MARK BUCKLEY. Conservatives in Australia

A friend of mine asked me the other day why I seem to only criticise the Liberals. My answer was that they have been in power for six years now, so if anything is conspicuously wrong with the country, it is probably their fault. And also they appear to be generally a callous lot. I remember when Liberals with a social conscience were dubbed ‘wets’. That was probably the end of their credibility, when the so-called ‘dries’ gained the ascendancy.

Our government, like western civilisation, is deemed to generally be on an upward trajectory, as conditions improve for most of us, across the board. These days we forget, but state governments used to have slum clearance departments, and the idea of workers’ compensation for workplace injuries was once relatively new. Pensions for single mothers as well, although the current crop of small minded penny pinchers appear hell-bent on punishing single mothers.

Years ago we had an eminent history professor who was almost run out of town, because he argued that increased Asian migration was possibly ahead of public opinion. Consider Peter Dutton’s recent comments on third generation Lebanese Australians, where he suggested that they were more inclined to criminal behaviour than others in the population. Twenty years ago he would have been driven from office, by an outraged citizenry as well as by his own party hierarchy. Now he actually believes he is Prime Ministerial material.

Australia is still a relatively benign place to be born, but something has been lost. There is a hard edge to many governmental decisions taken now, and an expectation that the voters have become de-sensitised to acts of governmental bastardry, and the perpetrators, the Ministers in charge of such decisions, will be judged not as cruel or vicious, but as practical, or pragmatic, getting the job done.

When we look overseas we see many exemplars of woeful behaviour, and sadly Australian politicians are largely lacking in imagination, and slavish in their imitation of dodgy role models. So the Trumps and Johnsons of this world have their acolytes here. However the prime takeaway from the ‘drying out’ of politicians is their total lack of shame.

When the matter of robo-debt is raised, with its tales of widespread and often unintended misery, not to mention plain inefficiency, the minister in question does not hang his head in shame. No, he states, in complete denial of the facts, that the system is working.

We cannot defeat shameless, because a part of society’s regulating behaviours is the ability to reflect on one’s own behaviour, and if it falls short, we must be able to reform ourselves.

I sometimes wonder when the rot really set in. Was it when Peter Reith allowed the use of militarily trained men and guard dogs to break a union on the waterfront, in 1998? Was it when John Howard lied about the refugees from the Tampa throwing their children overboard? It might have been when Australians began approving of the offshore gulags in Manus and Nauru.

Whatever the moment, we have certainly got the government we deserve. Last week the acting Prime Minister stated that Pacific Island nations facing the loss of their actual homelands would survive, because they could always come here to pick fruit. That statement is so ‘off’, on so many levels, and yet the Prime Minister remained silent. That was his “Pacific Family” Michael McCormack was speaking of.

Until this Government develops a conscience my friend will continue to be disappointed when he reads my work.


Mark Buckley is a writer based in regional Victoria. He has a particular interest in politics, history and ethics in public life. He blogs at

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9 Responses to MARK BUCKLEY. Conservatives in Australia

  1. Avatar Charles Lowe says:

    Mark – thank you so much for doing again what you do so often: raising the big questions.

    Let me attempt some sort of cogent answer to your question of the likely origins of this horrific conservatism.

    I think it started in the early to mid ’80’s. I think the Catholics and the High Church Anglicans sought to increase their influence by encouraging their (particularly hard-line) adherents to join not just the Liberals but the Democrats and (to a lesser extent) Labor. Later, that became capitalised upon by the Evangelical Christians (particularly Hillsong).

    This can be seen as a replication of what Catholic Archbishop Mannix did in the early 1920’s in relation to Labor, and which reached its inevitable nadir in 1955 with the Split in Labor.

    The Coalition (but particularly the Liberals) see two needs being met by this infiltration. (The Nationals are so much a “besieged” minority that they continue their families’ tradition: man(!) the booths no matter what.)

    First: the loyal turn-out of their “true believers” at election time. manning(!) the booths, no matter what.

    Second: the consequent reduction of the costs of contesting elections.

    The Liberals also understand that those who comply with this inferred need also and congruently share a one dimensional thinking: that we all originate from the “Great Creator”, that HE (please note!) has secondary vassals, just like the Kings of England had: the Lords, Knights, Squires and then the Peasantry (not to mention the Knaves).
    And that that is simply is the “natural order’ of the Cosmos.

    A complete tribute to their infantile (yes – literally) view of our society.

    These people are not interactive. They are not sophisticated. They are political children. They are innocents. Innocents who do not want to expand their social perceptions nor horizons. Little do they know how socially irresponsible they actually are.

    That’s our job. We’ve got to direct our pointing finger at them. We’ve got to be able to nail them, label them, accuse them of their immaturity, their ignorance and their insular insensitivity. And persuade them they can do better. Much better.

