What does it mean to be a Liberal? For all the talk of “broad church” and balancing liberals and conservatives, there are surely some basic ideas about which anyone who is a member of that party agrees: a commitment to individual freedom, an instinctive preference for the workings of the market over the interventions of government, support for the rule of law and protection of private property, and a belief that government should be kept as small as possible while still meeting the needs of the community that it serves.
The “Monash Forum” is more aimed at destabilising Malcolm Turnbull than at generating — so to speak — a debate about energy policy. Abbott has done this before — waiting until Newspoll is in the field before launching another strike at Turnbull, often via his mates at News Corp. The usual suspects are involved — Tony Abbott, aided and abetted by his partners in alliterative alienation, Abetz and Andrews; Nationals buffoon George Christensen; the fatuous Craig Kelly; plus there’s the debut in destabilisation of former Nats leader Barnaby Joyce.
But let’s concentrate for a moment on what this idiot fringe actually want. They not merely want government to spend several billion dollars building a new coal-fired power plant — because it has penetrated their skulls that the private sector has no interest in building new coal-fired power stations; they want the federal government to do it, even though the federal government has never built and run coal-fired power stations and has no expertise in doing such a thing.
This is profoundly at odds with decades of Liberal Party policy across the country. It is the Liberal Party that has got government out of the business of power generation across the country, where it has no business being. It has been a long, difficult but ultimately successful example of policy bravery. The fact that it has been the government-owned power companies of NSW and Queensland that gouged consumers the worst in recent years is vindication of Jeff Kennett, and John Olsen, and, later, Barry O’Farrell and Mike Baird in their leadership in privatising electricity. Now Abbott and his mates want to undo that. It is also at odds with the federalist approach traditionally espoused by the Liberals. If states need more power, surely it is a matter for them about how that is best provided — and whether government should have any role in it beyond regulation. But no — the Monash morons want the federal government to swoop in and decide for them.
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Abbott has trashed Liberal Party values before. Carbon pricing was a classically Liberal policy — it used a market mechanism to enable the private sector to address the problem of carbon emissions, rather than a government intervention using taxes or regulations. And it came from the most iconic modern Liberal of all, John Howard, who in 2007 committed his party to the world’s most comprehensive emissions trading scheme. That didn’t matter to Abbott, who despite supporting a carbon-pricing scheme, two years later trashed it.
The cliché about Malcolm Turnbull is that he isn’t a real Liberal, that he wanted to join Labor, that he’s too progressive. But what about Abbott? He’s no respecter of individual freedom — his stances on abortion, marriage equality, gender relations and civil liberties across decades directly violate the notion that individual freedom shouldn’t be unnecessarily curtailed by the state. He’s no small-government politician — as prime minister, he led Australia’s highest-spending government, with both spending and taxation as a proportion of GDP far higher than the levels he inherited from his Labor predecessors.
This is distinct from mere political hypocrisy. Turnbull is a raging hypocrite — the man trying to push through draconian new laws aimed at curbing Chinese influence wants AGL to flog its near-defunct Liddell power station to Alinta Energy, owned by Chinese company Chow Tai Fook Enterprises. Apparently, having blocked two Chinese companies from bidding for NSW electricity distribution assets, Turnbull thinks it’s now OK again if a Chinese firm owns critical infrastructure.
But Abbott’s actions, not just this week but over decades, are those of a man who simply doesn’t believe in core Liberal values. If he were honest, he and his mates would pack their things and move to the crossbench.