Sunday, December 04, 2011

Arthur Sinodinos: star recruit?

Arthur Sinodinos is being touted as a star recruit to the Australian Liberal Party - the right-wing party here in Australia. He isn't new to the party, having being influential behind the scenes as an advisor to the former PM, John Howard. But now he is a senator and is working on policy for Liberal leader Tony Abbott.

So what does Senator Sinodinos believe in? What does it mean to be a leading member of the Liberal Party these days?

He explained himself perfectly well in his maiden speech to Parliament. The first thing he wants is mass immigration to create a "Big Australia":

I support a bigger and more sustainable Australia as a framework for growth and opportunity...To meet the challenges ahead we need a bigger, more sustainable Australia that will maximise our economic prospects and living standards, enhance our national security and allow us to project more influence in the world. For me, that means ...continuing high levels of immigration to supplement a shrinking workforce in an ageing society...

Is this really a conservative policy? It means not conserving Australia as it is, but radically changing Australia demographically via mass immigration. It is a policy view shared by none other than Kevin Rudd, the former Labor PM.

Note that Senator Sinodinos combines the terms "bigger and more sustainable" Australia. He's trying to incorporate some environmentalism here too, even though it's likely that a bigger population will make it more difficult to reach environmental targets.

Senator Sinodinos goes on (and on) talking about the need to restructure Australia to maximise economic performance. It makes him sound like your typical right-liberal Economic Man.

And then he finally leaves off talking about the economy to state:

Let me turn to my personal values and outlook.

That's interesting. It means that he views the market as being a public issue, but other values as being merely private or personal. The needs of the market are allowed to have a public authority that other values aren't. So what are his personal values? He begins:

Firstly let me say I am proud of my Greek heritage, which is the basis of Western civilisation.

If I were Greek and proud of my heritage I would want to contribute to its continuation. I wouldn't make it a merely personal value that is outranked by the higher authority of the market. Anyway, as we shall soon see, Senator Sinodinos is not exactly consistent in identifying with his Greek heritage. He goes on to say:

Growing up, the local Greek Orthodox church was our religious and social centre. In my teens I became quite interested in matters of faith and religion and still am. Two aspects of Christian teaching have particular resonance for me. The first is to treat others as you would have them treat you. Related to that is the observation by St Paul in a letter to the Galatians—I do not know what seat they were in—that 'There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' If we are all one, then there is no basis for discrimination on the grounds of colour, creed, gender or other human constructs.

So Liberal Party senators are now openly endorsing the idea that race and sex are merely social constructs that should be made not to matter. That again is a very radically liberal view. Note too the contradiction: Senator Sinodinos claimed that he was proud of his Greek heritage, but in the very next part of his speech he endorses the idea that "There is neither Jew nor Greek" as "we are all one" and that such distinctions are, in a negative sense, "human constructs".

I am not an authority on the Bible, but I very much doubt that St Paul meant that the races and the sexes had no real basis but were merely human constructs. It is more likely that he meant that despite such distinctions all could find salvation in Jesus Christ. After all, if St Paul really did mean that race and sex were human constructs, then the rest of the Bible would be false. Doesn't Genesis refer to God creating man and woman distinctly? Isn't it then heretical to claim that humans created man and woman?

Senator Sinodinos then defends the place of Christianity as follows:

I am proud of our nation's Judaeo-Christian heritage. Whatever the fallibilities of individuals within our churches, these institutions have made an immeasurable positive contribution to the moral climate of modern Australia as well as through the work of their great charitable bodies. Even the most ardent supporter of markets knows that no economic system exists in a vacuum; markets are shaped as much by ethical, religious and cultural values as they are by explicit rules. In other words, you are always responsible for your own behaviour, no matter what the rules are.

Again, if he is proud of the nation's Judaeo-Christian heritage, then why doesn't he seek to uphold it? If he were to go ahead with his Big Australia policy, then Australia would become less of a Christian country over time. Many parts of Australia would become primarily Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu.

And it's notable as well that he defends Christianity on the basis that it supplements market rules well. The perspective here seems to be upside down - it's as if religion and culture have to be justified in terms of the market, rather than the market in terms of religion and culture.

