Freedoms and Values

Recently, my sixteen-year-old son asked me whether I agree with everything that the Liberal Party stands for. I told him that I agree with all the values of the Liberal Party. That doesn’t mean that I instinctively agree with every single policy, especially as they are being debated. For me, political parties are groups of people who come together with a set of values, and with those values they try to create a policy framework to deliver outcomes for the community, whether that be at a State or Federal level. But it’s the values that bring people together and it’s the policies that follow.

My own values are largely reflected by Franklin Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms which I frame as freedom of speech and expression, freedom of religion and belief, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

Freedom of speech and personal expression lies at the forefront of my values. I take the view that people should be able to say whatever they want…incitement to violence restrictions notwithstanding. People should be able to express themselves and even if they do that in a manner that hurts another’s feelings or sensibilities, their freedom of speech should remain a fundamental right.

Being a believer myself, I accept that a person has the right to believe whatever they wish, even if that isn’t a religious belief.

Sir Robert Menzies made the point that freedom of religion doesn’t just mean freedom for me to practice my religion; it means freedom for others to practice theirs. I can’t stand for freedom of religion if I want to suppress other religions, whatever that religion might be. On that basis, when new migrants come to Australia I think it’s fantastic that they come and celebrate who they are and I don’t expect them to change who they are or what they believe. Being a believer myself, I accept that a person has the right to believe whatever they wish, even if that isn’t a religious belief. Freedom of belief shouldn’t be tied exclusively to freedom of religion. It’s not the role of government to force its citizens to believe one thing or another.

One of my favourite speeches, that encompasses much of what I believe, is the Forgotten People speech by Menzies. In that speech, Menzies outlined that the Liberal Party is supposed to stand, not for the rich people, they have wealth to look after themselves, and not for the organised masses who have protections in place, it’s the people in the middle who don’t have the money and who aren’t organised…that’s who the Liberal Party is supposed to stand up for. It’s those small business people who want to get on and make a buck and start employing people, forming the backbone of society. While that’s a core responsibility, Liberal Party values and indeed my own values also extend to looking after the vulnerable in our community, those who can’t look after themselves. Some critics see the Liberal Party as not caring about the vulnerable in our community, but the exact opposite is true. For those people who can’t look after themselves, it’s incumbent upon society to look after them, but that doesn’t mean those people who won’t look after themselves deserve special treatment. There’s the distinction. I believe in equality of opportunity but I don’t believe in equality of outcomes. Outcomes are determined by a person’s motivation and of course partly by their starting point, but largely by their motivation. Equality of opportunity doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean equality of outcome.

There’s the distinction. I believe in equality of opportunity but I don’t believe in equality of outcomes … Equality of opportunity doesn’t, and shouldn’t, mean equality of outcome.

My personal philosophies were shaped by my early experiences, as they are for many people. I was one of eleven children, living in public housing in Western Australia with limited means. When I was fourteen I got a job in a hardware store. The owner was an Italian immigrant who came to Australia with nothing in his pocket. Through his hard work and effort, he made a decent living and by the time he retired he was a fairly wealthy man. I saw through him the reward that comes from effort. I saw that first hand at fourteen years of age and I have tried to emulate it through my life. When I look at my own electorate of Burwood I draw on another core value, freedom from want. There are around 1,400 public and social housing units in my electorate. This type of accommodation forms part of the safety net for those that need it. While I’m strong on freedoms of the individual and equal opportunity, at a grass roots level those 1,400 roofs over people’s heads are the first line of defence for the vulnerable. Having grown up in similar circumstances I see that you must provide opportunities, showing the children in those homes that there is opportunity for them. Through education, through commitment learned from sport, through part time work and motivation, those children can achieve anything, regardless of their starting point.

When I was younger, I didn’t always see a lot of motivation in my community. I looked to the government to see what ‘hand ups’ they were offering, to help us out of our situation. Ultimately, for me, that motivation came through school and sport, and getting a start by working in a small business. As a politician, I strive to provide that example and that motivation to the kids that I meet and speak to in public housing to let them know that they can achieve so much in their lives. If they get that message early and set themselves in train then the whole community becomes so much richer for it.

Sometimes people will disagree with the decisions I make, but hopefully they will agree that I am the right person to make them … You have to do what’s right, based on values, not always what’s popular.

Freedom from fear is another core value, especially in my day-to-day life as a politician. I say this because politicians need to do what’s right, not necessarily just what’s popular. We need to act, free from fear of the electoral process. I hope that my electorate votes for me because I will make the right choices. Sometimes people will disagree with the decisions I make, but hopefully they will agree that I am the right person to make them. From Menzies again, “the moment a man seeks moral and intellectual refuge in the emotions of the crowd, he ceases to be a human being and becomes a cipher”. You have to do what’s right, based on values, not always what’s popular.

In the community, freedom from fear means that people need to know that they are safe. Everyone should be safe, free from fear for their life and their values. They shouldn’t be fearful of being what they want to be. They shouldn’t be fearful of saying what they want to say…to be who they are and not worry about being attacked. That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements and people won’t have to defend their values but they shouldn’t be fearful of having to defend who they are…that’s freedom from fear.

In the community that I represent and indeed in all communities, people shouldn’t be fearful of walking down the streets, shouldn’t be fearful of being who they are, shouldn’t be fearful of letting people know what they believe and shouldn’t be fearful for want of basic human needs.

When I consider public policy, my commitment to individual freedoms and individual rights is vital. For example, I don’t agree with the ban on smoking in outdoor eating areas. I don’t agree with banning smoking inside a pub or club. I hold the view that if the owner of the venue, the customers and staff accept the situation then we should allow it. I’ve argued that case and I’ve lost that argument in a number of forums. There’s the public health argument, that public health trumps individual rights, and I can accept that, but I still push back and make the case for individual rights ahead of collective rights. I’m not a smoker and in fact I hate smoking, but I argue that people should be allowed to smoke, if that’s their choice.

When I consider public policy, my commitment to individual freedoms and individual rights is vital.

I look at the euthanasia debate through the protection-of-others lens and my core value that we should always stand up for the vulnerable, in this case those that are near the end of their life. For me there is the question of coercion, sometimes even if it’s unspoken coercion. Personally, I’m uncomfortable with euthanasia, a viewpoint I arrived at through several pathways…from my commitment to the vulnerable…as an Anglican…and because I don’t like what I believe it will do to society.

Rights and freedoms are always a balance. Paraphrasing John Stuart Mill, “the only time that the government has the moral right to tell you what to do with your life is for the protection of others“. My values fall along those same lines when it comes to freedom of the individual, which I believe to be paramount. Collective rights are important but not so much that they interfere with the rights of the individual. There is a hierarchy, with right to life being at the top, meaning that every individual has the right to live their life in a way that they choose. The best way for society to prosper is through individuals having goals and being able to live out those goals and aspirations for themselves. We prosper as a collective, benefitting from individual efforts rather than the individual benefitting from the collective. People thrive when they are motivated to do something, to find a path in life that they want to take. If governments act to suppress those motivations then society is not going to benefit from individual effort and achievement.

It’s these freedoms and values I hold that motivate me and guide my time in politics.