Australian Notes

Australian notes

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

There were no milling TV crews or reporters at Peter Costello’s launch last week in Melbourne of the new edition of my Memoirs of a Slow Learner (Connor Court). It was very different 20 years ago in Sydney when Costello launched the first edition. He was Shadow Treasurer then, soon to be Treasurer. The media had minimal interest in my book but they looked to Costello for some caustic comments on the hapless Keating government. In Melbourne the other night the standing-room-only audience was more relaxed. They all wanted Costello to return to Parliament but he laughed them off. He quoted Enoch Powell: ‘All political careers end in failure’. To get out, Costello said, before the voters finally lay you to rest is as good as one can hope for. Turning to my book, he quoted his launching speech of 20 years ago. The memoir describes, he said then , ‘a journey through bohemianism and radicalism’ to conservatism. It documents ‘a world that younger Australians will find hard to believe’, in which Stalinism held sway over the ‘intelligentsia’ for about 40 years. But it ends in the early 1960s in a growing pessimism. Moral relativism is taking over the universities, the churches and the media. Costello goes on: ‘Things are worse today.’ He notes a recent Synod of the Melbourne Anglican Church when the delegates adjourned to be photographed under the Cathedral banner: ‘Let’s Fully Welcome Refugees’. There was no banner declaring: ‘Support Christians Being Crucified in Syria’ or ‘Solidarity with Churches being Exterminated in Baghdad.’ The Synod then reconvened to consider how it could reduce its shareholding in fossil fuel companies. The Fairfax press, once a defender of traditional values, now leads the fight against them. The University has become less a place of learning than an export industry, less concerned with opening up inquiring minds than with recruiting overseas students who pay higher fees. It’s all part of the fag-end of secular liberalism which cannot ‘speak to and explain our deepest values about learning and art, or our deepest questions about life and death.’ Costello concludes: ‘Our author [that’s me!] knows that the credo of secularism is not as robust as he once thought it was. Back in the 60s he told us that he was only one step ahead of the Hound of Heaven. It would be interesting to know if he is still on the run. One last chapter is still to be written.’ What can I say? Watch this space.

It was an invitation impossible to refuse. The guest of honour at a small Quadrant reception in Sydney was a Euro-sceptic, climate-sceptic, London-sceptic Tory MP whose base is in the rural north of England. He is Owen Paterson, the Member for Shropshire North, a Tory stronghold since 1835. He was a successful Minister in David Cameron’s Cabinet until he was purged last year as likely to alienate too many left-liberal voters in this year’s general election. (He is all for badger culls and against gay marriage.) Many see him as a future leader of the Conservative Party and possibly Prime Minister. During his whirlwind tour of Australia last week he had talks with Tony Abbott and John Howard, visited the Canberra War Memorial, and dropped in at bar of the Hyatt Hotel for drinks with Mathias Cormann, Christopher Pyne, Scott Morrison, Nick Cater… and Clive Palmer! He liked to say that the purpose of his visit was to work out how Abbott won his great victory in the 2013 election. But the real purpose was to find supporters for his UK2020 think-tank and its program of British withdrawal from the EU. He is sympathetic to the anglo-sphere idea but his program is wider. (He favours ‘the Norway option’.) At the Quadrant reception he made it plain that in the coming UK election, his campaign will be directed against Ukip which he politely scorns as a populist dead-end. It may add to the gaiety of nations, he said, but it has no real solutions, only anti-EU slogans. He wants to win its supporters back to the Tories. If David Cameron loses the May election, watch out for Paterson. He will be a leadership contender.


Straws in the wind. In a path-breaking speech to the Centre for Independent Studies, Kelly O’Dwyer, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, called for a restoration of fairness in public policy – real fairness. Labor and the Greens have hijacked fairness and reduced it to a mere slogan to justify taking from the rich and giving to the poor. But there is more to fairness than income redistribution. There is also, for example, the issue of intergenerational fairness. The rising level of public debt allows us to live well at the expense of those who are not yet voters or not yet born but who will have to service the debt and never be able to live as well as we do. Is that fair, O’Dwyer asks? Or consider reward for effort. ‘Those who work harder and longer should be rewarded. Many who risk capital end up losing it altogether. Yes, the community benefits from these entrepreneurs and workhorses, but ensuring that government policy rewards effort and risk-taking is also a basic matter of fairness.’ So is the issue of whether or not to include the family home in the assets test for eligibility for pensions. ‘One of the key questions advocates of change will need to address’, O’Dwyer says, ‘is how to be fair to those who decided to over-capitalise in their house over a number of years, possibly decades, precisely because of the exemption for the family home’. Look up O’Dwyer’s speech on the CIS website.

‘If the people has to choose between the pleasant and the true, it will choose the pleasant.’ – Dr Einat Wilf, Israeli author on tour in Australia discussing the Middle East.

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