The Guardian 15 July 2017
Australia’s campaign landscape is genuinely imbalanced.
The weight of money and tactical advantage lies with a carefully coordinated bunch of groups against enterprise, development and individual freedom: unions, GetUp!, “conservation groups” and so on.
The Liberal Party launched The Fair Go, not as a silver campaign bullet, but as one element to start levelling the playing field in Australian democracy.
There has been a huge response to the launch – our opponents seem irate that we’ve added our voice to the fray. As many of these commentators don’t appear to have taken the time to read The Fair Go, I offer an overview of three elements here: one, the contemporary campaign playing field; two, our objective and approach; and three, the genesis of the name.
Firstly, the campaign playing field: our research shows around $320m was spent in the last financial year by anti-Liberal groups.
Much of the money is spent by unions, sectional interests such as union aligned-industry super or Greenpeace, GetUp! and think tanks such as the Australia Institute.
On the other hand, organisations which broadly support a Liberal / enterprise agenda spent just $120m. It is a major imbalance in Australian politics akin to a $200m democratic deficit.
It is unlikely that the Liberal Party and fellow travellers will ever amass the assets and money controlled by big unions alone. A nimble but comprehensive response is therefore required.
Any student of disruption during the past decade knows that waiting for your Kodak moment doesn’t work. New things must be tried.
Accordingly, The Fair Go is simply a publishing arm which should be supported by a broader agenda for modernisation including:
Vigilance, to stop the march through the institutions; a salient example is the appointment of GetUp! to the Press Council Board
Law reform to deliver more transparency, better governance and a level playing field in unions and groups undertaking “political activity” under electoral law
Culturally encouraging and protecting people and organisations to speak out against union thuggery as the Small Business Council and Master Builders have proposed
Ensuring the Liberal Party is match-fit to fight elections in the digital age
Supporting the development of organisations to balance the playing field (The Fair Go and others).
Secondly, our objective is simply to provide a clearinghouse for liberal and conservative viewpoints on a range of social and economic issues.
We have adopted the motto: publish or perish.
This is not to supplant the role of the traditional media but to recognise that people gather information in differing ways.
We are responding to the same factors which have led to creation of online newspapers such as The Guardian and the same disruption which threatens a number of traditional media outlets.
Ideally it will reach beyond the existing cohort of fellow travellers to speak to undecided and swing voters by arming supporters with bottom-up perspectives on public policy issues.
Our approach is entirely transparent. The site clearly states the Liberal Party is powering the Fair Go and material is accompanied by a political authorisation.
While it is very clear the Liberal Party is driving The Fair Go, the same cannot be said for GetUp!, which claims to be a grassroots organisation when it is predominantly funded by big players.
GetUp!’s advocacy against the Australian Building & Construction Commission and new mines in Queensland is evidence of a supposed “people’s movement” working against the interests of the hardworking Australians.
Menzies would have regarded many workers in sectors servicing construction or mining industries for example as his “forgotten people”.
Thirdly, the name refers to a core idea of Robert Menzies – a fair go for all.
Menzies regularly talked about fairness and justice. It was part of his worldview. He said in 1960 that peace came from “peoples of the world that they live in a state of justice, that they have, each of them, a fair deal”.
Another Menzies quote from 1964 explains his theory of success: “We have greatly aided social justice. We have not just kept the right and allowed victory to go to the strong … we have shown that industrial progress is not to be based upon the poverty or despair of those who cannot compete”.
Fairness remains a critical lens with the powerful, such as union bosses, now masquerading as the weak, thus silencing the genuinely weak. There is in fact, just as in Menzies’ time, a class of “forgotten people”.