Meet the Small Parties: Liberal Democratic Party

Next cab off the rank is the Liberal Democratic Party, a party which I always rather dread reviewing, because they are so good at making me angry.  The LDP recently gained their first Senate seat through a combination of canny preference trading and a lucky ballot paper draw, which put them in Column A, where many people mistook them for the similarly-named Liberal Party (and yes, there are people who genuinely voted for them, but their primary vote went up by something like a factor of ten, and I don’t think this was due to a sudden philosophical epiphany on the part of this portion of the electorate), so lucky us, we now have a voice for ‘classical liberalism’, also known as libertarianism, in Parliament.

But what does this mean?  Well, as it happens, the LDP has created a  video, available on the front page of their website, that sets out very clearly what they stand for and why.  If you’ve ever wondered what libertarianism is about, it’s actually a very good introduction, I think.  I think they do a particularly good job of pointing out that libertarianism isn’t really about being on the right or left side of politics – it sits on a different axis.

The short version, for those who don’t have time for videos, is that the LDP views the government as having no right to interfere with the liberty of individuals, in their work, economic, or private life, and they really don’t like taxation, which they view as the government deciding how to spend your money for you.  They make the quite perceptive point that the Liberal Party tends to be in favour of economic freedom, but is inclined to intervene in one’s personal liberties, while the Labour Party tends to be in favour of personal freedom, while being more restrictive about economic matters.  And their philosophy is that both of these things are bad – perhaps even equally bad, since they talk about government interference on one’s ‘home, one’s body and one’s wallet’.

And this is where I part company from them, because I feel that these things are qualitatively quite different – and I’m also a believer in the social contract, the idea that people are responsible for each other, and not just themselves, that sometimes our right to personal freedoms are outweighed by the rights of others to live in peace and safety… and while I would not go so far as to say that the LDP disagree with this, they definitely draw the line a lot further away than I would.

But before I get my rant on, let’s have a quick ogle of the Group Voting Tickets, and see what the LDP thinks of the other political parties.

Unsurprisingly, the LDP is fond of parties like the Shooters and Fishers, Voluntary Euthanasia, and the Sex Party, all of whom are fairly big on individual liberty.  These parties are found in their top five in nearly every electorate.  They also like People Power, possibly because People Power seems to view smart meters as a civil liberties issue (I know.  I don’t get it either.), and they quite like the Country Party.  What’s more of a surprise is the high preference given to Family First, Rise Up Australia, and particularly the DLP, which is in the top five on all but one ticket.  We have already seen that Family First are economic rationalists, and Rise Up Australia is big on their constitutional right to be bigots, but DLP is a bit of a puzzler.  While I don’t like the DLP much more than I like the LDP, they are pretty big on getting the government to impose their values on others, which is a long way from the values the LDP espouses.  I suspect a purely tactical preference swap, here.

The Liberals are preferenced ahead of Labor in five of the eight regions, but both parties are plaecd near the bottom of the ticket, just above Palmer United, the Greens and the Animal Justice Party.  The Basics Rock and Roll Party get to join this happy band in Northern Metropolitan.  One gets the idea that they are making a point about Labor and Liberal being much the same.  I’m not precisely sure what Palmer United did to annoy them, however – but let’s face it, Palmer United have been doing a fine job of annoying many, many people recently.  I’m sure there’s something.
On to the policies, of which they have many.  Quite a few of them can be summed up with the statement “The LDP believes adults should be free from government interference when making choices where they do not inflict harm on other, non-consenting individuals.” Thus, they are in favour of legalising cannabis for both recreational and medical use, are ‘pro-choice’ about smoking (believing, for example, that the owner of a bar or restaurant should have the right to determine whether smoking is or is not allowed in his or her venue), are supportive of voluntary euthanasia, are pro-marriage equality and pro-choice, and are also pro-motorbike. They like school vouchers, because these provide choice (though they do want to phase out public education). They are neither for or against gambling, and don’t think the government should regulate it, because grown-ups should be responsible for themselves.  The notion of addiction seems to be alien to the LDP.

