By Tony Abbott
April 4. 2013
Andrew, thank you so much for that truly lovely introduction. All I can say is: I prefer your judgments to your reminiscences!
Mr Premier, Mr Lord Mayor, Your Eminence, parliamentary colleagues, I don’t want to single anyone out because there are so many of them here but I should particularly mention the Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis who did such magnificent work in opposing the current government’s attacks on free speech, family members of the founder of the IPA, CD Kemp, Gina Rinehart, who has given what I’m sure is the best speech that any one will give tonight, ladies and gentlemen.
At one level, tonight we celebrate the 70th birthday of the Institute of Public Affairs; but at a deeper level we celebrate things that are timeless – the freedom that our civilisation has nurtured and the faith that has nurtured our civilisation. In celebrating the IPA, we celebrate its calling which is to support and sustain the public culture which has shaped our country and influenced so well the wider world.
In the Garden of Eden that Adam and Eve could do almost as they pleased but freedom turned out to have its limits and its abuses, as this foundational story makes only too clear. Yet without freedom we can hardly be human; hardly be worthy of creation in the image of God. From the Garden of Eden, to the Exodus, Athenian democracy, the Roman Senate, Magna Carta, the glorious revolution and American independence, the story of our civilisation has been the story of freedom and our struggles to achieve it.
Freedom, ladies and gentlemen, is what we yearn for but it can only exist within a framework of law so that every person’s freedom is consistent with the same freedom for everyone else. This is what the poet Tennyson meant when he described England as “a land of just and old renown, a land of settled government where freedom broadens slowly down from precedent to precedent”. At least in the English speaking tradition, liberalism and conservatism, love of freedom and respect for due process, have been easy allies.
The IPA, I want to say, has been freedom’s discerning friend. It has supported capitalism, but capitalism with a conscience. Not for the IPA, a single-minded dogmatism or opposition to all restraint; rather a sophisticated appreciation that freedom requires a social context and that much is expected from those to whom so much has been given. You’ve understood that freedom is both an end and a means; a good in itself, as well as necessary for full human flourishing.
I particularly congratulate the IPA and its marvelous director, John Roskam, for your work in defence of Western civilisation. Contemporary Australia has well and truly – and rightly – left behind the old cult of forgetfulness about our indigenous heritage. Alas, there is a new version of the great Australian silence – this time about the Western canon, the literature, the poetry, the music, the history and above all the faith without which our culture and our civilisation are unimaginable.
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is the foundation of our justice. “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” is the foundation of our mercy. Faith has weakened but not, I’m pleased to say, this high mindedness which faith helped to spawn and which the IPA now helps to protect and to promote.
I want to say of the IPA that, unlike some other bodies dedicated to the promotion of an ideal, the IPA has never been too proud or too pure to campaign for its beliefs or to take sides in a good cause. Your campaign against the bill of rights caused a bad government to capitulate. You campaigned against the bill of rights because you understood that a democratic parliament, an incorruptible judiciary and a free press, rather than mere law itself, were the best guarantors of human rights.
You campaigned against the legislative prohibition against giving offence and I’m pleased to say that the author of those draft laws is now leaving the parliament. Well done IPA! And, of course, you campaigned against the public interest media advocate, an attack dog masquerading as a watchdog, designed to intimidate this government’s media critics and that legislation was humiliatingly withdrawn. John, whatever you did to persuade independent members of parliament, please, give it to me!
John, you’ve done very well with just 20 staff – but remember what Jesus of Nazareth did with just 12 and one of them turned out to be a rat!
John, there is one campaign where you will not prevail – namely your urgent advice to me in the IPA Review last August to be more like Gough Whitlam. You had a great deal of advice for me in that particular issue and I want to assure you that the Coalition will indeed repeal the carbon tax, abolish the Department of Climate Change, abolish the Clean Energy Fund. We will repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, at least in its current form. We will abolish new health and environmental bureaucracies. We will deliver $1 billion in red tape savings every year. We will develop northern Australia. We will repeal the mining tax. We will create a one stop shop for environmental approvals. We will privatise Medibank Private. We will trim the public service and we will stop throwing good money after bad on the NBN.
So, ladies and gentlemen, that is a big “yes” to many of the 75 specific policies you urged upon me in that particular issue of the magazine….but Gough Whitlam I will never be!
Now, as it happens, John Roskam is not the only member of this audience to have had some regard for Gough Whitlam. Based on his papers’ 1972, support for the Whitlam Government our guest of honour tonight was once described as a “recovering socialist”. I suspect we will discover later on just how completely he has been cured!
John Howard has said that Rupert Murdoch has been by far Australia’s most influential international businessman; but I would like to go a little further. Along with Sir John Monash, the Commander of the First AIF which saved Paris and helped to win the First World War, and Lord Florey a one-time provost of my old Oxford College, the co-inventor of penicillin that literally saved millions of lives, Rupert Murdoch is probably the Australian who has most shaped the world through the 45 million newspapers that News Corp sells each week and the one billion subscribers to News-linked programming.
Rupert Murdoch has sometimes changed his political allegiance but he’s never changed his fundamental principles. At least since the mid-70’s, those have been greater personal responsibility, smaller government, fewer regulations and support for open societies that don’t build walls against the world.
For our guest of honour, as for anyone deeply steeped in reporting, experience trumps theory and facts trump speculation. His publications have borne his ideals but never his fingerprints. They’ve been skeptical, stoical, curious, adventurous, opinionated yet broad minded. He’s influenced them, but he’s never dictated to them – as I happily discovered myself in 1989 while writing editorials in favour of the pilots who were trying to ground the airline that he then half owned. As a transgression, this turned out to be far less serious than spelling his late great mother, Dame Elisabeth’s name with a ‘z’ rather than with an ‘s’!
Rupert Murdoch is a corporate citizen of many countries, but above all else, he’s one of us. Most especially, tonight, he’s a long-serving director of the IPA, as was his distinguished and celebrated father, Sir Keith.
So, ladies and gentlemen, this is a special night. This is a night to renew our commitment, to renew our faith. In a hundred years’ time, all of us will be gone but, please God, not the ideals and the great causes for which we stand. May it be said of us that we have passed the torch of freedom to our successors; which we do by supporting an organisation that’s bigger than any of us and that can outlive all of us.