    And we haven’t. And we yet may not.

  2. Avatar Michael D. Breen says:

    OK I agree with most of what has been stated above. In a sense this is the natural result of capitalism where those with most money can control the indicators we use to make sense of our world. They do this by their influence on and ownership of media. They have railed against constraints which preserve a civilized society. They have posed as victims unable to use their money because they have to give taxes to help the needy. They have debased empathy. They have declared themselves the custodians and interpreters of tradition. They have declared we are an economy not a society nor nation.
    Unfortunately there is also a sense of despair in the above, a sort of justification for our bleak, depressed futureless outlooks. The challenge is though, as I see it, is to find ways to bring about change. How?

  3. Avatar J.Donegan says:

    Thank you Mark.
    Perhaps the most eloquent statement I have read about the ‘conservative’ attitude to entitlement (and privilege) is that contained in John Menadue’s Farewell to Gough Whitlam, posted herein on 24/10/2014.

    The arrogance and cynicism expressed by the then leader of the Opposition in the Senate should be (and should remain) a warning to all.

    “The dismissal of the Whitlam Government had little to do with its performance. Three months after Whitlam’s election victory in December 1972, Senator Withers, the leader of the Liberals in the Senate denied the legitimacy of the Whitlam Government. Withers warned: “the Senate may well be called upon to protect the national interest by exercising its undoubted constitutional power”. He said that the election mandate was ‘dishonest”, that Whitlam’s election was a “temporary electoral insanity” and that to claim that the Government was following the will of the people “would be a dangerous precedent for a democratic country”. More Bills were rejected in the Senate during Whitlam’s three years as Prime Minister than in the 72 years since Federation. Not content just to engineer the dismissal of a democratically elected Government, leading figures set about one after another to deceive the Prime Minister…

    …Since then, criticism of the Whitlam Government has been largely designed to exculpate those associated with the horrendous dismissal of an elected government. To justify this foul deed, supporters of the coup keep harping on the illegitimacy and incompetence of the Whitlam Government. These supporters will never concede that his government fairly won two elections. Conservatives piously extol the importance of tradition and respect for institutions. They preach about democracy, free elections, the separation of powers and the independence of the judiciary. But they throw all that aside to hold onto power and privilege.”

  4. Avatar Ken Dyer says:

    I suggest your friend should read Paul Mason’s book, Postcapitalism, – A Guide to our Future

  5. Avatar Brian Dwyer says:

    Mark, you have expressed my thoughts on our government perfectly.
    I am 71 years old and I think that the Abbott, Turnbull and now Morrison governments are by any messure the worst in my lifetime.
    The fact that the Libedals were able to retain government after the last election has done me, I will not vote again.
    Over to the generations behind me.

    • Avatar Charles Lowe says:

      Brian, sorry but you must continue to vote.

      Not just because your own vote counts but because your perseverence is a great example to those around you and those who look up to you.

      Do as I do. Proclaim the bases of your beliefs. They help persuade.

    • Avatar Eugene Sikora says:

      Brian, make no mistake, those 11 lean, calcifing years of Howard/Costello Thatcherite governments caused the atrophy of Australia’s social arteries. Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison are merely clots causing our current discomfort.

      There are two things I hold dear: defence of the social inniatives of the three Whitlam governments and complete contempt for the continuing social division of Howard and the New Cons he nurtured.

  6. Avatar Malcolm Crout says:

    Yes, Australians got the Government they deserved, because Australian voters are self interested and essentially stupid. It doesn’t help that a large number of voters don’t take an interest in politics so they react to the gibberish from Morrison and his cohort who lied in the election campaign. My extended family and their friends are fairly representative of various views in the electorate and I continue to be appalled at their lack of understanding of the issues facing Australia. The ALP over cooked their election promises and ignored the fact they alienated retirees with their ridiculous tax “reforms’ while ignoring the warnings they have over steeped the mark, but they thought the LNP were so on the nose that it was a shoe in. The people most surprised by the LNP victory was the LNP themselves and it is shown by the vacuum of policy development apparent today. Politicians have overpopulated Australia to the detriment of Australians and I firmly believe they do this to maintain a population diversity that responds to slogans.
    If I were young enough I would leave this place never to return.

  7. Avatar Andrew McRae says:

    I think the hard and nasty edge really came to the fore, and the rot set in, in the sixties, when Malcolm Fraser was the defence minister who introduced the lottery-based conscription of 20 year-0lds which led to 500 of them dying in Vietnam. In the 1975 election he promised to ‘maintain Medibank’ but afterwards immediately began to dismantle it. Those years were just as nasty as those since John Howard became PM.

    I often challenge people to name one good thing the Liberals have ever done. They lambaste me, but can usually only come up with Howard’s gun law changes and buyback in 1996. That is all!

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