Fortunately, Republicans have a short time to recoup before heading into the next election. While they are getting their house in order, they would do well to keep an eye on the upcoming 2013 Australian elections. The center-right coalition, led by Mr. Tony Abott, is seeking to take back the majorities in Parliament and unseat the Labour government.
Mr. Abbott finds himself in a position surprisingly similar to that of Governor Romney’s in the past year. Australia has a substantial immigration problem, and a Labour government that has pursued an ambitious mining tax on the nation’s profitable mining industry. Mr. Abbott’s party is also situated in a similar position as the Republican Party. At the turn of the century, his party dominated, but has since been unable to reach the tipping point in any national election, and fell just shy of the seats needed in the past election.
In his new book, A Strong Australia, Tony Abbott lays out his vision for Australia. He starts by summing up his entire ideology as a “genial political creed, best characterized as pragmatism based on values.”
The consequences of that statement are more profound than they appear. Mr. Abbott’s book is filled with rhetoric with which any American conservative would be familiar. It is complete with shots both at European style taxation that punish successful entrepreneurs, and the unions that hold too much bargaining power.
But his vision is filled with much more. It is pragmatic certainly. It wants to create a surplus, lower tax rates, fix illegal immigration, and a host of other worthy goals. But he goes further than that, and takes the time to explain the values that guide his pragmatism and how it will help Australian families.
Abbot sets out to fight what he calls “the tyranny of low expectations.” To do this, he realizes he must start at the local level, with the family and community. He explains that more capable and contended individuals mean a stronger society, and plainly states that, “the ultimate purpose of good government is better people. Everything should be a means to this end.”
Abbott’s appreciation of community is what drives his goal to build government from the ground up, not the top down. He recognizes that “volunteer associations, the ‘little platoons’ of life as Burke described them, between the individual and the state, give people a sense of wider purpose and belonging. Government cannot create these organizations but it can certainly hinder them especially if it habitually assumes that the official knows best.”
Mr. Abbott doesn’t propose that government completely step back and to let the population live and let die. Instead, he admits that, “Government can build ladders, but it takes motivated people actually to climb them.” But perhaps most important, he recognizes that most of the ladders should be built and controlled by the local governments. He lays out a detailed plan of how to restore community control to public hospitals and schools. In a fine example of pragmatism based on values, Mr. Abbott points out that the bureaucracy governing these institutions will be made more efficient if the communities that make use of them have a seat at the table. Mr. Abbot knows that the independent local community, that will act for “love rather money,” is also the most efficient community.
I have always thought that American Conservatives have more in common with their Canadian and Australian cousins than they realize. American individualism is a wonderful thing, but it is meaningless without local communities to give the individual meaning. Mr. Abbott’s focus on contended and successful individuals through strong and independent communities would be welcome in the Republican Party. I suspect Australia will have a new Prime Minister in the coming year, and when they do, Republicans should look down under for some policy inspiration.