Senator Sinodinos goes on to speak about the usual themes of right-liberalism: a freer market, less government spending, entrepreneurship, and individual choice combined with personal responsibility. He isn't entirely consistent, though, in his "small state and free market" outlook, as he also wants the following:

...we should contemplate a new sovereign wealth fund modelled on those employed by Singapore and Korea. It could acquire stakes in individual companies to increase our exposure to the newly growing emerging markets and economies to reinforce our influence in the global economy and thereby strengthen our national security. Such a fund could also kick-start a genuine venture capital market—still stalled after all these years—so that more Australian inventions and innovations can be commercialised here rather than abroad.

Senator Sinodinos is a right-liberal. Today in Australia that means:
  • justifying mass immigration on economic grounds
  • supporting the idea of environmental sustainability
  • seeing the market as a legitimate public value
  • seeing other values as merely personal or private
  • rejecting the categories of race and sex as being human constructs
  • saying nice things about Judaeo-Christian heritage, but leaving the market as the larger public value
  • seeing freedom in terms of individual choice, qualified by the need for personal responsibility
  • holding to the idea of less government interference in the market, whilst suggesting forms of government intervention to aid competitiveness

That is where Senator Sinodinos sees Australia as being at. He is trying to draw together the current political culture in a way that is amenable to his own right-liberal viewpoint.

And he calls this viewpoint "conservative". For instance, when talking about his relationship with John Howard he says,

But I think in many ways we had a similar outlook - both relatively conservative.

And there's this interesting exchange with an ABC interviewer:

JULIA BAIRD: Just finally, you said the Howard government succeeded because he expressed the innate conservatism of the Australian people. Do you think this is the key to political success - understanding that Australians don't like change much?

ARTHUR SINODINOS: I wasn't saying Australians don't like change much.

JULIA BAIRD: So what do you mean by conservatism in this regard?

ARTHUR SINODINOS: I think what I mean by it is that Australians like that their society evolves rather than tries to jump forward in big steps. We're not ones for cultural revolution - certainly not in the Chinese sense.

But they are comfortable with what we are today because it happens over time. Australians are very much, I think, relaxed with who they are in terms of their identity, achievements as a country.

And that's, you know, we all recognise our blemishes and all the rest of it. But the point is, they are comfortable with the idea that we evolve rather than try and do things in revolutionary strides.

JULIA BAIRD: Bit by bit.

ARTHUR SINODINOS: Yeah. And that's what makes it stick, Julia.

So to someone in the Liberal Party conservatism means:

a) Not taking a negative stance toward your own country or religion (even as you dissolve them), in contrast to those leftists who see their country or religion in more hostile terms as immoral


b) Making liberalism "stick" by not changing things all at once, in a revolutionary way, but bit by bit over time.

So Liberal Party conservatism doesn't have a sense of conserving things, but rather it means something like "gradualist liberalism".

The lesson? The mainstream political culture in Australia, as elsewhere in the West, is not to be relied upon. We are not going to get much joy from the likes of Senator Sinodinos, not because he is corrupt or self-serving, but because he is a man whose mindset has been formed by the existing political culture.

It is pointless to wait for men like him to put things right. We can no longer afford an attitude of passive dependence.

We need to encourage an ideal of masculinity which involves not only service to one's family (which most men do well) but also service to one's own community or tradition (which was once a core masculine concern but has fallen away).


  1. Excellent article. I'd encourage you to save it on the side so all Liberal party people can read it.

  2. Why people vote conservative - at least why I do - is that they want the government to lag behind trends in the society. We want the people to lead, not the government.

    Politicians who try to push the people in a particular direction are not conservative. They're social engineers more in tune with their colleagues on the left. We want 'fuddy duddy' politicians who fight against new trends, rather politicians that want to be 'cool'; a pathetic aspiration for a grown man.

    As for politicians pushing Australia to be bigger, I suspect what they mean is that they want to be at the big boys table at international conferences.

    F*ck that. Australia will do quite well to keep isolated from the crap that's coming down the pike in the next 20 years.

  3. Jesse, thanks.

    As for politicians pushing Australia to be bigger, I suspect what they mean is that they want to be at the big boys table at international conferences.

    Yes, that's part of it. I call it "diplomats' disease". Kevin Rudd has a particularly bad case of it. They get frustrated at representing a medium power.

  4. As much as I appreciate the Greek contribution to Western civilisation, and as harsh as this may sound, I really think Australia made a mistake promoting Greek immigration back in the 1950s and 60s.

    In contrast to the other post-war European immigrant groups, the Greeks never really assimilated well into the Anglo-Australian mainstream. Instead, they seem to have developed a massive chip on the shoulders, loathing anything that smacks of old Anglo-Australia.

