Coalition’s rising star Josh Frydenberg champions modern classical liberalism
JOSH Frydenberg, the energetic 42-year-old federal MP for the affluent inner-Melbourne electorate of Kooyong, is the first Liberal Jewish member of the House of Representatives.
On the face of it this seems remarkable, especially as eight Jewish convicts were transported to Botany Bay in 1788 on the so-called First Fleet.
The talented Frydenberg, who champions a modern version of classical liberalism, is heavily influenced by the humane and civil ideas of Zelman Cowen, – our second Jewish governor-general, – and especially by Australia’s longest serving prime minister, Robert Menzies, who held Kooyong from 1934 to 1966.
Apart from Menzies, previous members for Kooyong include former deputy prime minister and chief justice of the High Court John Latham and the flamboyant “colt from Kooyong”, Andrew Peacock, who served as foreign minister and opposition leader.
In his maiden speech in October 2010, Frydenberg made clear he was indebted to three famous political theorists: John Stuart Mill, Edmund Burke and Adam Smith. In their writings, Frydenberg found what he regarded as “the best elements of both liberal and conservative traditions”.
Mill’s argument that the state has the right to intervene in the affairs of the individual only to prevent harm to others is fundamental to Frydenberg’s political philosophy. Burke’s spirited defence of social traditions and the institutions of the state, and his opposition to utopian notions of change for change’s sake, are also central to his understanding of the limits to governmental action. Influenced by the insights of Scottish political economist Smith, Frydenberg is adamant the opportunity to prosper is best served by competitive markets.
However, his contemporary vision of liberalism is to achieve what Menzies termed “civilised capitalism”. This involves unleashing what Frydenberg describes as “the power of individual enterprise”, while providing “a safety net for those who, despite their best efforts, are unable to cope”. These commitments and motivations, to Frydenberg, are not negotiable.
From 1996 to 1998, Frydenberg, a champion tennis player who gained two “blues”, lived and studied at Bob Hawke’s alma mater, University College, Oxford. In contrast to Hawke’s labourist populism, Frydenberg’s political vision is driven by notions of individual liberty, individual responsibility and equality of opportunity, not an equality of outcomes, which he maintains has socialistic overtones and implications.
As well as Menzies, Frydenberg’s prime political heroes are Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Not surprisingly, Frydenberg also deeply admires John Monash, the Melbourne-born Jewish engineer who commanded Australian troops in World War I and after whom Monash University is named.
Since the election, Frydenberg has been extraordinarily busy. In particular, as parliamentary secretary to Tony Abbott, he now has primary responsibility for promoting and implementing the government’s crucial deregulation agenda.
Deregulation involves a Coalition commitment to cut $1 billion a year in red and green tape. What Frydenberg labels the “scandalous culture of piling on new regulations without assessing the consequences for productivity” must end.
He says the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor governments “really dropped the ball, being responsible for the introduction of more than 21,000 additional regulations”. As he argued in a speech to the Sydney Institute last month: “Questions must be asked first before new regulations are passed. What is their purpose? What is their cost? What is their impact on productivity? What is their impact on new entrants? And what is their effectiveness in managing risk?
“Only then, when it is absolutely necessary and with no sensible alternatives available, should we proceed to regulate.”
After making the point that it is business, not government, that creates real wealth and long-term employment, Frydenberg concluded: ” If we do not act now to tackle the avalanche of red and green tape, we will be unnecessarily raising the risk on Australia’s $400bn investment pipeline and, in the process, endangering tens of thousands of potential new jobs.”
Because deregulation is such a critically important area of micro-economic reform, Frydenberg has been consulting with his ministerial colleagues as well as several key stakeholders – including the Business Council of Australia, the Council of Small Business of Australia, Minerals Council of Australia, Australia Institute of Company Directors, Australian Food and Grocery Council, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group. Business seems to be responding extremely positively to the Coalition’s call for a “cultural change” in government’s approach to deregulation.
As befits someone who, at Oxford, gained an MPhil in international relations, Frydenberg is also acutely interested in defence and foreign affairs. In what will clearly be an Asian century, he is particularly keen to promote relations with China, India, and Indonesia.
Recently in Sydney he confided to me his great disappointment that fewer and fewer schools, colleges and universities are teaching Bahasa Indonesia, the national language spoken throughout the Indonesian archipelago – our closest important neighbour, which boasts a population of more than 248 million.
Frydenberg’s interests are wide, his intellect is keen, his ambitions unambiguous. So don’t be surprised if, before the next federal election, he is elevated to a senior ministry.
Indeed, it seems to me the member for Kooyong is a potential prime minister.
If, in time, he achieves our nation’s highest office, Frydenberg will be the first Jewish person to do so.
Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 36 books, including his memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’, available as an e-book and a talking book read by the author.
THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN, NOVEMBER 16-17, 2013, P 22.