The LDP believes in freedom of religion but – surprise! – thinks that the government should stay out of it “including funding of programs based on religion and efforts to impose religious beliefs on others”.  Stop the presses, I think I’ve found an entire policy that I agree on!  Oh, no I don’t.  They still want religions to be able to discriminate, and I see that they start by acknowledging “the significant contribution of Christianity to liberal democratic values”.  Not my Christianity.  Or at least, not to this iteration of these values.  They are nicely logically consistent in opposing restrictions on religious garb, which is nice.

The LDP wants to decriminalise ‘victimless crimes’ such as riding a bike without a helmet, public nudity and fornication (never thought I’d see that word in a policy statement), or unlicensed prizefights.  I’m not entirely sure that these crimes are necessarily as victimless as the LDP may think.  They also want to loosen traffic laws, particularly speed limits:
Speed limits require a major rethink. Not only are they disregarded by a majority of drivers, but the justifications offered for speed limits bring the law into contempt. It is clearly false, for example to claim that “there is no such thing as safe speeding” or “speed kills” when the sport of motor racing has such a safe record.

First, we should repeal laws that lots of people don’t follow?  Really?

And secondly, motor racing has a safe record?  And even if it does, motor racing is generally performed in a setting when the only other people on the road are other motor racers, who one can presume know how to drive well and know what they are in for.  No pedestrians, no cyclists, no small children running into the road, no nervous drivers.

It is a matter of physical fact that the faster you are driving, the longer it will take you to come to a stop.  This is usually not too much of a problem in a race, but in the less-predictable world of traffic, it is definitely an issue.

Other than this, the LDP is surprisingly good on crime and policing, and propose rehabilitation, restitution, deterrence and incapacitation (removing perpetrators from society) as good principles for sentencing.  They are against the death penalty, and in favour of legal aid and compensation for victims of crime.

The LDP believes that the right to own firearms, including concealed carry for self-defense purposes is ‘fundamental to a free society’ – and believe that “Impediments to children participating in safe shooting activities should be removed.”

Because this has worked so well in the USA.

(And that, incidentally, was less than one minute of Googling.  Let’s not put guns into the hands of children, OK?)

(Also, I think the whole bit about freedom to make choices provided they do not inflict harm on other, non-consenting individuals becomes a bit problematic once you make gun laws a free-for-all.)

One of their key platforms is Freedom and Civil Liberties, and since I think a lot of their other policies depend on this, I will quote it at some length:

The Liberal Democrats believe that freedom is precious, that our freedom is not conferred by government, that government poses great risks to our freedom, and that the role of government is the defence of freedom.

Policy

The Liberal Democrats believe in:

  • Freedom of speech and expression.
  • A free media.
  • Freedom of association, assembly and movement.
  • Freedom over one’s own body, beliefs, privacy and property.

These are all excellent things.  However, they do tend to assume that everyone is starting from a level playing field.  A free media, for example, is something I am strongly in favour of.  But running a newspaper is quite an expensive business, and so we wind up with a situation where the news becomes controlled by a small number of very rich people.  It’s still a free media in theory – nobody is stopping someone else from starting a paper (or writing a blog), but in practice, few people have the money and time to do this.  It’s not a matter of not caring or of being lazy – it’s simply that someone who is born into wealth, and has access to a good education and good connections is going to have a massive head start over someone who starts off with less.  And sometimes, that head start is too great to overcome, and we lose a different and potentially important voice as a result.

Oh, and incidentally, the LDP is against affirmative action.

(Also, I want to start a drinking game for every time I see the words ‘personal responsibility’ or ‘nanny state’ on this website.)

