I have to admit to a certain trepidation in writing up this party. My first encounter with the Liberal Democratic Party was three years ago, when I was reading up on all the small parties for the 2010 election, and I had to stop part way through my analysis of their policies because I was getting so angry and upset about their views on healthcare that Andrew started to worry about my blood pressure. Which is a little ironic, really.
So, thinking of calm blue oceans, let us enter the libertarian paradise that is the Liberal Democratic Party website.
The Liberal Democrats did not produce a group voting ticket for this election, which means that we don’t get to nosily peek at who they think their friends are (this is not actually me being sarcastic – you can tell who a political party thinks of as their friends from their voting ticket; you can tell who returns the sentiment from *their* voting ticket. We only have data on the latter for the LDP.) (And don’t worry, I’ll get to the sarcasm sooner or later. You’ll know when I do.). This is actually an unfortunate strategy on their part, because it means they will only get votes through preference flows from other parties, or from the small minority of people who both vote below the line and are inclined to put the LDP first.
If we look at where they might get preferences from, the Liberals have them at 26-27, but the odds are that the count will stop before it reaches them, because it passes Family First and the DLP well before that point. They might get a few at 9-10 from the Country Alliance and from Katter’s Australian Party, who both favour small parties in their top ten, and WikiLeaks and Drug Law Reform both put them in the teens. Since we haven’t really analysed any of these yet, it doesn’t tell us much (well, it tells me to be suspicious of the above political parties, but then, I’ve already said that I’m biased).
The LDP states its worldview with pleasing clarity on their philosophy page: essentially, they are about individual liberty, small government, and libertarianism. I’m going to state my worldview with pleasing clarity, too, which is that libertarianism sounds great until you consider that not everyone starts with the same advantages, and that my right to act in whatever way I see fit may well impose on the rights of others to live a reasonable life. Taken to its extreme, libertarianism is a very selfish philosophy. But then, I’m all about social glue and interdependence, so I imagine that libertarians wouldn’t have much time for me, either.
Looking around their website, I see that they have a lovely little quiz called ‘Is the LDP for You?‘ It’s rather cute, though I question how they have chosen to group some questions (to be fair, just about any quiz will have that effect on me). I wind up halfway between the Greens and the Democrats, which I take to be a ‘No’ to that particular question. Good call.
OK, let’s stop shilly-shallying around and have a look at some policies. In keeping with the libertarian worldview, these are a fascinating mix of socially liberal and oh-God-what-were-they-thinking. On the cheery, non-Catherine-blood-pressure-raising side, we have a number of items that genuinely do promote personal liberty, or at least are things that in my view really should be the choice of individuals and none of the government’s business. So they are in favour of free speech, free association and a free media. They are anti-death penalty, and feel that rehabilitation, restitution for victims, deterrance and incapacitation are legitimate principles for sentencing. And they actually want to maintain legal aid for low income defendants, one of the few concessions they make to the notion that perhaps some people need help from the government. They also want to protect whistleblowers. Good on them, I say!
The LDP are pro-marriage equality. They want to legalise euthanasia and abortion, as well as the use of cannabis (while keeping in place regulations against driving under the influence, and allowing employers and places of business or leisure to forbid this on the premises). I suspect they will not be on Family First’s Christmas Card list this year.
And look, here’s where they talk about marriage equality, and at the same time elucidate their general philosophy of life in an entirely sensible fashion. Since this may be the only time I actually find myself agreeing with them, I will quote them at some length:
…Having such a right inevitably means some people will make silly or unwise choices that others find amusing, perplexing or annoying. It also means that some people will make choices of which others strongly disapprove. That does not entitle them to seek to interfere in those choices.
The role of the government is to ensure choices are freely made and do not result in coercion of others, and that responsibility for the consequences of choices is not transferred to others (for example by claiming to be a victim or by later arguing that the choice was made involuntarily).
[Oh, hello rape culture! Didn’t see you there the first time… Never mind, we shall carry on…]
Most people will fight vigorously to protect their own right to choose. However, many will quickly acquiesce to arguments that governments ‘do something’ to prevent people from engaging in activities of which they disapprove.
