24 March 1977, Canberra, Australia
By leave I wish to announce to the House that I have resigned from the Liberal Party of Australia as from today. I believe I have conformed with the courtesies demanded of such a decision. I have informed you,
Sir, the Leader of my Party, the Right Honourable the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), the Victorian State President of the Liberal Party of Australia and the Chairman of the Hotham Electorate Committee of the Liberal Party. It naturally follows that I shall not be presenting myself as a candidate for the Liberal Party of Australia in the division of Hotham at the next House of Representatives election.
I shall continue to represent the division of Hotham in this House for the duration of this Parliament or until such earlier rime as circumstances may demand. Although I am proud of the high personal vote I receive from the electors of Hotham, I recognise that I am here by virtue of my former membership of the Liberal Party and therefore believe it is proper that I should generally give my vote in support of the Government in the business before the House and in the conduct of the business of the House. However, I will exercise the right- which is already held by all members of the Liberal Party- to vote against the Government on any issue which a member believes to be not in the best interests of the country or his constituents. I extend my gratitude to the many friends and members of the Liberal Party in Hotham who have loyally supported me over the years and given me the privilege of serving in this House.
I hope that my friends and colleagues in the Parliamentary Liberal Party will understand my reasons in taking this decision and that the personal friendships and relationships that I have made and enjoyed over the years will not be impaired by my action. I note in passing that notwithstanding the tag of ‘rebel’ that some people have chosen to put upon me, I have never exercised that right of voting against my Party in my 16 years in this place. In fact, I think it is fair to me to place on record that during the 15-month term of this Government, I have been publicly critical of its decisions on only 5 occasions. These were:
- The 25 per cent cut in overseas aid;
- The abolition of the Australian Assistance Plan which I, with the full authority of the joint Parties had previously commended in this House as being one of the most exciting and progressive social reforms ever undertaken;
- The proposed abolition of the funeral benefits for pensioners;
- The original breach of the promise to index pensions; and
- The decision to devalue the currency and, once that decision was taken, the refusal to lower tariffs so as to contain the inflationary effects of that move.
When these 5 public criticisms are put against the dozens of times I have publicly supported the Government, even on occasions when I did not agree with it, I believe the tag of ‘rebel’ is palpably unfair. There have in fact been a great number of issues with which I have strongly disagreed and on most which I have been invited by the media to criticise my Party. I have refrained from that criticism in the interests of Party unity and with a view to assisting the Government in overcoming the massive problems it faces, many of which were inherited from the results of the gross maladministration of the Labor Party’s terms in office. However, the number of significant Government actions which conflict with my own views are now so many that I feel that my continued membership of the Liberal Party, as it is now led, managed and structured, would be incompatible with my beliefs and would constitute an act of hypocrisy. Inevitably some people will impugn my action and ascribe to it the motive that I am taking this course because I am not in the Cabinet. To that I simply state without argument that under no circumstances could I, or would I, serve as a Minister under the present leadership.
Members of the House would know that one reaches a decision such as this- after giving 16 years of one’s life to it- not without a great deal of deep thought and troubled deliberation; but as one who at least in latter years has tried to pursue a course of true liberalism, I find I can no longer do that within the confines of the Party. In these circumstances I believe the only honourable thing to do is to resign.
For the record I simply state my areas of contention without debating them. I cannot agree with the Government’s current economic policy. Particularly, I am concerned with its failure to honour the promise to the private sector to give it stable and definite future guidelines to allow it to plan and invest for the future. I believe the private businessman, especially the small businessman who employs the bulk of the work force of this country, is more confused, more in the dark about the future, and less confident than he was 15 months ago. This seems to be strange behaviour for a Party that champions the cause of free enterprise.
I am very critical of the lack of consultation between the Government and the trade union movement. It would be cruel and unfair to ask the worker to be the sole bearer of the cost of reducing inflation; but wages are too high and taxes are too high to provide incentive for increased productivity by both workers and management. Interest rates are devastating, especially to the young, and yet no attempt at real, sensible and sensitive discussions between the Prime Minister and the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions has been made. In fact the Prime Minister has refused to enter such discussions. Instead, while the economy continues to slump, these 2 leaders seem to be continuing in a public slanging match while the economy continues to deteriorate and the responsible blue and white collar Australian workers and management suffer.
