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Tony Abbott defines the new conservatism

By Peter Bowden - posted Monday, 20 March 2017

In a speech in Sydney at the launch of a new book, Making Australia Right,on February 23, Tony Abbott, former Prime Minister of Australia, set out a five-point plan for a 'winnable' next election. It is a multi-authored book edited by James Allan, published by Connor Court. In the process, he defines the main views of those on the conservative right. There were five:  

In short, why not say to the people of Australia: we'll cut the RET [renewable energy target] to help with your power bills; we'll cut immigration to make housing more affordable; we'll scrap the Human Rights Commission to stop official bullying; we'll stop all new spending to end ripping off our grandkids; and we'll reform the Senate to have government, not gridlock?

The only conclusion that can be drawn in examining each of these issues is that these new right wing objectives have not been developed in the best interests of this country. They obey the agenda only of far right wing politicians.  Also that in some cases, they are actually immoral. Starting with the Renewable Energy Target: the RET is the Federal Government’s policy designed to ensure that at least 33,000 Gigawatt-hour (GWh) of Australia's electricity comes from renewable sources by 2020. The RET was reviewed by the Government and reduced in June 2015 from the previously legislated 41,000 GWh to 33,000 GWh.


The Clean Energy Council has stated that it is disappointed by the level of the reduction of the target. The Council comprises leading businesses operating in clean energy (solar, wind, etc.) along with more than 4000 solar installers.

About 23.5 per cent of Australia’s electricity generation in 2020 will be from renewable sources. Attempting to determine the validity of Australia’s position is a massive task. Some relevant comparisons are that renewable energy now provides about 30% of Germany’s electricity.  The Conversation – a website documenting university research has some 84 articles on the Renewable Energy Target. One article points out that the conservative Coalition government’s actions to address the challenges of climate change “has made modest progress at best. Australia is 42 on the world’s ranking in the use of renewable resources. Australia, as one of the world’s richest countries, is not doing its share. Tony Abbott’s administration repealed the carbon price, wound back the Renewable Energy Target and established the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). Clearly, Abbott does not understand Renewable Energy.

The complaint that Australia was not doing its share can be used to analyse the right wing complaint that the ABC is biased. This accusation  was the response to an ABC report on the Climate Change Authority. It would appear to be a factual report on the statements by the Authority. But because its article is negative to the current conservative government, the ABC would be considered biased. Tony Abbott has also accused the ABC of bias.

“Cut immigration to make housing more affordable”. Is another of Abbott’s claims. To this writer, the statement is a non–sequitur.  It implies that the immigration intake into Australia creates a housing demand which is raising house prices. He is wrong. Possibly the major reason behind increasing house prices is investor demand, fuelled by negative gearing.

Young people intending to become first home owners are now regularly bidding against well-off people looking to activate a tax break in order to buy second, third or fourth houses.

Negative gearing is a practice that our politicians should abandon. But that's where negative gearing becomes another problem. It is reported that one in five MPs are using their travel perks to pay off a second property.


A Fairfax Media report in 2015 said that federal politicians own an average of 2.4 properties each. Queensland senator Barry O'Sullivan apparently leads the way with 41 properties. The PM has a measly seven. 

 The current government does have an immigration policy which can readily be  described as immoral. By more than one source. Including by the Australian Broadcasting Commission  and the Sydney Morning Herald, or other left wing rags, such as The Age. The current government’s attacks on the Human rights Commission, and on its Commissioner, are other right wing positions . The reason appears to be that the Commissioner is insisting on universal human rights, including refugees.

The call to stop spending is a throwback to his 2014 budget, which still has not been passed. It was the reason why he was thrown out of office. The reformation of the Senate was Abbott’s other claim for conservatism. He must not read the newspapers. The present senate impasse was due to the current conservative government calling an early election. The conservatives, in short caused the impasse.

Abbott’s five points provide his definitions of conservatism. The website for the book provides another definition: “What you have here are top people in their fields giving you something you will not find on the ABC”. For readers from other countries, the ABC is the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the national publicly-funded broadcaster, frequently attacked by those on the right for having a left wing bias.

He also did not set out all his own definitions. Alongside renewable energy, go tax reform and Gonski as well as attacks on the most vulnerable, and the Corey Bernardi split with the Liberals to establish his own party, Australian Conservatives, “to reconnect with voters and restore traditional Menzies-era values”.   It can be readily argued that the current conservative position is a shift to the right. The Present Liberal Party  is  not the party of Menzies. Menzies, in two powerful speeches, identified the state’s obligation to address unemployment, and secure economic security and material well-being through social legislation. He advocated fierce independence, but the difficulties of those who fell through the cracks were to be ameliorated.

Turnbull’s only hope of survival is to stop catering to his conservative right wing, and revert to his own centrist policies. He will then return Australia to the political centre – to a small l liberal party in government.

Waging war, or at least being confrontational, is yet another Abbott conservative position. On Indonesia ,or on shirtfronting Vladimir Putin or Abbott’s desire to invade Iraq. We may think that these positions are only due to Abbott’s combative personality, that they do not define a conservative. But Donald Trump on the new conservative right in the United States  is just as combative: The Islamic world, the wall across Mexico, the war in Iraq,The South China Sea, World War III, defence spending. Billions for wall, military spending as Donald Trump's budget slashes funds for climate change, housing. Tony Abbott, if he had his way, would be right in there with Trump. What will be his next grenade?  Australia will be a safer place if Abbott stuck to his original promise of no wrecking, no undermining. Unfortunately, he is a wrecker. Turnbull should shift left, away from the new conservatives, for his and the country’s benefit.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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