It is sobering if not downright depressing to be reviewing two new books whose authors can be described as warriors for liberty. In Australia? Isn’t Australia the world’s poster child for freedom and individual liberty, nay larrikinism? Why does Australia – of all countries – need warriors to fight for freedoms that are the cornerstone of Western democracy? It is especially ironic for this writer, having escaped authoritarian communism when Hungary was under Soviet boots. Liberty was the shining light that drew us to the West. It seems to be dimming with alarming speed even here in Australia, as both Mark Latham and David Lyonhjelm eloquently claim – and eloquently resist.
Outsiders – ‘I won’t be silenced’
Latham’s book collates his writings, notably in the Daily Telegraph from 2016 and the first half of 2017. It’s very much about today. At his book launch on October 5, Latham explained that he is motivated to speak out and speak loudly by his concern for the future of his children. He wants to encourage Australians to stay true to the values of the Enlightenment, which include individual liberty, free speech, evidence-based policies and the total absence of identity politics that divides communities by race, religion, sexuality and gender.
On May 10, 2016 he wrote: ‘In this era of political correctness and gender fluidity, Mother’s Day is lucky to survive. Under the guidance of the Safe Schools program, it’s only a matter of time before the second Sunday in May becomes a UN-sanctioned International Day For People Who Identify As Being Mothers. It will be open to men and women alike.’
By Father’s Day in August 2017, this then far-fetched scenario was emerging as a reality in Australia as a Father’s Day ad was deemed to be political. There were suggestions that the day should be renamed Special Person’s Day.
Latham groaned under the onslaught against our values. ‘Every week, seemingly everywhere, Australian institutions and traditions are being lost. The latest to fall is the public swimming pool as a genuinely public place.’ He was appalled that the Ruth Everuss Aquatic Centre at Auburn had decided to partition off an area as a modesty enclave for Muslim women. He cursed it as another move towards identity segregation. ‘As Whitlam often told me the only way of running a fair society is to treat every individual on merit, irrespective of race, religion and background.’
That in a nutshell is the sentiment that drives this collection of Latham’s columns. Alan Jones writes in the foreword: ‘What appears between the covers of this book is an anthology of constructive thinking about what’s gone wrong with our country.’ Latham’s objective is to ‘take back our nation and preserve the best of our values’. That these values should be in such danger is deeply alarming.
In the penultimate piece, originally published on August 1, Latham’s verbal scalpel slashes at former Chief of Army David Morrison, under whom the ADF was ‘transformed into a welfare organisation, with grandiose plans to solve Aboriginal disadvantage and the challenges of gender fluidity.’ It’s typical of Latham’s lethal scrutiny from which neither side of politics is safe, and with which the reader is rewarded.
Leyonhjelm explains his motivation to publish in a single volume some of his speeches in the Senate and writings in the Australian Financial Review, Daily Telegraph, Drum, Spectator Australia, Huffington Post and Farm Weekly – 108 pieces in all.
‘I periodically encounter people who describe themselves as somewhat libertarian, in that they support me on one particular issue but have little interest in liberty generally or an understanding of the underlying principles. It is for these people that I have written this book… to expose people to the principles of liberty in the hope that they will agree that less government and more personal responsibility will lead to a much happier and more prosperous society.’
But of course all politicians and political parties say that: they all have the answer to how we can make a much happier and more prosperous society. That’s the mantra claimed by fascists and socialists, too, it’s just that their vision of ‘happy and prosperous’ is vastly different. As indeed Leyonhjlem saw for himself as he travelled across the then USSR, Poland and East Germany where ‘reality intruded’ on his socialist idealism. He had found grinding poverty and authoritarian states, not socialist nirvana. By the time he returned to Australia, he was no longer a socialist.
As with social issues, Leyonhjelm came to the conclusion that most economic issues are not the business of government either. ‘Its role should be limited to protection from coercion. Or as John Locke would have put it, the preservation of life, liberty and property.’ By page 19, he outlines the kernel of his philosophy, which he pursues and argues for in another 340-odd pages, in two main sections: Economic Liberty and Personal Liberty.
As he points out, people who try to slot him into the Left or the Right just don’t get it. He calls himself a classical liberal, standing for ‘liberty across the board’. The book canvasses his views on everything from firearms, smoking (all kinds), superannuation and prisons to lock out laws at Kings Cross – and you may well be surprised at many of them, coming from an old(ish) white male. That’s why this book is so invigorating. Read his incendiary 2014 piece on the Pharmacy Guild, for example; you’ll never see their members in the same light again. Or his speech introducing a same-sex marriage bill in 2014.
Before his election as a Liberal Democrat Senator for NSW first in 2013 and again in 2016, he went on a thorough test drive of Australia’s political vehicles. First there was Young Labor, then the Liberals, then the Shooters and the Outdoor Recreation party (NSW). He’s sampled them all and didn’t fit into any of them. You can never assume anything about Leyonhjelm, as this book proves.
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