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Kevin Andrews and the challenges for Australian conservatism after Hanson

By William Hill - posted Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Constructing a viable conservative governing coalition with a coherent plan of action for the problems of today is fundamentally complicated by the conflict of visions within the conservative camp at present.

In a discussion with Kevin Andrews, a key minister and policy architect in both the Howard and Abbott governments, Andrews gave his thoughts on the political consequences of economic change. Andrews made the following observation:

There are spheres of activity in society and different spheres have their role to play and that if one sphere usurps the role of another then society doesn't work as well as it should.


The point being that society, tradition and the market work well as independent but connected forces complimenting each other. The market, however, retains the potential to disrupt society and tradition as society and tradition can interfere with the ideal functioning of market forces. Andrews reasoning pertains serious consequences for Australian conservatism.

Voters are not static they respond to perceived opportunities and perceived threats. Housing is becoming more unaffordable, secure employment is scarcer and the cost of living has increased. Governments at every level are struggling to address these problems and quite likely nobody knows how to solve them. These conditions have produced a political effect.

On the right there political forces in ascendancy that contradict what Kevin Andrews and the Liberal governments of the present are advocating.

Pauline Hanson is considered far right and Andrews is considered an ultra-conservative but neither has much in common. While Andrews welcomed the changes that came from the economic revolution that began in the 1980s Hanson and her supporters do not. The One Nation program is nowhere near free-market. It supports trade protectionism, nationalisation of industries and utilities and greater degrees of welfare.

The newly elected Senator Malcolm Roberts of One Nation made the curious admission that in his view Curtain/Chiefly were the last great Australian government. And this remark should really not surprise us. There is an aspect of conservatism that takes the preservation of past practice to such an extreme that they eventually begin to disfavour the free market. Andrews expanded on One Nation's origins further:

Where did Hanson and One Nation arise? It arose in the aftermath of the changes of the 1980s, it arose in the aftermath of the recession of the late eighties-early nineteen-nineties and it was against that economic change or that economic background that one nation really rose and I think, at least as it was then, it was less conservative and more reactionary.


Andrews, an avowed social conservative accepts that the preservation of the family and marriage is made harder under the uncertainties of the free market. He does not, however, make the leap that you can ensure social conservatism by restricting economic liberalism.

This also points to longer-term issues in Australian politics because many of the sympathizers with One Nation were not typical conservatives and quite a lot of them were not of the Coalition. Hanson's election to parliament in 1996 was a shock in part because she won in a traditionally blue collar safe Labor seat. These voters were social democrats in nearly every way and when Labor departed from industrial protection to towards liberalization, Hanson of all people promised that she should ensure that the benefits of the state would remain in their hands.

But most importantly Hanson opposed the settled policy of mass immigration to Australia on which there has been a bi-partisan consensus for some time.

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This article was first published in The Spectator.

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About the Author

William Hill is a graduate from the Australian National University with a Bachelor of International Security Studies. He has a strong interest in political science and issues of foriegn policy.

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