A NOVEL WAY TO FORSAKE THE POLITICAL PARTY’S TRUE TASK
The current leader of the Liberal Party in the Federal Parliament, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and his predecessor, Tony Abbott, have in recent days confirmed that the Liberal Party, at least as they as its parliamentary leaders conceive of it, cannot act any more as a genuine political party in relation to marriage and the policies to be developed thereto. They have effectively admitted that, for the Liberal Party, marriage is beyond their policy-making abilities as a party. Instead it is an artificial party-unity that is paramount and they now seem to want the Australian voters to believe they have established themselves as a credible political force (for occupying the Treasury Benches) by being willing to be guided by the “will of the people” to be expressed in a foreshadowed plebiscite. This is a very significant development in the continued historical development of the Liberal Party. It marks a further turn away from its character as a genuine political party (i.e. geared to its members commitment to a long-term and comprehensive state-crafting involving policies that cover the full compass of human responsibilities) to what is a public relations firm advised by elected parliamentary members and geared to their own re-election, or that of their fellow “liberals” in order to maintain what is self-promoting, publicly-funded elite of politicians.
Both the PM and the former PM have signalled their willingness to abide by the result of the plebiscite proposed by the Liberal Party and to be held after the next election. This Liberal Party effort to take the issue of same-sex marriage (or marriage equality) to the people in a plebiscite was the compromise brokered within the party, designed to keep the party together, at the time the self-styled “progressive” wing following Turnbull took over the reins from Abbott’s “conservative” rump.
But what neither parliamentarian explains is why the Liberal Party is unable to actually provide coherent and comprehensive “family policy” let alone “marriage policy”. To do so would split the party, so in order to keep the party together they have agreed to “let the people decide.”
Malcolm Turnbull, in league internationally, with the seemingly all-conquering global movement of neo-liberal (and neo-colonial) aspiration, no doubt believes he is on a “winner”. Labor’s commitment to the parliamentary re-definition of marriage is already “in the bag”. Nothing is lost for Turnbull’s “Aye” side in the proposed plebiscite by announcing his commitment to the plebiscite’s outcome. Is there any chance of a “Noe!” victory? And anyway are Australians prepared to commit their Government to take on the task of persuading the governments of UK, Canada, New Zealand and the USA, let alone other “western” administrations, to admit their error? Here again, the trendy “progressivism” of Malcolm Turnbull has outsmarted Tony Abbott’s appeal to “common sense conservatism”, even as the former PM says he will support the result of the plebiscite if the plebiscite said “Aye”. Presumably that means he will use the plebiscite to support the “same sex legislation”. So what do we make now of Abbott’s common-sense commitment to marriage? He has undermined it.
And so, the deep contradiction that has been the Liberal Party since 1974 opens up into full-fledged libertarian elitism, even if, at the same time, it publicly concedes its inability to provide a coherent and comprehensive party view of this most central institution of human society. The idea that changing the legislated definition of what constitutes lawful marriage in this country, or in any country, will have no impact upon the institution itself, is simply naive and wrong. Such a legislative change must have some impact upon public policy in all sorts of ways, upon the way schools, churches, businesses, sporting teams, social welfare, aid and development at home and abroad, are run. As well there will be significant impact upon ordinary, everyday interpersonal relationships and to what we are subjected to in mass media and popular culture. And we haven’t yet listed families, households, relationships with others, courtship, “living together”, contracting a marriage and having a family.
In other words I am suggesting that the current parliamentary leadership of the Liberal Party are, by their rhetorical confirmation of themselves as united at the centre of their “side” of politics, telling us that at a basic level the Liberal Party is on the way to political irrelevance.
The message is plain: we should not become politically obsessed with tweeting our response to the futile attempt to change marriage by parliamentary decree. We have work to do and this issue, even now, suggests that it is a gigantic diversion from the long-term political task of figuring out how to do justice to the marriage institution, after decades of political neglect on all sides. How will marriage law be reformed to reassert its God-given and genuine male-female character, if rejection of this political mistake does not partake of a truly international political effort to persuade many polities that they have made a serious legal error based upon an empirical mistake. Such a comprehensive political contribution will also have to deepen understanding of all the kinds and types of human relationships, friendships and associations and propose just policies for all aspects and structures of our social responsibility.
Bruce C Wearne
31 January 2016AD / 3 March 2016 edit.