Kevin Rudd had happier times.
The former prime minister used to have great fun claiming that the Coalition was a crazed group of neo-liberal ideologues who would love nothing more than to ban the union movement, destroy the social safety net, and build leaky nuclear power plants in Western Sydney.
Rudd argued the Coalition, and 400 years of liberal and conservative thinkers, have sought to undermine the great institutions of community and society.
He said that “neo-liberals” idolised a world where individuals are self-sufficient and shorn of any personal connection to each other – at least outside the shopping centre. He called this a “Brutopia”.
But eventually Rudd dropped that overbearing rhetoric, just like he dropped so many of his other policy brainwaves.
Who knows? Maybe he realised he got it all wrong.
Peter Costello once said that he wanted to see Australia be everything it could possibly be.
I too have a vision of a diverse, pluralistic, Australia.
And I believe only the principled liberal conservatism of the Coalition – rather than the make-it-up-as-they-go technocracy of the Rudd/Gillard Labor Government – can deliver that.
The great conservative thinker Edmund Burke spoke of society being formed out of “little platoons” – families, clubs, sporting associations, non-profit organisations, political parties. And – yes – even churches.
These institutions build the trust necessary for a healthy, plural society.
Without a thriving non-government sector and community organisations, we will not be able to adapt to the changes of the future – the cultural and social changes brought about by technology and the global marketplace.
In the last few decades, political scientists have been calling this social capital. It’s the value that is created by our interactions in voluntary organisations – from the family to the sporting club to the church. Political scientists been pointing out that this social capital has been disappearing rapidly the Western world. We no longer join bowling clubs. Our sporting clubs are in decline. Our political parties are no longer representative – not enough Australians want to join them.
Social capital theory is a popular area of scholarship right now.
But liberals and conservatives have understood the idea behind social capital for centuries.
Kevin Rudd was wrong. We’re not becoming a less cohesive, less familiar, less networked, more individualistic society because of “neo-liberalism”.
We’re becoming a less cohesive, familiar and networked society because of ever-growing government.
The Coalition recognises that big government isn’t just bad because of debt and deficits.
Red tape, bureaucracy, and the nanny state are eroding away the institutions of civil society that have made Australia great.
Across Australia we have amateur sporting clubs which are dying because bureaucrats have told them they can’t serve spectators beer.
Volunteers with the Red Cross can’t help make lunches for volunteer firefighters, because they might breach the rigid and extensive food handling codes imposed by governments.
Jam can’t be sold at fetes without labels detailing every ingredient. Lemonade can no longer be sold by children on the side of the road.
Street parties are so over-regulated that they have virtually disappeared.
And no wonder. To host a street party you have to go through a mass of bureaucratic hoops. There is paperwork to be filled out, emergency plans to be coordinated, supervisors to be nominated, acoustic engineers to be hired to monitor the decibels of stereo systems, and qualified electrical engineers needed to plug the stereo in.
The Australian government needs to take a good hard look at itself.
That’s what a Coalition government will do.
There’s too much acceptance that every problem should be fixed by a new law or a new regulation. But those laws are stifling the development of the Australian community.
They’re preventing social capital from building. They’re forcing the little platoons to disband.
The Coalition will challenge this trend.
And, of course, we’ll act.
One of the first tasks of an Abbott government will be to commit to removing as many of these unnecessary, harmful and counterproductive laws and regulations which have built up over the last century. And we will work with state and local governments to help them do the same.
More than that, we reject the paternalism of the nanny state. We reject the plethora of health bureaucrats and activists who seek to limit individual choices, and erode individual responsibility.
A Coalition government will respect your right to individual choice.
I don’t believe Commonwealth bureaucrats know what’s best for you – the Coalition doesn’t believe how many slices of cake you eat is anybody’s business, but your own. We don’t want government bureaucrats leaning over you as you decide how many chips to eat with your fried barramundi.
I understand this is a controversial view.
We live in a world where trusting people to make decisions themselves about their own health, their own lifestyle, is controversial. Even radical.
Politicians of previous generations faced great challenges. They had to figure out how to jettison 100 years of protectionism. They had to figure out how to open their markets to the world – even as an army of special interests opposed it. They had to privatise and deregulate.
But our challenges are different to the challenges faced by Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Bob Hawke and John Howard.
The government no longer owns the great state owned enterprises of yesterday. Nor does it want to.
But instead it tries to manage them – to regulate, to manage, and to oversee every aspect of the economy and community.
We have to get the boot of government off the neck of society. We have to allow individuals to make decisions about their own lives free of government interference.
We have to get government out of the way. A Coalition government will let Australia’s little platoons flourish.