Tony Abbott MP
Federal Member for Warringah
Statement on the death of the Hon Jim Carlton AO
It is an honour to follow my colleagues the member for Berowra and the member for Ryan in this tribute to the late, great Jim Carlton. I should also note that it is a pleasure to be back in the Federation Chamber after quite a long absence. Jim Carlton had a glittering career. He excelled at everything he did. He was successively the president of the Students’ Representative Council at Sydney University—the first Liberal to hold the position—general secretary of the New South Wales Liberal Party, a Minister for Health in the Fraser government, shadow Treasurer in the Howard-led opposition of the mid-eighties, a leader of the economic dries in the federal parliament from the late seventies to the early nineties, a supporter of the free market tempered by compassion and ideals, and also the member for Mackellar on the Warringah peninsula between 1977 and 1994.
As everyone in this chamber knows, the period from the mid-eighties to the late nineties was the golden age of reform in this country, first under the Hawke government, which floated the Australian dollar, deregulated the financial markets and began the process of privatisation of government-owned enterprise—and it did all this with the active support of the coalition—and then under the Howard government which deregulated labour markets, reformed the tax system and reformed the welfare system through policies such as Work for the Dole. This was done despite the bitter opposition of the Australian Labor Party. The reforming instincts, the liberal instincts, of the coalition from the early eighties through until the nineties, in opposition and in government, have indeed helped to shape the Australian economy, which by 2007 per capita was as strong as any in the developed world.
Jim Carlton was one of the key figures in the Liberal Party, one of the people who converted our party from regulating to deregulating. He was a critical figure in the evolution of our party from an old-fashioned protectionist party that built walls against the world to a party which welcomed the world to Australia, economically and in most other respects. He was John Howard’s shadow Treasurer at a critical time in the reform process. He was a friend of John Hyde and Peter Shack, his brother parliamentary leaders of the dry movement.
Between 1990 and 1993, along with David Kemp, he was a key architect of John Hewson’s ‘Fightback!’ policy, which in a humble way I helped to draft as a political adviser in the Hewson office. The ‘Fightback!’ policy was a magnificent political failure but it was a monumental policy success. Nearly everything put forward in the ‘Fightback!’ policy was eventually implemented: first, sotto voce, by the Keating government and then, with much more obvious pride and determination, by the Howard government. Jim Carlton’s spirit breathed through the ‘Fightback!’ policy. Indeed, Jim Carlton’s whole public life is a testament to the power of ideas. He was a minister for less than a year but his ideas still shape our polity and our economy, more than 30 years after that time. Jim was always friendly, cheerful and he was never bitter despite the vicissitudes of his own public life. He was a happy warrior, ambitious not for himself but for our country. There are too few like him and our parliament is the worse for it. Members of Jim’s family, particularly his wife Di, can be incredibly proud of the life of Jim Carlton.