Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Address to the Bass Electorate Convention: Launceston, Tasmania: 15 October 1994

Download PDFDownload PDF


SENATOR ROBERT HILL Leader of the Opposition in the Senate









Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to be with you here today as you go about the task of considering the type of approach that we, as a Party, need to be taking to return Bass to the Liberal fold.

I have been asked to speak on the state of policy development within the Federal Parliamentary Party and how we would link the specific needs of Tasmania within the overall policy frame work.

I am happy to do both those things, however, it would probably be remiss of me not to say at least a few words about the important anniversary on which your Convention - by accident or design - has fallen.

I refer, of course, to the fact that it was this time 50 years ago that a Masonic Hall in Canberra was playing host to a group of representatives from 18 disparate-political organisations that broadly fell under the "non-Labor" banner.

Those people were in Canberra at the invitation of the then Leader of the Opposition, Robert Menzies, who had recognised that if those who believed in the ideals associated with liberalism were to succeed against Labor then a united and effective political movement had to emerge within Australian politics.

Despite some formidable odds, Menzies was to triumph in drawing together what were, at times, hostile groupings. A little over two months later a new political party that took the name Liberal was formally constituted at a conference in Albury.

Anniversaries such as our 50th are appropriately occasions for celebration.

It also provides us and, indeed, the wider community, with the opportunity to take stock of where we've come from and - perhaps most importantly - where we are heading.

As we have already seen, there are plenty of people that are happy to partake in such reflections - some positively and some critically.

I think that, 50 years on, we can look at our record and be proud.

We remain the most electorally successful political party in our nation's history and undoubtedly the ideals and policies that we have promoted, both in and out of government, have helped to shape contemporary Australia for the better.

He wrote, and I quote:

'We have learned that the right answer is to set the individual free, to aim at equality of opportunity, to protect the individual against oppression, to create a society in which rights and duties are recognised and made effective. In this free society, the tyrannical notion of an all-

powerful state is rejected. In its place we have put opportunity without any class privileges, social and economic justice and the civilised democratic conception that governments are not the masters of the

people, but their servants."

They are words that guided Menzies' actions and I believe, with considerable relevance, guide our own today.

Like our historical record in government, our 50th anniversary has provided the impetus for considerable public scrutiny of the structure of our Party

Such scrutiny is perhaps understandable as we look back over 11 years in opposition at the federal level.

Many see the structures of our Party as largely to blame - structures that it is fair to say have changed little since their conception at those conferences in Canberra and Albury 50 years ago.

There is a case for re-evaluating the effectiveness of the way that we operate and it is appropriate that we ask whether an organisation designed for the political landscape of the 1940's is serving us as well as it could.

I believe that there is a case for reform, and I will touch on that shortly, but I also believe that that case has been over-stated by many both inside and outside the Party.

It is, after all, the same organisational structure that is accused of keeping us out of government federally that sees the liberal Party in government in five of the six States.

Some commentators none-the-less look at the A.L.P. and suggest that replicating their structures can be our panacea.

However, we must remember that many of the differences between our Party organisations reflect the philosophical divide between the two parties in relation to the roles that Members of Parliament and political parties ought play within the political system.

Among A.L.P. members, all too frequently one encounters the view that their first loyalty lies with the Party itself. The interests of the nation, the views of their electors and their individual consciences are ranked below. Such an outlook results in a strict discipline which only serves to dampen individuality. It manifests itself in rules such

as the automatic expulsion of Members of Parliament who cross the floor.

Loyalty to a faction becomes a matter of political survival for so many within the A.L.P.

- cross your faction and the political consequences can be dire. The cronyism that type of approach produces within the A.L.P. is well documented.

It is true that groupings will inevitably emerge within a Party that represents a wide range of views within the political spectrum. But to go the next step strikes at the very values that our Party is meant to champion.

We can manage our differences sensibly without going down that rather extreme road. The approach that Alexander Downer is taking, for example, of promoting discussion between the different strands of our Party to find common ground is a mechanism that I think is worth pursuing further and is an example of one alternative to a more formalised system.

Our organisation is more soundly based than that of our opponents in many other areas. Examples that immediately come to mind include the far superior recognition that we give to our youth wing. The Young Liberal Movement is represented by eight delegates at our Federal Council while one lonely Young Labor delegate takes part

in Labor's National Conference.

I am also confident that our approach to addressing the serious deficiency in female representation within our Parliaments will, in the long run, prove more successful as Labor's quota system.

While I accept that neither Party has fared well in attracting women to their parliamentary ranks many of the historic achievements in female representation belong to our side of politics.

I think of Dame Enid Lyons, the first woman in the House of Representatives and the first woman to serve in a federal cabinet, of Dame Margaret Guiffoyle who was the first female Cabinet member to hold responsibility for a Government department, and of the fact that we pre-selected the first female senators from Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria.

We recognise the structural obstacles that are presently part of our political system and we remain committed to their elimination.

Our women's councils, with the full support of the Party, are developing and implementing strategies that genuinely increase opportunities for women to enter parliament.