Here’s the thing – whether they intend it or not, the LDP’s policies are going to result in making the playing field even less level. Now – before I start here, I want to note that they *have* improved somewhat since the last time I read their policies.  For example, while they want to abolish the minimum wage, minimum employment conditions, and restrictions on unfair dismissals – which is likely to further disadvantage the desperate – they do intend to maintain OH&S rules and sexual harassment rules.  But they still want to privatise higher education and remove government funding for research.  Now, I work with medical researchers, so I can’t claim to be unbiased here, but consider this: most of the big breakthroughs in medical research are based on basic medical research. So, for example, many of the new generation of cancer drugs are based on work which amounts to people looking at individual cells, taking out particular proteins, and seeing what happens.

I can assure you that finding funding for research that is going to Cure Cancer is a lot easier than finding funding for research that is going to tell us how this protein interacts with that protein and what it does next.  Certainly, most private funding bodies (which tend to be disease-centric groups, or philanthropic organisations) prefer research which they can see is going to lead to a real cure for a real person soon – but we need the basic research to base this on, and that’s where government funding is vital.

With regard to welfare, the LDP wants to ‘foster a culture of independence’:

People who are healthy and capable should as far as possible provide for their own material needs through personal effort, thrift and financial independence, backed up by insurance.

Where they are genuinely unable to provide for themselves they should be supported primarily through social institutions such as family, friends, their local community, community and religious groups, and private charities.

There is so much in this policy that depresses and enrages me.  They want to create tax free savings accounts (and superannuation) so that people can look after themselves and their dependents without government supports. Parents of newborn children would get a health voucher, and those with less than a nominated balance would have to take out health and income protection insurance.  This, of course, disregards the fact that if you are new to the workforce, or haven’t yet succeeded in entering it, you don’t have any money for insurance anyway.  It also ignores the fact that if your income is low, you are going to be significantly limited in what you can save, and there just might not be enough there when you do get sick or become unemployed.

Other gems of this policy include

  • Education and training payments will be limited to school-aged children.
  • Reduced child-related payments will terminate when the child turns 16.

(no year 12 for you if your parents are poor, and why should other people pay for your university or TAFE anyway)

  • Ensure patients are always liable for a co-payment in health transactions funded by insurance.

(and good luck if you have complicated health issues which require multiple medical tests or regular doctor’s visits)

They also want to abolish child-related payments (why should people without children have to pay, etc…), deregulate child-care and abolish large-scale public housing.  They want to raise the pension age.  But don’t worry, because:

For citizens who are unable to accumulate sufficient savings in their savings accounts, welfare will be paid into them. This includes health, unemployment payments, disability pensions and aged pensions. Recipients will be required to maintain health insurance, with government (taxpayer) funding of health expenses only in the most severe situations.

Have they not noticed that at some point in their lives, 90% of people are in the most severe situations?  Most people don’t die suddenly – and dying slowly is expensive.

Speaking of health, the LDP wants to abolish Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and introduce “a medical expenses subsidy for citizens that rises as medical expenses increase and falls as income and assets increase”, which they are currently saying would be more than $2000 each, with the subsidy for those with chronic illnesses being higher.  Big of them.

They want to privatise blood, organ and tissue coordination and supply agencies – I can’t imagine how this would work, to be honest – but they do allow government to dictate two things: vaccinations, and health service standards.

The LDP believes that defence is a legitimate use of taxpayer money, but not *too* much money.  We shouldn’t be fighting lots of overseas wars, and, interestingly, we shouldn’t use the military to enforce immigration laws or intervention in aboriginal townships, but we should encourage cadetship programs at schools, and we should maintain a nuclear reactor (!).  We apparently also shouldn’t aim to be self-reliant in defence, but should build alliances with other countries.  I find this a little logically inconsistent, to be honest.  What if all our allies feel the same way?

And speaking of being good global citizens, the LDP wants us to cease our foreign aid, except for short-term humanitarian relief.  I’m sure this will endear us to our allies.  They also support Free Trade.  Nobody is surprised.

The LDP’s policy on the environment is pretty awful, in fact.

There is nothing inherently superior about the “natural” environment, a term that simply refers to that part of the environment man has not extensively modified, nor anything inferior about the man-made environment. The elevation by some people of the natural environment to semi-religious status is no more than a reflection of their personal beliefs and values. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) aims for a more balanced perspective.

