THE HONOURABLE TONY ABBOTT MP
FEDERAL MEMBER FOR WARRINGAH
ADDRESS TO THE CENTRE FOR INDEPENDENT STUDIES, HUDSON HOUSE, SYDNEY
Well thanks Tom. It’s wonderful to be here, it’s wonderful to be amongst so many great Australians.
I’m particularly pleased that my state parliamentary colleague, Damien Tudehope, is here.
I’m delighted that the former chairman of my Economic Advisory Council, Maurice Newman, is here.
And I’m told that the former long serving secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Max Moore-Wilton, is here.
I realise that I am amongst my elders and betters and hopefully will behave myself on that score.
I want to express my hope and confidence that politics today is in better shape than it was just a few days ago.
I think that our polity will be far less toxic in the near future than it has been in the recent past and I think that will be good for all of us; certainly it will be good for the Liberal Party and it will be good for our country.
I should say in defence of my friend and colleague Peter Dutton, that he was a most reluctant challenger last week; a most reluctant challenger, just as I was back in 2009, Peter Dutton last week was someone who, above all else, wanted to change policy, not to change leader.
And I am confident, given the remarks of new Prime Minister Scott Morrison, I am confident given the ministerial appointments that he’s made, that there will be better policy, there will be a united party, and there will be a sharper difference with our opponents.
The new energy minister is Angus Taylor, and we all know that Angus Taylor is not only a man of fine character but a man of deep common sense and experience in this area. I am confident, as the prime minister says, that policy will be run to cut price, not to cut emissions.
Emissions are not irrelevant but the important thing is to get price down and to let emissions look after themselves.
And I’m also confident, with Alan Tudge in a new population role, and he has been a sensible and sensitive speaker on this subject over recent months, that immigration will go more closely hand in hand with integration; and in particular, the stress for all primary applicants will be on having a job and joining our team and making a contribution from day one.
And this will make a good government better. And I want to stress that this has been a good government – our borders have been secured; our trade has been strengthened; our taxes have been reduced; our spending has been disciplined; and we will be better in the future than we have been in the recent past because the government is now in that sensible centre-right liberal conservative mainstream so well described by John Howard just a few years ago when he said that the centre of gravity of our party is to be economically liberal and socially conservative.
I think that Prime Minister Morrison very much appreciates that successful politics is always based on good values, and as I’ve often said, again echoing John Howard, that as liberals we believe in smaller government; lower taxes and greater freedom; as conservatives we believe in the family, small business and values and institutions that have stood the test of time. But above all else, as patriots we want our country to be stronger, based on what we know works and on the great strengths that have made us who and what we are.
And this is why there are some constants in the policies of Liberal-National Coalition governments – lower taxes; less red tape; a tight rein on spending; particularly on the establishment of new programs because we all know that once a program is in the place, it develops a constituency and it’s very, very difficult thereafter to change, let alone to repeal; strong borders; a strong and effective military; strong alliances; in education, excellence; in healthcare, choice; and when it comes to social security, we want the system to be more like a trampoline than a hammock. That’s always been our approach and certainly that will be our approach in the future under Scott Morrison.
I think that the policy contest will be sharper, and I think that’s important because when you look around the world, things are becoming more divided, not less.
When you look around the world, political differences are widening, not narrowing and, if I may say so, one of our mistakes in recent times has been seeking a false consensus rather than prosecuting a real contest.
Look around a world, as I say; Jeremy Corbyn, the most left-wing leader the British Labour Party has ever had; Bernie Sanders, the only avowed socialist ever elected to the US Congress (as far as I’m aware) almost won the Democratic Party nomination for the recent election.
Now I don’t for a second say that Bill Shorten is, in and of himself, nearly as left-wing as that.
I know Bill Shorten well and, if he had his way, I’m sure he would be a mainstream Labor leader.
The trouble is his political insecurity has, shall I say, made his principles flexible, and we don’t need a prime minister whose economic policy strings are being pulled by the thugs of the CFMEU; we do not need a prime minister whose social policy strings and whose border protection policy strings are being pulled by the Green left.
We don’t need new taxes on retirees who should not be punished for their hard work and for saving.
We don’t need new taxes on housing and investment which will damage our economy at a critical time.
We certainly don’t need even more renewables.
We certainly don’t need even higher emissions reductions targets because that will just put power prices ever further through the roof and that will just drive more jobs offshore.
I have to say that I’ve always thought that in all the vicissitudes of politics, what counted for most is character.
Scott Morrison has a strong and a good character and may I express my fond hope that in the weeks and months and years to come, political success will be determined, again, more by character and less by polling.
I accept that in this business of politics, people will always disagree, they will disagree within parties as well as disagree between parties but the contest between parties should be conducted with respect and the contest within parties should be conducted with honesty.
If we disagree, let us do it openly and honestly, let us never in the future say one thing to someone’s face and something totally different behind their backs.
That has been the poison in our polity over the last decade of disappointment, and that, above all else, is what must end.
I want to close and throw to questions and comments with this famous observation.
It’s not an observation of John Howard, although there are many lapidary observations of John’s that I could cite.
It’s not an observation of Bob Menzies, our great and illustrious founder, although again, there are many I could cite.
It is one of the most famous statements of Australian politics but I believe it’s something that partisans of both sides can savour and cherish.
It is those words of Ben Chifley, talking about that light on the hill.
He said our great objective is not making someone premier or prime minister, it’s not putting sixpence more or less in someone’s pocket, it is working for the betterment of mankind, not just here but wherever we can lend a helping hand.
I think that is a marvellous encapsulation of the calling of public life.
My objective has always been to try by my own efforts, and those of my colleagues, to help all of us to come closer to being our best selves.
And if we can’t always be our best selves, at least let us be better, and I am confident that that will be the case as a result of the events of last week.