catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Why Malcolm Fraser won't quit the Liberals

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Liberal dissidents have long complained about the betrayal of liberal ideals. Back in 1969 a now almost forgotten Liberal MP, Edward St John, resigned from the party and wrote a book called A Time to Speak. His criticisms sound familiar. ‘Our civil liberties have never been in so much jeopardy’, he told his readers, with parliamentarians refused ‘in the name of security’ the information needed to participate in meaningful debate, and ‘foolish and benighted censorship’ imposed. St John thought that he had shown a ‘truer loyalty to the ideals of the Liberal Party’ than those who put their confidence in John Gorton, then PM (and who in 1975 chucked his own tantrum and left the Liberals). Former Senator Chris Puplick in 1994 wrote his book Is the Party Over? and called for the party to become once again a ‘genuinely liberal Liberal Party’. In 2002, former Liberal staffer Greg Barns quit the Liberals for the Democrats, asserting that the ‘Liberal Party is liberal in no sense other than its name’.

Last night Malcolm Fraser carried on this tradition:

Delivering the chancellor’s human rights lecture at the University of Melbourne, Mr Fraser said he found his party “unrecognisable as liberal” and alien to the principles of its founder, Robert Menzies.
The catalyst for his consideration was the Government’s counter-terrorism legislation, which Mr Fraser said was wrong because “it makes the fundamental assumption that liberty cannot defend itself”….
“Over several years there has been a fundamental departure from the basic idea of liberalism as I understood it.”

It’s become so bad that Fraser says he considered resigning from the party. But Fraser is shrewder than the other dissidents. He only teases about leaving. He knows that his newsworthiness flows from being a Liberal dissident, and not merely a liberal one. When you are saying much the same thing as many other people, you have to distinguish yourself, and the drama of disillusionment and party conflict separates him from the usual suspects. As a former PM, Fraser would not slip into total obscurity but the post-resignation record of the quitters is not a good one. St John vanished. Gorton was slightly rehabilitated as he approached death, but was never really taken seriously again. Puplick survived for a while as a human rights bureaucrat, but eventually had to resign in disgrace and has not been heard of since. Greg Barns can no longer get publicity as a Liberal internal critic, and has to pester the nation’s opinion editors to get his name into the papers. Indeed, the only successful Liberal quitter was the subsequent leader of the small-‘l’ liberal Australian Democrats, Don Chipp, who left in disgust at – Malcolm Fraser.

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Written by Admin

November 30, 2005 at 6:23 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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