With the Morrison government voted out of office, and an openly Pentecostal Prime Minister no longer in the Lodge, Christians and others of faith will be wondering what’s next for the Liberal Party that has held Federal government for 51 of the 77 years since World War II.
To look ahead to the future, we often have to look to the past and re-familiarise ourselves with the values that have made us who we are. This will be true for the Liberal Party as it mulls over its recent loss at the polls.
Any political party consigned to opposition typically has to do two things. First, reconnect with its support base, and second, return to the first principles that justified its existence.
For the Liberal Party, the immediate task for MPs will be to engage more closely with the electorates they represent. To speak with people on the ground, listen carefully to their concerns, values, and aspirations, and then represent them in parliament. Politicians of all parties can too often be bound by the dictates of the ‘party machine’ or captive to the voices of the mass media and powerful interest groups. Reconnecting with ordinary citizens is crucial to regaining the public’s trust and confidence.
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It is not good enough for a political party as established as the Liberals to be blown about by every wind of public opinion. They need to be anchored in the values and ideals that inspired the party’s birth.
However, it is not good enough for a political party as established as the Liberals to be blown about by every wind of public opinion. They need to be anchored in the values and ideals that inspired the party’s birth.
When Robert Menzies founded the Liberal Party of Australia, its 1954 ‘We Believe’ platform explicitly affirmed the Judeo-Christian precepts of human dignity and freedom, racial and religious tolerance, class harmony, subsidiarity, the family, private property, social and industrial justice as fundamental to both the character of civil society and the survival of freedom.
Speaking on the nature of democracy in 1942, Menzies affirmed that “democracy is based upon the Christian conception that there is in every human soul a spark of the divine; that, with all their inequalities of mind and body, the souls of men stand equal in the sight of God”.
Yet, the Liberal Party Menzies founded in 1944 was to govern for all Australians in the broad national interest. As such, it has always been a non-sectarian party open to people of all faiths and none. The Liberal Party was not founded as a ‘Christians-only club’ and must never be so in a secular society such as Australia. That said, the party embodied broadly Christian ideals from its belief in neighbourliness, selfless individualism and thrift to its vision for a civilised capitalism and humanitarian foreign policy.
The party has always been at its best and greatest when its policies have channelled these ideals practically. From Menzies’ humane reforms to aged care and child endowment for families, to the welcoming of Indo-Chinese refugees under Malcolm Fraser and John Howard’s support for faith-based charities and schools, these initiatives have made Australia a better country. Liberal governments, of course, have been far from perfect. But they would be infinitely poorer without this spiritual wellspring.
… this agenda should have nothing to do with foisting Christianity on the nation at large and everything to do with serving the common good and satisfying universal human needs
Going forward, the best pathway for the Liberal Party to be its best self is not necessarily to shift ‘right’ or ‘left’ but to return to its foundational principles. While contemporary Australian society may be much more secular and religiously diverse than in the 1940s, the Christian-inspired precepts of Australian Liberalism still have much to offer all Australians, irrespective of creed or faith.
By being true to the foundations of their party, Liberals have the potential to enrich Australian life with policy initiatives that unleash the amazing potential of every boy and girl, lift up our poor, and help keep families together, welcome newcomers, give generously to our overseas neighbours, and treat Australians not as warring tribes but as members of one another. All this can be pursued in conjunction with the pragmatic priorities of managing the economy and responding to climate change.
Importantly, with the defeat of religious discrimination legislation in the last parliament, Liberals also have a fresh opportunity to afford people of faith the necessary freedoms to flourish without the dead hand of censorship and cancel-culture. In 1961, Menzies told an audience of new citizens that “whatever religion they may profess”, they had come to a country where people were ‘free to pray as we want to pray, to speak as we want to speak, and to assemble as we want to assemble’. For Australians in 2022 and beyond, Liberals must guarantee these same freedoms.
Though drawing upon the Judeo-Christian roots of the party, this agenda should have nothing to do with foisting Christianity on the nation at large and everything to do with serving the common good and satisfying universal human needs for freedom, dignity, family, community and belonging.
Finally, for Christian people involved in rebuilding the Liberal Party, channelling the party’s foundational values will not be an exercise in syncretism. It will not be about their faith being shaped by their politics, but rather their political creed being informed by their faith. As Menzies himself remarked in 1958, it does not mean that “to be a good Christian you have to be a good Liberal”, but rather, to be a good Liberal “you will be all the better if you are a good Christian”.
The calling for Christians in today’s Liberal Party – or indeed any other political party – will be to channel the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks by being ‘true to our faith while being a blessing to others regardless of their faith’.
Likewise, if today’s Liberal Party can be true to its spiritual inheritance, it will invariably benefit and enrich the lives of all Australians, whatever their religious beliefs or otherwise.
David Furse-Roberts is the author of God & Menzies: The Faith that Shaped a Prime Minister and His Nation