I confess to a very deep concern about the intrasigence of the Prime Minister in bringing in the Industrial Relations Bureau legislation at this time- a time of remarkable industrial peace and at a time when it is being vigorously opposed by both employees and employers alike. I have been grossly disappointed with the attitude of the Government on uranium mining. Notwithstanding the repeated requests by the Fox report for a full parliamentary debate we have had 2 hours only on it and it is now off the notice paper. I am grateful to the Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) for giving me an undertaking this morning that that matter will be restored to the notice paper.
The last straw on this issue was the action of the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) in launching a pro-uranium book simultaneously with a statement by the Ambassador of Japan advocating the mining of Australian uranium. The breach of our promises to continue the Australian Assistance Plan, wage indexation, the value of the currency, the Social Welfare Commission, increased research on solar energy, are matters which have disturbed me greatly.
Further, our incredible attitude towards Timor; the overt and capricious provocation of Russia, an almost pathetic reliance on the nonproliferation treaty which the Fox report described as giving only ‘an illusion of protection’; the absence of strong Cabinet action to overcome the bureaucratic bungling and red tape affecting human beings seeking refuge from Indo-China are some other matters which have left me deeply concerned.
On the other hand I draw no comfort from the current attitudes and policies of the Australian Labor Party. Although the state of the world economy contributed in some way to Australia’s economic problems during its 3 years of office, its mismanagement of the economy resulting in the unique situation of causing unemployment to increase simultaneously with inflation was near catastrophic. I would be a little encouraged if I believed that it has learned some lessons from its errors but that does not seem to be the case. It is still motivated by events of the past, still obsessed with its socialist ideas and a hatred of private enterprise, and dominated by the shadowy faces in the trade union movement. In opposition its performance has been little short of ludicrous in questioning and probing the Government on the real issues that affect the country.
I draw no comfort at all from the public opinion polls which indicate a Labor Government is possible- if not probable- in the near future. I find it almost unbelievable that the Leader of the Opposition (Mr E. G. Whitlam)- a man who led his Party to its most humiliating defeat in history just 1 5 months ago- now ranks about equally in popularity and respect with the Prime Minister. Does this mean that the people of Australia hold both men and both parties in relatively low esteem?
In conclusion may I say that I have become disenchanted with party politics as they are practised in this country and with the pressure groups which have an undue influence on the major political parties. The National Country Party properly represents the interests of a small sectional group- some of the rural community- but improperly in my view, and unduly, influences national policies quite out of proportion to the small group it represents.
The Labor Party is dominated by the vested interests of trade unions. The Liberal Party, although properly concerned with the vital role of private enterprise, seems too pre-occupied with the wants of what is euphemistically known as ‘big business’ to the sacrifice and detriment of medium and small-size businessmen who form the backbone of our industrial and commercial sectors.
The parties seem to polarise on almost every issue, sometimes seemingly just for the sake of it, and I wonder whether the ordinary voter is not becoming sick and tired of the vested interests which unduly influence the present political parties and yearn for the emergence of a third political force, representing middle of the road policies which would owe allegiance to no outside pressure group.
Perhaps it may be the right time to test that proposition. That move will have to come from those people in Australia who believe in the encouragement of free enterprise, who believe it has not had a ‘fair go’ from interfering Governments who regularly change, without warning, the conditions under which they operate. It must come from people who believe in true justice for the work force and compassion for those in need, but who believe that actions must be taken to prevent social problems from occurring rather than trying to cure them and hide them once they have arrived. But above all, it must come from those people who are disgusted with those politicians and political parties who indulge mainly in cheap political point scoring in the endless pursuit of votes at any price and from people who want their Parliament to identify the real and significant problems of the future and to take action now which will make the country a good, safe and sound place for future generations.