With the Morrison government out of office and an openly Pentecostal prime minister no longer in the Lodge, Christians and other believers will wonder what’s next for the Liberal Party which has held the federal government for 51 of 77 years since World War II. .
To look to the future, we often need to look back and reacquaint ourselves with the values that made us who we are. This will be true for the Liberal Party as it reflects on its recent defeat at the polls.
Any political party relegated to opposition generally has to do two things. First, reconnect with its base of support, and second, return to the first principles that justified its existence.
For the Liberal Party, the immediate task of MPs will be to engage more closely with the constituents 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 media and powerful interest groups. Reconnecting with ordinary citizens is crucial to regaining public trust.
It is not enough for a political party as established as the Liberals to be swept away by all the winds of public opinion. They must be anchored in the values and ideals that inspired the birth of the party.
However, it is not enough for a political party as established as the Liberals to be swept away by all the winds of public opinion. They must be anchored in the values and ideals that inspired the birth of the party.
When Robert Menzies founded the Liberal Party of Australia, his 1954 “We Believe” platform explicitly affirmed the Judeo-Christian precepts of human dignity and freedom, racial and religious tolerance, harmony of classes, subsidiarity, family, private property, social and industrial justice. as fundamental both to the character of civil society and to the survival of freedom.
Speaking of the nature of democracy in 1942, Menzies asserted that “democracy is based on the Christian conception that there is in every human soul a spark of the divine; that, despite all their inequalities of mind and body, the souls of men are equal before God”.
Yet the Liberal Menzies Party founded in 1944 was to govern for all Australians in the overall 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 should never be in a secular society like Australia. That said, the party largely embodied Christian ideals, from its belief in good neighborliness, selfless individualism and thrift to its vision of civilized capitalism and a humanitarian foreign policy.
The party has always been at its best and most when its policies have channeled these ideals into practical ways. From Menzies’ humane reforms to elder care and endowment for families, to welcoming Indochinese refugees under Malcolm Fraser and John Howard’s support for charities and faith-based schools, these initiatives have made a better country. Liberal governments, of course, have been far from perfect. But they would be infinitely poorer without this spiritual source.
…this program should have nothing to do with imposing Christianity on the nation as a whole and everything to do with serving the common good and meeting universal human needs
Going forward, the best way for the Liberal Party to be at its best is not necessarily to change “right” or “left”, but to return to its fundamental principles. While contemporary Australian society may be far more secular and religiously diverse than in the 1940s, the Christian-inspired precepts of Australian liberalism still have much to offer all Australians, regardless of creed or faith.
By being true to their party foundations, Liberals have the potential to enrich Australian life with policy initiatives that unlock the incredible potential of every boy and girl, uplift our poor and help keep families together, welcome newcomers , give generously to our overseas neighbors and treat Australians not as warring tribes but as members of each other. All of 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 new opportunity to provide believers with the freedoms needed to thrive without the dead hand of censorship and nullification. of the culture. In 1961, Menzies told an audience of new citizens that “whatever religion they profess” they had come to a country where people were “free to pray as we want to pray, to talk as we want to talk and to come together as we want to come together.’ For Australians in 2022 and beyond, Liberals must guarantee those same freedoms.
Although it draws from the party’s Judeo-Christian roots, this program should have nothing to do with imposing Christianity on the whole nation and everything to do with serving the common good and meeting the needs universal human rights of freedom, dignity, family, community and who belong.
Finally, for Christians involved in the reconstruction of the Liberal Party, channeling the founding values of the party will not be an exercise in syncretism. It will not be that their faith is shaped by their politics, but rather that their political creed is informed by their faith. As Menzies himself noted in 1958, this does not mean that “to be a good Christian you must be a good liberal”, but rather, to be a good liberal “you will be better off if you are a good Christian”.
The call for Christians in the Liberal Party today – or any political party – will be to channel the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks into being “true to our faith while being a blessing to others, regardless of their faith “.
Likewise, if the Liberal Party of today can be true to its spiritual heritage, it will invariably benefit and enrich the lives of all Australians, regardless of their religious or other beliefs.
David Furse-Roberts is the author of God & Menzies: The Faith that Shaped a Prime Minister and His Nation