This is not only hypocritical but also dangerous. What they generally fail to realise is that if others can be prevented from making choices, the same can happen to them. Once government interference in the lives of others is accepted as legitimate, there is little to stop others, whether malicious or well-intentioned, from co-opting the government to control, manipulate or manage the lives of any individual or group they choose.
Although such interference is frequently justified on the grounds that it is in the best interests of those affected, those who do the interfering invariably have the loudest voices, greatest numbers or most political leverage and those who endure the interference are in the opposite situation.
What I like about this statement is that it really does tell you a lot about how the LDP works, both the good and the bad. They really are entirely consistent in their pursuit of personal freedoms, and to a point this is an excellent thing. But there is just a little hint in their bit about the consequences of choices being transferred to others that has potential for problems… and of course, there are areas in which absolute personal liberty is, in my view, not necessarily a good thing.
Which brings us to the policies that I, personally, find scary and / or repugnant.
Let’s start with healthcare. The LDP will “wrest back from government and return to consumers control of individual health care choices. It proposes to rescue people from a situation in which they are dependent on decisions by government to one in which they are able to make decisions for themselves and to provide for themselves.” Doesn’t that sound lovely? Guess what it means! It means no foolish governments getting involved in providing things like hospitals and accessible health services, causing healthcare decisions to be unduly influenced by financial constraints.
Think about that one for a moment. It’s possible that you, too, have “succumbed to the false conception of health care as a “public good” that cannot be provided cheaply, and at high quality, by private operators”, so I’m going to unpack that a little for you. You see, if the government is providing the money for your healthcare, or subsidising your medication, that’s going to influence your health choices. You might start gratuitously popping lots of Codral for the epinephrine high (hey, who hasn’t ever done that?). You might self-indulgently insist on things like physiotherapy after a car accident, or chemotherapy for cancer. Because it’s fun! And hey, the government is picking up the tab, so why not?
I know. There really are people out there who are so shockingly wasteful that they would rely on the government to cover the cost of expensive life-saving surgeries, or preventative care, or affordable insulin for their diabetes. And this robs people of the opportunity to make responsible choices about their healthcare, since no private customer ever has financial constraints that might interfere with them seeking healthcare. Government involvement in healthcare prevents people from developing moral fibre! And it discourages generosity from our neighbours. It’s anti-community, that’s what it is!
Yes, I’m being sarcastic. That’s because I feel very strongly that affordable healthcare *is* a human right, and that some things do work better when paid for communally, for example, by the government. There’s this thing called economies of scale. There’s also this thing called personal dignity. Let me share with you what the LDP thinks of dignity in the context of healthcare:
Furthermore, while we would all like to assist the poor, we do not wish to encourage over-consumption of scarce health resources by providing blanket subsidies. The poor should be asked to first appeal to the generosity of their local communities. The activities of charitable individuals and organisations have historically been greater where the government’s overbearing presence has been reduced. The LDP believes government should intervene only on a case-by-case basis, where other avenues have been exhausted.
I have lovely friends. I have a very generous community around me. And I would still – selfishly – prefer to pay taxes and have my government support my healthcare than to beg for charity from friends, neighbours and churches, some of whom might have opinions on how their money should best be spent in that regard. The government isn’t the only entity capable of restricting exactly where their money goes.
(But that’s OK! I suppose I could always take advantage of their legalised euthanasia if things got really bad. Assuming I could afford it…)
OK, rant over for now. Lest this become ridiculously long, I’m going to address other issues a little more briefly (and I’m not going to analyse every single policy, I’m sorry – I’d be here all night!). The LDP likes guns, and thinks that everybody should be allowed to have them. My favourite bit here is where they say that “Impediments to children participating in safe shooting activities should be removed.” Oh, goody.
They don’t believe in providing foreign aid other than short term humanitarian relief, because, as you may be starting to grasp, it’s every man for himself. Though they do think that Taiwan and Tibet should have independence (they just don’t want to do anything about it). They are against a minimum wage, in favour of small government, and yes, they want to privatise education. And the ABC, and Australia Post, and basically all of Australia. They will privatise me, next. Or not. Come to think of it, I’m pretty much non-government owned already…
Yeah, you’d be getting a really long rant about that if I hadn’t already used up my allotted rant-space on healthcare. Have I mentioned yet that there really are some things that work better when they are done by a central government?