The high value placed on the natural environment and on minimising the impact of humans is largely a consequence of society’s prosperity. In less prosperous nations and times, particularly when survival was more uncertain, concerns such as the biodiversity of wetlands and the majesty of rainforests rarely received serious consideration.

And now we see why they don’t get on so well with the Greens.  While the LDP does acknowledge that the government’s record of environmental management is poor, they view this as proof that the government shouldn’t control natural resources.  So, basically, private owners should be allowed to grow what they like on their own land, logging and genetically modified crops are A-OK and – oh here we go, I remember this one from last time:

The best way to protect native species from extinction is to make them valuable…. The hunting of certain native animals is one of the few means by which they can be given a commercial value that ensures their survival. In some areas of Africa, commercial hunting of big game species has made them so commercially valuable that poaching is no longer a problem.

Yep.  Hunting animals is the best way to protect them from extinction.  I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

Obviously, the LDP wants to privatise energy, and they don’t really think the evidence of climate change is sufficient to warrant government action.  I put this down to 1 part climate change denial and 9 parts a belief that nothing really warrants government action, and even if it did, the government wouldn’t do as good a job as the Free Market anyway.  The Free Market is magic!  Also, they like nuclear energy, which they reckon is quite safe.  Oh, and how about this:

The nuclear industry also has the potential to create a secondary industry based on the storage of waste products. With vast expanses of uninhabited, geologically stable land, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory could become world leaders in the field of safe storage of nuclear waste.

I’m not even touching that one.

The LDP supports non-compulsory voting and citizen-introduced referenda, as well as competitive federalism.  They believe in small government, of course (it always cracks me up a bit when candidates run on a platform of reducing government size.  Are they volunteering to go first?), and also advocate “an immediate end to government ownership of business enterprises including the ABC, SBS, Australia Post, Medibank Private, electricity generation and public transport services”.

You know what bugs me about all of these policies?  The more I think about it, it’s not just about rabid individualism and opting out of the social contract – it’s also inefficient.  There is a reason we have built interdependent societies, that we pay taxes so that people will do the jobs of building roads, taking away the rubbish, fighting fires, running hospitals and schools or policing laws, and that’s that it is a lot easier and cheaper to do this sort of thing in groups than individually.  If everyone had to be out policing their own property at night, they wouldn’t have the energy to work by day.  If individuals had to arrange their own bus services, organise their own courier service or pay up-front and out of pocket for all medical expenses, the cost would be astronomical. Also, there are some global issues tasks which really do require a global response, not the action of a random group of individuals.

The whole history of civilisation is the history of humans realising this and banding together to perform these tasks in common.

The LDP seems to wish to unravel this, and turn it all over to be privatised, which I think is a mistake.  Who will run these services in areas where it is unprofitable to do so?  In particular, I am concerned about regional areas, where the population may not be high enough to support the resources that they nonetheless need.  This is why we have a Federal Government, frankly.  Because we do need people to live in rural areas – and unless we want to pay an enormously high price for our food, so that farming incomes can cover the cost of radically privatised healthcare or education, we are going to have a problem getting people to do this unless they are supported in some other way – for example, having everyone put in a certain amount of their income to a common fund from which infrastructure can be created.

In other words, taxes.

I’m not going to pretend I underestand the LDP’s economic policies, but I do raise my eyebrows at the statement that ‘banks should be free to fail’.  I think I have this idea that there needs to be a public good in mind when changing laws, and I don’t see how this is in any way a public good.  It sounds more like taking away yet another safety net.

And that’s about it for the LDP.  Frankly, their policies depress me utterly.  I want to make them go and stand in a corner and write out “There is a social contract, and I am part of it” one hundred times.

There really are things the government does better than private companies.

Taxation isn’t actually a form of theft, it’s a form of insurance.

And just because something doesn’t affect you, directly, now, doesn’t mean it won’t do so in future.

The LDP seems to forget this.

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