It is interesting to note that our approach to this issue is supported by the overwhelming majority of both male and female Australians according to a Newspoll released in The Australian this week. It found that only 9 per cent of the overall

population supported quotas. Among women, the figure stood at just 11 per cent.


the desirability of disciplinary provisions over federal candidates or Members of Parliament who seriously undermine the Party's interests;

• the feasibility of a national Liberal magazine; and perhaps most importantly

• ways in which we can strengthen the career structure within the Party to ensure that we have a strong body of professional and well trained Party operatives.

I also think that this year is an opportune time to examine proposals to reform the internal workings of the parliamentary party room and the way we manage our affairs at the parliamentary level.

Like our organisational structure, the internal workings of the parliamentary party have changed little over 50 years.

During that time, however, the requirements placed on the parliamentary party and its leaders have altered dramatically.

It is difficult to believe that when Robert Menzies led the Opposition during World War ll he was assisted by just two staff members.

Today there is an enormous legislative and administrative load. There is also a large and demanding press corps facilitated by instantaneous communications.

Yet we still expect our leaders to carry the same burden as that of leaders in less complicated times - an expectation which I think is unreasonable.

I think that it is time that we seriously considered proposals that would re-allocate some of the administrative duties that have traditionally been carried out by our parliamentary leader. A fairer sharing of responsibilities would better enable the

parliamentary leader to concentrate on matters of higher priority. -

The case for examining the type of matters that I have just listed is strong if we are serious about viewing our 50th anniversary as more than a celebration of our achievements.

It is, of course, true that maintaining an effective organisational structure is only part of a winning formula.

Another is to ensure that we have a soundly based policy platform that will win the confidence of the majority of Australians.

In my capacity as Chair of the parliamentary party's Policy Review Committee this is, not surprisingly, an area in which I have a strong personal interest.

It is the responsibility of that Committee to oversee the development of policies at the federal level.

With the demise of Fightbackl it has become particularly desirable to set the

framework for the program we will put to the people at the next election.

Addressing that need was one of the main purposes of Alexander Downer's directional statement, "The Things that Matter".

That document, in some detail, outlines the goals and principles that will guide the Coalition in government. It is a precursor to our more specific policies and provides the framework within which they are being prepared.

It quite clearly outlines those priorities that we believe are of fundamental importance to our nation's future - providing jobs, supporting families, rebuilding communities and restoring national pride and independence.

They are priorities that also reflect the concerns of the overwhelming majority of Australians.

Third, the Parliamentary Party is conscious of the need to ensure that our policy platform, when released, does not divert attention from the Government's failings.

A mistake that we clearly made in Fightbackl was to provide the Government with an opportunity to run scare campaigns about many of its initiatives and to create confusion because of the level of detail that it contained.

Fourth, we are committed to releasing our policies at a time that suits our interests. That will effectively mean that most policies will be released much closer to the election than on the last occasion.

As we have already seen, the Prime Minister will attempt to "spook" us into releasing them earlier by claiming that we are without substantive policies. It is not a trap that we intend to fall into.

Fifth and finally, our policy platform is being produced within our strong commitment to tighten fiscal policy and reduce the budget deficit.

I am sure that many Australians would have hoped that Labor would have learnt from the lessons of its economic failures in the 1980's.

Tragically, Mr Keating hasn't and, because of the Government's fiscal irresponsibility, we are now seeing exactly the same type of conditions created that simply will perpetuate the boom-bust cycle.

We therefore are committed to releasing pressure on interest rates and providing sound fiscal policy.

That means that our expenditure commitments will necessarily be modest except in those priority areas that we identified in "The Things that Matter."

Unlike Labor, we recognise the enormous potential that Tasmania has and, by

responding to its unique needs in close co-operation with the Groom Government, I am confident that we can increase employment opportunities and improve the standards of living that Tasmanians are entitled to enjoy.

Like all of our policies, our Tasmanian package will be released closer to the next election.

can, however, say that it will build on the proposals contained in our 1990 Tasmanian Action Plan.

In that policy, for example, we committed ourselves to commissioning an update of Bede Callaghan's inquiry into Tasmanian Industry and Employment.

That is a proposal that we are considering again.

I know that a number of our Senator's are currently going through the process of identifying government agencies that could possibly be re-located to this State as part of our commitment to decentralise Commonwealth activities as much as is practicable.

Occasions such as today's Convention are an important part of the process of developing that package and I am sure that our Tasmanian Senators and Member will be keen to receive your ideas and input.

In conclusion, let me assure you that the Federal Parliamentary Party recognises the importance of your efforts both in Bass and throughout Tasmania.

We will not be successful at the next election unless we can regain seats such as this. We are committed to providing you with as much assistance as we can.

The visits of the Shadow Cabinet and the Federal Executive earlier this year and of our Regional Taskforce just a few weeks ago are indicative of that commitment.

With a co-operative and spirited campaign I am confident that we can look forward to success. As Robert Menzies once wrote.

"Our people are not fools. They may be temporarily side-tracked by false prophets and false issues, but in the long run they will come back to the truth."

Thank you.