Oh, and water should be priced in accordance with its value, which sounds a little concerning. Their entire environmental policy makes illuminating reading, but I think my favourite part is the bit where we should ensure the survival of native wildlife by hunting and eating it. Of course! Preserve wildlife – pickle a wombat.
They do actually believe in global warming, but they think that nuclear power and the free market will fix it. OK, that may be a little unfair, but there are a lot of policies to read, and it’s either mock or scream, and I am taking responsibility for my choices by making the personal, free and considered choice not to scream right now.
Their policies on welfare are summarised here:
Under the LDP 30/30 tax policy, for every dollar an individual earns over $30,000 they pay 30 cents in income tax and for every dollar they earn under $30,000 they receive a low income subsidy of 30 cents.
Combining this with the minimum wage will apparently lead to job creation by allowing the labour market to operate freely. Again, they believe that private charities and maybe state governments should pick up any shortfall.
Finally, there are the grey area policies. For example, they feel that it’s nobody’s business if you want to smoke or have a people smoking in your pub, because people can choose to be there or not. To a point this is the case, though one could argue a public interest in decreasing the social acceptance of an activity that is known to lead to cancer. And – while the LDP makes it repeatedly clear that they are talking about informed and consenting adults, if you make smoking acceptable in more places, that does make it harder to keep children away from cigarette smoke. They have a similarly laissez-faire view on gambling – viewing it as a matter of personal choice, which is all very well as far as it goes, but again fails to take into consideration the consequences for family members – or, indeed, the idea that gambling can itself be considered an addictive behaviour.
The LDP also really likes motorbikes! They want to have better infrastructure for them, and better safety gear, though of course wearing it would be optional. The LDP is a big fan of letting people do whatever stupid and dangerous things they want, in case you hadn’t noticed. They don’t much care for bicycle helmets and seatbelts, either. To make this more fun, they also want to raise the speed limits on the roads, and increase the blood alcohol limit. To do them what justice I can, this is actually slightly better than their policies a few years ago, because they do now seem to have noticed that there might be other people on the road who deserve to be safe, too. Oh, and I like this bit:
The revenue from traffic fines should be quarantined and used for something highly unpopular such as paying the salaries of politicians. This would ensure the emphasis was on modifying driver behaviour rather than collecting revenue.
Is this a sense of humour I detect?
Basically, the LDP has a thing about what they term ‘victimless crimes’, such as the aforementioned seat belts and helmets, prostitution (so long as only consenting adults are involved), public nudity and fornication and unlicensed prizefights (they also include abortion and euthanasia on this list, which says some interesting things about how they regard these things). They don’t think that such crimes should be prosecuted.
(and then they turn around and make a whole bunch of exceptions including if the person is ‘suffering from mood swings’, which could be just about anyone at a given moment. I’m a little surprised, because otherwise, they’ve been pretty consistent. Unpleasant, but consistent.)
This is a lovely ideal, but once again, I think they take a rather narrow view of what constitutes a victim. Many of these crimes may not directly harm those who do not participate, but one could argue that they may cause harm to the community, if in no other way than by creating norms which are more likely to lead to harm than otherwise. Call me a victim of the nanny state, but I do think the government has a role to play in encouraging public health by discouraging really stupid and dangerous behaviours.
Altogether, there is a strong emphasis on personal responsibility here that I think fails to acknowledge all manner of things, from mental illness, to poverty, to the fact that we are still a pretty sexist and racist society and the playing field simply isn’t level. Which is perhaps the appropriate time to mention that the LDP are also against affirmative action, which they view as inequitable (as opposed to redressing an existing imbalance of power / privilege).
And this, my friends, is where I stop for now. There is more, but I think I’ve given you a reasonable flavour of how the LDP think, and of course you can visit their website for more information.
Let’s just say they aren’t my cup of tea and leave it at that.
No, actually, let’s just say that I believe they are wrong, wrong, wrong on so many levels, and I’m rather glad they didn’t manage to get a ticket sorted out for above the line voting. I can cope with a fair amount of mean-spiritedness from a political party (to do them justice, I don’t think that’s actually their intention), but a party that wants to take away public healthcare and encourage everyone to own gun? It’s too early to say who will get the coveted bottom place on my Senate Ballot paper, but I can tell you now that the LDP are very competitive candidates…