Flat White

Kelly’s heroes

28 January 2021

4:00 AM

28 January 2021

4:00 AM

Craig Kelly’s existence poses an existential problem for the Liberal Party. 

It is difficult to work out how far a political ideology has swerved off track until you have something to compare it with. There has to be a tide marker sticking out from the stinking, exposed mud of the receded ideological field. Only then can the Australian public see the true regression of our political class. 

Australians instinctively know that the Liberal Party of 2021 is not the party of Sir Robert Menzies. He was a politician of eloquence, principle, and withering quips who lashed Australia together when it needed to survive grim decades of war. The man was an unapologetic force in a difficult age that resulted in the reshuffling of the country’s conservative politics.  

As the father of the party, Liberal MPs frequently return to Menzies’ words when searching for relevance on the floor of Parliament. Wets like Malcolm Turnbull invoked his ghost to defend their fragile leadership – manipulating historic definitions of ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ to match the vanity of being a Labor man inside a Liberal cabinet. Even Tony Abbott’s honest attempt to revive the ‘sensible centre’ lacked the context of Menzies’ battle against a Labor party intoxicated by the promise of communism. Menzies’ ‘centre’ is nowhere near the Big State, globalist, corporatist, censorial technocracy, foreign-owned, broke nightmare that the modern Liberal Party indulges in exchange for social credit points. 

Menzies had no desire to see the ideological stagnation of conservative politics, but nor did he wish it to abandon its founding ethics. Post Modernism loves to pretend that all meaning is an abstract. It is not. Moral fortitude and first principles are the sinews that bind nations, allowing them to move through the centuries intact. Governing from a position of conservationism often means repairing the ship as it weathers storms. It is the boring job of patching the nation’s cracked hull and torn sails to ensure the whole damn ship doesn’t list against a steep wave and sink. If everyone takes up activism, the structure of the country falls to bits. Some can already hear the boards creaking underfoot. 

The greatest damage to the political health of Australia has come from its rapid descent into coerced speech and ‘approved’ truth. A few months of Covid fear has seen civilisation hand itself over to the fact-checkers of Silicon Valley. These are nothing more than a politically motivated ‘argument of (anonymous) authority’ installed as a gatekeeper to stop ordinary people questioning the decisions of bureaucracy. 

Politicians who quote Menzies and consider themselves ‘Liberal’ should begin with his comment regarding free speech: 

Today’s truth is frequently tomorrow’s error. There is nothing absolute about the truth … If truth is to emerge and in the long run be triumphant, the process of free debate – the untrammelled clash of opinion – must go on.’

As one of the great intellects, Menzies was aware that the desire to censor is human, not political. He was determined that his new breed of liberal politics would not embrace what he saw as the primitive urge of authoritarianism. He believed that the freedom to debate opinion was not only reserved for the Australian people, but also for its politicians, who must always be at liberty to challenge the position of the party. MPs represented electorates. If calls were made to them shut up, Menzies recognised that it was the Australian public who were being silenced, not the individual politician. 

Censorship is the product of weakness. 

Policies incapable of withstanding scrutiny, and politicians ill-suited to the rigour of a hostile press, are all too keen to force their colleagues into a backdrop of nodding idiots. While Labor enjoys the flattery of the press, Liberals must remain disciplined, understanding that they are talking through the media, not to them. 

A publicly-funded media class that works for the opposition can never be wooed or placated. Futile attempts made by Liberals to bend to their demands have achieved nothing except the weakening of the party. Liberals do not make themselves more popular in the press by becoming a poor copy of Labor. As they say, food cannot avert being eaten by making itself more attractive on the plate. 

But is political debate really dead? The noise of question time might fool a casual observer into thinking that political conflict is alive, but listen closely and you will hear its reduction to fits of vacuous point-scoring. Our inbred regime of elevated staffers lack maturity, imagining that dramatically abandoning the party to sit as a GetUp! independent with their bottomless purse is an act of bravery. To leave the party and sit on the crossbench alone – now that would take a set of balls big enough to dent the chair. 

