Wisdom and Vision for Thinking VotersBook Review by John Morrissey
One People, One Destiny: A Work in Progress, by Kevin Andrews (Melbourne: Threshold Publishing 2017). Hardcover: 373 pages. ISBN: 978-0646975627
One People, One Destiny: A Work in Progress is a collection of non-parliamentary speeches delivered over two decades by the long-standing Victorian federal Liberal parliamentarian and former Cabinet minister, the Hon. Kevin Andrews.
He has held a number of senior ministries in the Howard and Abbott governments, and was regarded by many key defence personnel as the most effective defence minister they had known for decades when he filled that portfolio for a brief period before being banished to the backbench in 2015 on the accession of Malcolm Turnbull. It is significant that the forward to this book has been written by John Howard himself.
What is most impressive in this collection is the wide range of topics Mr Andrews has addressed and the depth of understanding and research which his speeches display. The chapters cover philosophical issues such as values and the importance of Western civilisation; pragmatic matters such as defence, employment and welfare; and problems such as immigration, demographic trends and threats to civil society.
For example, in a 2008 speech delivered to the Sydney Institute, Mr Andrews outlined the aspirations of the great makority of Australians and identified them with the pronciples of the Liberal Party. Most Australians, he said, want to be able determine their own future, to have a suitable job, to live in a secure and peaceful modest comfort, to raise a family and give their children a good education, to have access to adequate health care, to be a part of a culture which supports their beliefs, to sustain both a prosperous economy and the environment, and to enjoy an old age with access to appropriate care. He implied that some of these were at risk under the then Kevin Rudd Labor government, as it indeed came to pass.
Defence of Australia
Mr Andrews delivered other important speeches concerning defence and security, not only during his all-too-brief tenure as defrence minister, but also in the months following his removal. They cover Australia's military history and the challenges facing the nation in the Indo-Pacific region. He emphasises the need for maritime security and the necessity of enhancing naval cooperation, especially with the great democracy of India.
In a 2016 address to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, he refers to Chinese President Xi Jinping's book, The Governance of China, and its professions of peaceful co-existence, nonaggression and respect for each other's territory. Mr Andrews warns, however, that these principles must be read in the context of that nation's understanding of sovereignty. China regards most of the East and South China Seas as falling within its jurisdiction. China-U.S. tensions may not necessarily lead to war. However, we should be mindful that China's coercive economic and military capacity is likely to diminish its neighbours' ability to make decisions in their own national interest.
Kevin Andrews has long taken a special interest in social policy and Australia's demography, reflected in his 2012 book on marriage, Maybe 'I Do': Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness, and his many speeches and published articles on the importance of marriage and the family.
In a 2001 speech, "Demography is destiny", delivered at the Sydney Institute, he expresses his concern about our falling birth rate and ageing society, which signal an impending population implosion. He surveys government policies around the world which address low birth-rates, from family-friendly taxation and benefits to policies in Scandinavia which balancing family and work. He returns to these themes in later speeches and, in one delivered in 2010, includes his thoughts on housing affordability.
Given his important insights in these areas, it is perhaps unfortunate that his failure to "sell" WorkChoices led to his departure in 2007 from the Industrial Relations portfolio under John Howard, and the need in 2015 to leave Social Services to bolster the Defence portfolio under Tony Abbott.
Insights on an ageing population receive similar in-depth attention, but it is his explanation of the widespread misperception of global over-population which deserves inclusion in this review. He quotes Harvard's Professor Nicholas Eberstadt, who says: "The modern population explosion was sparked not because people suddenly started breeding like rabbits, but rather because they finally stopped dying like flies"
Andrews also served as Immigration Minister in 2007, and the migrant intake aspect of our demography is addressed in his speech on citizenship and common values. In it he defends the Australian government's stand against people-smuggling and outlines the principles and foundation of our national success: the rule of law, religious freedom, democracy and equality among men and women. He is insistent that all comers should share our values, integrate into our society, learn English and respect our security.
In 2016 Andrews addressed the subject of illicit drugs, the futility of permissive "harm minimisation" policies, and the effects of addiction on families, in a speech he delivered for the Drug Advisory Council of Australia (DACA).
In it he defends the Howard government's relatively tough approach. He singles out for particular praise Sweden's aboutface on drugs policy from 1980 onwards. This dramatically reduced methadone use in the country to a fraction of what had been previously. Furthermore, the proportion of Sweden's population today suffering and often dying from Hepatitis C is far smaller than that of Australia. Mr Andrews quotes John Howard who, in 2007, defended the Coalition's tough line against drugs, saying: "I say to those cynics who over the years have said that it was all a waste of time and that the answer was to legalise it all and the problem would go away, that they could not have been more mistaken.
"Perhaps Mr Andrews' most important insights are on civil society, the foundation of which for him is marriage. His thesis, as expounded in his book Maybe 'I Do' and in a 2012 speech he delivered to the Marriage Foundation in London, is that there are two competing views on this institution. The first is that marriage is a protection for children especially and also for adults and society generally. The alternative view is that marriage is an affectionate relationship between individuals.
As Mr Andrews sees it, most marriages contain aspects of both, but one or the other must be the primary consideration. A speech given in 2010 covers the increase in sole-parent families, the Child Support Scheme, causes of poverty, and the Howard government's intervention in the Northern Territory to protect indigenous children from abuse.
He regards as essential the principle of subsidiarity – that is to say, the government should do nothing that can be done by the community, and the community nothing that can be done by the family. Civil society, he maintains, is made up of "families, neighbourhood life, and the web of religious, economic, educational and civic associations", and its task is "to foster competence and character in individuals, build social trust, and help children become good people and good citizens". With regard to the voluntary sector, he warns that it should not be shackled by red tape, but equally that it must not become a mouthpiece for government.
Many other speeches are included in this collection, and the dates when they were delivered, reflecting Kevin Andrews' respective ministerial portfolios. They focus on welfare, industrial relations and global competitiveness, each one proposing objectives and necessary reforms. It is particularly interesting that his prescription for what emerged as WorkChoices in 2006-07 is so rational, reasonable and fair that the Opposition's demolition of both it and the Howard government can be recognised as a shameless and untruthful scare campaign, engaged in only for the benefit of union leaders and Labor's bid for power in Canberra.
This remarkable volume concludes with a current reflection on the task ahead of us. Kevin Andrews sees a paralysis of national policy, owing to conflicting voices on population and economic policy, and the absence of a "sense of mission", in the words of Paul Kelly. He reiterates his earlier concerns about demographic issues such as an ageing population, and addresses security, productivity and new challenges such as automation, with the need for education and training to adjust.
His final insistence is on the feasibility of energy sustainability for Australia thanks to our plentiful and cheap energy resources in the form of coal and gas. He warns that renewables will not replace traditional fuels. It is absurd, in his view, to condemn the nation to economic disadvantage and future generations to costly and unreliable power, along with a lower standard of living.
One People, One Destiny is a beautifully presented book, complete with index and bibliography, in which are recorded the experience and reflections of a man of real integrity, who has given immense service to his country and continues to be a rock of Christian conservatism in a parliament where – even on his own side of politics – the moorings tend to be quite shallow.
John Morrissey is a retired secondary school teacher who has taught in government, independent and Catholic schools. He lives in the Melbourne suburb of Hawthorn with his dog "Wreck".