He gave a speech in May of this year, titled "The Brother Countries". (You can find the speech here). In this speech he defended the importance of the traditional ties between Britain and Australia, saying that,
it's odd that ... the one cultural attachment no one can publicly acknowledge is the one that was taken for granted a generation ago. It's even more strange that the one country for which Australians are allowed no sense of affinity is the one which founded us.
Now, these sound like surprisingly conservative views for a liberal to hold. Here is Tony Abbott, an Anglo-Australian, defending a traditional "attachment" and "affinity" with Great Britain.
But this raises a question. If Tony Abbott thinks that it's worth defending the traditional affinity between Australia and Great Britain, then why is the government he belongs to, and helps to lead, pursuing such high rates of immigration?
In effect, the Liberal immigration policy is undercutting Australia's traditional Anglo identity. Why would Tony Abbott actively pursue such a course, and, at the same time, defend the attachments between Britain and Australia?
I've often thought the same thing about the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies. He famously declared himself British to his bootstraps, and yet also pursued a policy of mass immigration which changed Australia from its traditionally Anglo composition.
Tony Abbott gives an interesting explanation for this apparent contradiction in his speech. What he says is that for both himself and Sir Robert Menzies being British is not what most of us think it is: belonging to a distinct ethnic group. Instead, Britishness is merely a set of values.
Now this makes sense. If Menzies and Abbott really believe this, then it explains why they think mass immigration is compatible with their Anglo identity. After all, anyone can adopt a particular set of values, and therefore, someone from any country on earth can potentially be "Anglo" if they are willing to support a particular set of political values stemming from Britain.
Abbott does provide some evidence that Menzies saw things in this way. He quotes a 1950 lecture in which Menzies grouped America with the other English speaking nations on the basis that they were people "with the same ideas, with the same ideals, with the same high faith", rather than that they shared a common ethnicity.
Similarly, Abbott tells us later that,
For Menzies, the English-speaking solidarity was based on values not race. He told a 1941 gathering of Americans in London that he had "never had very much patience with people who wanted us to talk and think about Americans ... as if they were all of the Anglo-Saxon stock. We know that they are not ... What we should perceive is that there are much greater things that we have in common: a system of government, a way of life, and a scheme of spiritual values."
So both Abbott and Menzies are squarely in the liberal camp. Like most liberals, they have rejected the idea that national identities can be legitimately built on a common ethnicity. Instead, they believe that the Anglo tradition is merely one of a progress of certain political and cultural ideas and values (especially liberal political values) , so that the tradition itself does not even begin with the real, historical Anglo-Saxon people, but with other people in other places who first established these values.
Once again, all I can say is that conservatives need to be very clear on how different our thinking is to that of right liberals.