In recent years, Liberal moderates have spent their time pressuring the prime minister to rein in MPs who speak out of turn – threatening the consensus of the flock. First it was those who refused to accept the United Nations’ escalating climate tax scheme, then it was for anyone who rejected an era of medical tyranny. These moderate ministers do not understand that if their ideas have to be protected by rigid silence inside their own party, they have little chance of surviving in the wilderness of public opinion. 

Australian politics enters this difficult decade burdened by the natural end of John Howard’s ‘broad church’ – an idea designed to secure short-term political stability at the unfortunate expense of the party’s ideological integrity. When Liberals talk of their ‘broad church’ what they mean is the ability of MPs to occupy blue-ribbon seats holding conservative economic (rather than ethical) values. The church has broadened so much that we have more than one Green Marxist living in the wings. It is a sign that politics has become big business for those who capitulate to the fads of international bureaucracies. 

What makes a lot of below-average public servants money in peacetime will not suffice in an era of immense social upheaval. 

Craig Kelly, the member for Hughes, is the closest Australia has to a mimic of Menzies’ philosophy. He is what modern society has come to know as a ‘culture warrior’, with his personally run social media engagements outstripping the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition. What he has to say connects with ordinary people, who too often are left to watch helplessly as the major political parties copy each other’s dodgy positions until there is little to choose between them to the point where ‘we’re not as bad as Labor’ has become the Liberal campaign line. 

It is Craig Kelly who remembers what the Liberal Party has forgotten. Its soul. In his maiden speech to the House he said: 

I rise as the 1,077th member of this House, as someone who is proud of his country, proud of its history and proud of its traditions. I also rise as someone who owes a debt of gratitude to past generations of Australians whose sacrifices and struggles have given us the freedoms and opportunities that we enjoy today. I also understand that I have an obligation to pass this great nation onto our children and grandchildren in better shape and with greater freedoms and opportunities than we inherited.

His words were honest and his morals – sound – but the press took one look at the working-class MP and decided to mock his life spent outside the climate-controlled Petri dish of Parliament. They referred to Kelly as a ‘failed furniture salesman’ –  a stab at the sad collapse of his family business which sits uneasily in an economic landscape littered with the remains of small businesses sacrificed for the medical ‘greater good’. 

Kelly has lived a life of hard work, not privilege, raising two children one of whom is disabled. He used his position to fix the injustices and failures that he found in the bureaucratic system, rather than following the path of so many ‘moderates’ who spend their days setting up future employment in international bodies or as lobbyists for corporations who owe them favours. 

His loyalty to grassroots issues explains why he has held onto a marginal seat for eleven years. This leaves the Liberal Party with a problem. Craig Kelly’s success is their failure. He remains resolute at the heart of the Liberal Party’s founding ideals with a commitment to freedom, small government, and responsible economics while standing opposed to the creation of corporate oligarchies suffocating what Menzies called ‘the backbone of Australia’ – family businesses. 

When Kelly sees the United Nations and its vast network of predatory corporate friends conspiring to create an empire out of green tax – he rightly calls them out while his peers bow and scrape to despots and dictators. He can see what middle Australia sees; globalism, the newest iteration of socialism, taking hold of Australia’s political system with powerful friends on both sides, especially in the energy industry. 

Everyone expects the likes of Kevin Rudd, Anthony Albanese, and the combined weight of the Canberra press gallery to demand Craig Kelly’s head. As Labor drifts closer to socialism, their urge to exert supremacy over speech intensifies. Kelly is merely the first name on their list. 

What matters is how the Liberal Party treats the last surviving vestige of their heritage. Scott Morrison has rightly remained silent on the demands of his peers to silence the member for Hughes. No doubt the Prime Minister is conscious of his patchy conservative record, living as one of Turnbull’s creatures and already on the nose with the base who have been financially and emotionally jaded by his policies. Allowing the factions to close rank on Kelly would be fatal at the next Federal election, particularly in National seats where voters are already eyeing off third parties. 

The natural tide is such that all politicians eventually exit the stage. After Craig Kelly, who will be left standing to remind us of what Australian liberalism was meant to mean? Can you think of any heroes ready to defend Menzies’ legacy? Or will we find a bedraggled scattering of MPs, miles from the intended shore, mingling with the ideological monotony of the West’s political swamp.

Alexandra Marshall is an independent writer. If you would like to support her work, shout her a coffee over at Ko-Fi.

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