Van Onselen and Liberal values

March 13, 2010 |

Peter Van Onselen writes well…. on subjects of which he knows something about.  Mainly the ins and of political strategy and tactics.  He isn’t bad at analysing political personalities.  Political theory and history is, however, a real walk on the wild side for him.  There is no stronger example than his mighty attempt at justifying the Abbot parental leave scheme as being consistent with Liberal/conservative/utilitarian philosphy in Abbott’s scheme is perfectly Liberal.

Van Onsolen uses Liberal touchstones to bolster his case – Menzies and the Forgotten People speech.  The former is a Liberal deity, the latter part of the sacred texts of the Party.  Nice touch.  But intellectually sloppy.

First as to Menzies.  The name is not a term and, even if it were, the term is not a philosophy.  As to the Forgotten People speech, it was a good, even great speech used by Menzies just after the United Australia Party collapsed and the Curtin became Prime Minister.  Menzies, the consummate politician, used to as an early step to give form to a new party and in it he identified the natural constituency, the middle class.  It was not an Australian take of “On Liberty”.  He wasn’t trying to out Burke Edmund Burke.  It was an opening stanza in a concert that ended in a conference in Albury where the Liberal Party was formed.

Quoting from the sacred text is just intellectually dishonest.  He says:

The notion that Liberals aren’t supposed to embrace big-picture ideas that promote social policy improvements ignores the words of Menzies when he pointed out that most Australians “see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.”

Nearly 70 years on, that sounds like a good reason to back a generous parental leave scheme.

What complete and utter twaddle. It presupposes that a parental scheme has a connection with the general aspirations Menzies described.  Those sentiments, value statements apply independently of payments of whatever source.  Another plank of the argument is that

..having children is financially difficult, losing one income for a sustained period makes families less likely to have more kids, the effects of our ageing population can be combated with improvements in the fertility rate, Abbott’s standardised levy makes sure businesses don’t avoid hiring women to avoid paying maternity leave, and maintaining your salary while on leave for 26 weeks beats going on the minimum wage for 18 weeks (Rudd’s scheme).

This analysis lacks any evidential basis.  The birth rate of a society is dependent on factors, of which paying mothers is not significant.  Europe has very generous parental allowances and maternity leave and a birth rate that is generally is freefall.   Sometimes religion plays a part but Italy and Spain, the most Catholic and once the most fertile countries, have a birth rate that does not come close to even replacement.  Education, particularly of women, is a massive influence on the birth rate.  Culture is another influence, bigger families in Africa, parts of South America  the sub continent and would be the case in China but for its oppressive one child policy.  America, without a maternity scheme. has a birth rate which is enviable. Culture plays a part as does religion.  The point is that the economics of maternity scheme has no legs if the rationale is t that it is good social policy, it allows the mother to take time to look after her child without financial concerns.  No wonder Bob Brown. the lover of generos social policy applauds.  The debate about maternity allowance has been perfunctory at best.  The previous government gave a firm “no” to it, this government gave a firm “yes’ to the concept and a minimulist approach to financial backing. That 70%of people support the concept is virtually meaningless.  Add in the cost to their tax bills or the budget deficit and see those numbers change.  Actually put the arguments against it and see the mixs shift again.  And it is not a res ipso loquitor issue.   There are arguments against it on principle and in practice.

Getting back to Liberal Policy and philosophy, this proposal has hairs on it.  It is an across the board entitlement which has not even a hint of a means test in it.  So a millionaires wife on $120,000 per year can get full cover.  Does she or the family need that sort of support.  I don’t have any problem with funding any scheme from a specific tax except that approach leads to a hotch potch of mini taxes all of which, when considered together, can have an unintended impost.

A government’s role, in the conservative or Liberal tradition is to provide support when the recipient can not provide for himself or herself.  Of course that philosophy has barely received acknowledgment in the desire to use the financial levers to attrack and keep voting blocks/demographics/ seats.  The inevitable consequence is a fairly high tax rate and benefits to those who don’t need them.

Where I agree with Van Onsolen is in noting the media’s hysterical obsessions about the Liberal’s striking at their base while no thought given to the Government taking a stick to its base.  Big business is not part of the Liberal Party’s base.  It never was. As Van Onsolen says just look at the political donations to see how assiduously it parks itself on the dividing line of the political highway.

A political analysis of this proposal is probably the most honest.  It might improve Abbott’s standing with female voters.  It might put a burr under the Government’s saddle.  As part of a group of proposals it might make Rudd look like he talks more than he does.  All possibly true but lets not confuse those with philosophy or even logic.  It does not do that.

Leave a Reply

Verified by MonsterInsights