abuses as this foundational story makes only too clear. And yet without freedom we can hardly be human, hardly be worthy of creation in the image of God.”

Abbott said the IPA had been “freedom’s discerning friend” in Australia and had supported “capitalism with a conscience”. He said the think tank had played an extremely influential role in blocking Labor’s attempts to introduce a bill of rights, tougher anti-discrimination laws, and a Public Interest Media Advocate:

“Your campaign against the bill of rights caused a bad government to capitulate. You campaigned against the bill of rights because you understood that a democratic parliament, an incorruptible judiciary and a free press — rather than mere law itself — were the best guarantors of human rights. You campaigned against the legislative prohibition against giving offence and I’m pleased to say the author of those draft laws [Nicola Roxon] is now leaving the Parliament.”

In an aside to IPA executive director John Roskam, Abbott joked: “John, you’ve done very well with just 20 staff — remember what Jesus of Nazareth did with 12. And one of them turned out to be a rat.”

Abbott then went on to praise Murdoch, describing him as one of three Australians who have “most shaped the world” (the others being WWI military commander John Monash and penicillin developer Howard Florey):

“His publications have borne his ideals but never his fingerprints. They have been sceptical, stoical, curious, adventurous, opinionated but broadminded. He’s influenced them but he’s never dictated to them.”

Abbott concluded his speech, which received hearty applause from the crowd, by saying:

“This is a night to renew our commitment, to renew our faith. In 100 years time all of us will be gone but, please God, not the ideals and the great causes for which we stand. May it be said of us that we have passed the torch of freedom to our successors — which we do by supporting an organisation that’s bigger than any of us and that can outlive all.”

Other Coalition MPs who attended the dinner, at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria, included Greg Hunt, George Brandis, Bronwyn Bishop and Cory Bernardi. Sydney Catholic Archbishop George Pell attended as did News Limited boss Kim Williams.

Listen to Tony Abbott’s speech:


NOTE: The full transcript of Tony Abbott’s speech can now be read on his website.