The Face of Libertarianism in Australia

Libertarianism: It’s more than just Ron Paul. Dr Paul has done a lot for the liberty movement in the US, but libertarianism in Australia isn’t about the wholesale import of the American libertarian movement. Historically, Australia has never had a prevalent liberty movement, or even a significant political force that has prioritised freedom and small government for its own sake. It’s just not in our blood.

Australia’s political history demonstrates that no single party has a monopoly on freedom or the lack thereof. The White Australia Policy was bipartisan and its dismantling in the late 1960s and 1970s was also a bipartisan project. The growth of the surveillance state and espionage services has also received bipartisan support, as did involvement in the war in Afghanistan. The modern Australian economy would be unrecognisable if it hadn’t been for the Hawke/Keating economic reforms, which also received bipartisan support.

The Australian Libertarian Society Friedman Conference, which took place on the weekend of the 6th and 7th of April, was principally organised by the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance and the Australian Libertarian Society and intended to do what hadn’t yet really been done: bring people from across the libertarian tradition (classical liberals, monarchists and anarcho-capitalists alike) in order to grow the size and influence of the movement.

Reflecting the lack of a single wellspring of freedom, speakers at the conference included Cassandra Wilkinson of the NSW Labor Party, NSW Liberal MLC Dr Peter Phelps, Liberal Democrat Clinton Mead of Campbelltown Council in NSW, researchers from the Institute of Public Affairs and the Centre for Independent Studies, Dr Charles Richardson of Crikey.com.au and the ANU’s very own philosophy lecturer Dr Jeremy Shearmur (who unwittingly put me on this path in 2010 by mentioning ‘Friedrich Hayek’ in PHIL1004.) Jeremy charmed us all with a voice to rival David Attenborough and a wonderfully feather-ruffling talk on exporting the elderly to the Philippines.

The old symbol of the libertarian movement, since adopted by the paleoconservative Tea Party movement, of the coiled snake and the slogan “Don’t Tread on Me”, is emblematic of the establishment libertarian approach in the US. But that’s not what is happening here: it’s full of young people, for one. The new face of the liberty movement in Australia isn’t about the privileged defending their own rights at the expense of everybody else’s, but rather a desire to secure rights and liberty for all – “don’t tread on anyone”. The conference featured mainstream talks about the nanny state as well as more radical talks such as free banking and homeschooling, but all echoed the same principle – that liberty is the foundation of a socially just society, and state excess does and always has hurt the least well-off disproportionately whilst cementing the power of the elites. This is true for everything from the excise on cigarettes and alcohol to the complex regulatory requirements imposed on businesses, which large corporations can deal with easily enough whilst smaller would-be competitors are unable to fund such compliance and are locked out of the market. Freer trade and tariff reduction means that the less well-off can buy cheaper goods imported from overseas markets, produced in an environment of comparative advantage, which reduces their cost of living.

The purpose of the liberty movement in Australia is to strengthen all individuals and society against the coercive power of government. It’s to reduce the role of government in all areas of people’s lives: more civil liberties, less taxation, and freer personal lifestyle choices.

I think Australia could do with a little more liberty.