Sydney, Australia. Australia now has a libertarian political party—the Workers Party—and it has already advanced the libertarian cause in this country enormously. Unlike the USA, we had to start this party without the benefit of having an established libertarian movement. Our party has to create the movement.
I won't go into the details of why we called it the Workers Party. I think I must have heard just about every argument there is for and against it over the past few months—so I'll let you argue about its suitability if you so desire. I like it—and besides, it's too late to change now.
The principal people involved in the Party at this point are: John Singleton (he is managing director of a large and very successful advertising agency here in Sydney); Dr. Duncan Yuille (formerly the Secretary of the Australian GP's Society, now full-time Secretary of the WP); Dr. John Whiting (also formerly an executive of the GP's Society, now a practising GP); Mark Tier (a free market economist); and myself. I also now work full-time for the Party.
Over the years a number of free enterprise, antisocialist groups have come into being in this country. The most explicitly libertarian one of these was the Alliance for Individual Rights here in Sydney. It was this group who wrote the initial party platform—principal people involved: Mark Tier, Patrick Brookes (an architect), Ramon Barros (a solicitor) and myself.
John Singleton was the catalyst and driving force behind the formation of the Party. He gave us three weeks to write the platform. We were unprepared, because we had not thought at all about the possibility of setting up a party; however, after some frantic phone calls, Ed Crane of the US Libertarian Party kindly supplied us with, among other things, copies of the LP platform. Using that as a guide we then wrote our own platform—and had it done on time. It then took a further three or four months to clean it up and get it printed.
The platform follows the same basic form as that of the LP. It's divided into four sections: (1) Individual Rights and Civil Order; (2) Economic Affairs; (3) General Affairs; and (4) Foreign Affairs. It is written more from a limited government point of view, and if we had known of the latest amendments to the LP platform, which now accommodates both limited statists and anarchists, we would have attempted to follow suit. However, the platform is still easily recognizable as libertarian. Lest we be beseiged by requests for copies of our platform, let me say that we cannot afford to send them out free of charge. If you want one please send a couple of dollars to The Workers Party, P.O. Box 685, Darlinghurst, NSW, 2010 Australia.
One thing we did do was to put at the front a "Fundamental Principle." It is: "No man or group of men has the right to initiate the use of force, fraud or coercion against any other man or group of men." (Mistake one: "man" should have read "person.") We then tried to relate all sectors of the platform to the principle—in short, we tried to make it the common thread running through the platform. To further emphasise the point, we reprinted the principle on the bottom of every page.
The Party was finally launched on January 25th, 1975 and we made sure it was done with proper ceremony—in the Sydney Opera House.
We now have active groups of people in every capital city in Australia—Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Perth and even in Canberra—and groups in various other smaller towns. Total membership of the Party, counting fully-paid and partly paid, is around 600. And that is with an annual membership fee of $50!
Through the Party we have discovered many Ayn Rand fans throughout the country ("I thought I was the only one" comes up regularly) and many latent libertarians. In short, we have introduced libertarian ideas to Australia in a much bigger way than I, for one, would have dared to hope for a year ago.
The big question, of course, is: What have we learned? And I hardly know where to start. We have certainly learned a lot about people—about the differences between "doers" and "takers," between "fighters" and "arm-chair critics," between "optimists" and "pessimists." We have learned a lot about personalities, egos and their effect on an organisation.
But the biggest single thing to emerge from our experience is the importance of policies. It is one thing to know where you want to go. It's another to know how best to get there. We can talk about philosophy all day to a businessman, and he'll say "Well that's fine! Those are lovely academic ideas. But how will they help me survive tomorrow?" Now I am acutely aware of the importance of always keeping in mind our long term goals, and of ensuring that our policies are consistent with those goals and our principles. But I am also aware that as a political fact we have to offer these people something specific. Ideally, they should be able to look at our economic policies and say "That's feasible. It could be done now, and it would work. It would give my business immediate relief."
That doesn't mean offering them handouts. Businesses in Australia are extremely hard pressed at the moment. Bankruptcy stares many in the face. It is a bit unreal to expect these people to be impressed with talk about an ideal libertarian state. Even if they agree with it, it's beside the point. They are interested in their immediate survival, not something that might occur in 20 years time.
The question that I put to people is this: "If you were in government tomorrow, what are the first 10 things that you would do?" When it's put that way it becomes specific. And the answer can't be as general as "I'll cut taxation" or even "I'd cut taxation by 20 percent." Which taxes?
It has to be specific—"I'd eliminate sales tax," "I'd cut income tax by 10 percent across the board."
And more: the 10 steps have to be in order of priority (e.g. fixing the economy is more important than worrying about legislation regulating the manufacture of toilet seats) and in the order of implementation (e.g. before we cut tariffs, perhaps we should ensure that economic restrictions on industries affected are relaxed or removed—remove the restrictions before we kick out the crutches).
To be taken seriously as a political party we have to get down to this sort of detail. As I've mentioned, I am aware of the dangers inherent in this. Care has to be taken to ensure that we don't become so involved in the detail that we forget about what we stand for.
I also think a lot more work needs to be done by libertarians in this general field of tactics. What are the key issues to attack? Preferably, what are the key issues that will have far-reaching good consequences from our point of view and which have the potential of great public appeal? Or even—which will have far reaching consequences that no one else will realise?
In this area we in Australia are handicapped by an acute shortage of libertarian academics and people with years of economic and/or political experience. Therefore, I am hopeful that more work will be done in these areas in the USA.
Once these policies are developed, they form the main political thrust of the Party. They become the initial "in" to new people. It is then important that we have the material and resources to follow up on this—to consolidate. Once their initial interest is excited, it needs to be held and developed to turn them into fully committed libertarians.
As a general process, as I probably should have mentioned before, I believe in the gradualist approach—over all. I mean, if we were in government tomorrow, I don't think it would be possible to just immediately cease all government activity. It has to be gradually reduced—as quickly as possible but as slowly as necessary. The Australian Labor Party made the mistake of moving too quickly, and they'll pay dearly for it—luckily for us.
Certainly, we have to be strong enough to wield the knife—the Liberal Party over here, for example, would like to get back to a more "free enterprise" society (not completely free enterprise) but are not game to wield the knife at all for fear of losing votes. I certainly don't advocate that we degenerate to that! I understand that after the massive inflations in Germany, the German governments took some very drastic measures to fix their problems—and they worked. That's what we should do. But we should take care not to commit suicide by hastily cutting back on government in such a way that it throws the country into chaos and thus destroys us in the eyes of the majority of people.
I might be wrong, but I think that whether we like it or not, we have to take into account the amount of animosity our actions would generate, and judge our rate of progress accordingly.
I think the Workers Party has a great chance in this country. We only have a small population to convince (13 million), we have a rich country, and we are currently suffering from the very severe effects of a socialist government.
The next election will not be a good one for us. In their desire to get rid of Whitlam, the people will vote Liberal. But after a year or so of the Liberals, the situation will be no better—so where will the people turn then?
That will be our moment, and I only hope we can be fully prepared so as to exploit it. If there are any of you who read this who are fed up with the USA, this is the place to come to. I think Australia offers libertarianism its best chance of success in the near future. In the meantime we would be delighted to see anyone who has a holiday out here, or who can offer us any help in any way.
It is a constant source of encouragement to us to see how well the LP is progressing. We are very grateful for the help they have given us and wish them every success in the future. But I bet we get there first!