    Maybe they were called "wogs" by horrible Anglo kids in school. Maybe they just cannot identify with Australia's dominant British-derived culture.

    Whatever the case, many Greek-Australians have been promoting multiculturalism for decades now seemingly in spite of Anglo-Australians. In their promotion of multiculturalism, many seem less concerned with advocating the interests of the Greek-Australian community and more concerned with undermining Anglo-Australians and their central place in national life.

    It really is self-defeating behaviour given that all Australians of European ancestry, not just Anglos, are being adversely affected by multiculturalism. After all, it was the introduction of the multicultural ideology that paved the way for mass non-European immigration into Australia - the biggest threat, demographically and culturally, to Australia's future as a Western country.

  5. "Kevin Rudd has a particularly bad case of it."

    He also has a particularly bad case of narcissism.

  6. Is there no small-c conservative party in Australia? Is there a conservative wing in the Liberal party?

    In Britain the dominant strand by far in the Conservative party is Whig-Liberalism, but there is a conservative 'Tory' element.

  7. Senator Sinodinos combines the terms "bigger and more sustainable" Australia.

    By definition bigger and sustainable are inconsistent, but the Left never troubles itself with mere consistency.

  8. Why people vote conservative - at least why I do - is that they want the government to lag behind trends in the society. We want the people to lead, not the government.

    Your stance is not conservative, your stance is right-liberal. "Lag behind trends in society" is a recipe for getting to Leftism more slowly, not for defeating Leftism and remaining traditional. Yes, I understand this is the best you can usually vote for these days.

    Also, this view leaves aside the fact that for decades now government has been driving and creating the changes in society. Leftist governments have not been getting ahead of inevitable trends that would have happened anyway; Leftist governments have been producing and accelerating these trends.

    The next problem for traditionalists is that, paradoxically, if we want a traditionalist society we will need a highly activist government. The Left has energetically liberalized society through activist government, and there is no way a passive, non-interventionist conservative government can roll back the liberalization of society and restore traditionalism. The Right needs a government that will actively combat the Leftist trends in society and lead society back to traditionalism rather than simply passively resisting Leftism.

  9. I'm sorry, JP, but 'wanting the government to lag behind trends in society' is virtually the definition of conservative. It's why the Kremlin in the waning days of Soviet power was rightly called conservative.

    Of course we add actual policy content taken from classical liberalism etc and still refer to ourselves as conservative, but Hayek explained why that isn't really correct (see above).

    As for being a recipe for declining more slowly, I would say it is equally a recipe for improving more steadily. Unless you really think we need a 'strong government to lead us to a glorious future'.

  10. Brett,

    Though "lagging behind trends" might be one definition of conservative, I agree with JP that it's not a winning one.

    For one thing, it means that the intellectual class in society will mostly gravitate to being liberals. It's not within the temperament of most intellectuals to want to be lagging behind trends.

    Second, when the intellectual class is overwhelmingly liberal, it means accepting a slow drift toward ever more radical forms of liberalism, with no way in principle to ever pull things back in the other direction.

    An effective conservatism has to be a principled one. That doesn't mean holding on to an ideology, but rather supporting some of the traditional institutions of society that liberalism seeks, for ideological reasons, to dissolve.

    A principled conservatism would, amongst other things, hold to the principles that:

    Men and women are distinct in their natures in ways that will influence social roles, including family roles.

    The traditional family is a bedrock of civilisation. The paternal role must be defended as a necessary, rather than as an optional, one.

    Humans are social creatures who care about membership in longstanding ethnic traditions, which provide a deep form of identity connected to a shared kinship, history, culture, religion and language.

    And so on. A principled conservative movement would then support policy which was generally in line with such principles.

  11. I don't know but for some reason, reading Arthur's "conservative" approach reminds me of a boiling frog. I just can't imagine why??

  12. Brett_McS wrote,

    "It's why the Kremlin in the waning days of Soviet power was rightly called conservative."

    By "conservatism", I think you mean any opposition group that was once in power and is now in the process of losing it. Thus you consider US Republicans, Australian Liberals and Russians Soviets all to be "conservative". But why stop there? Wouldn't the Nazis circa 1945, the Chinese Maoists since ~1976, and the French royalists in 1789 also fit your definition of "conservative"?

    How useful is a political categorization scheme that can't tell the difference between, say, the Nazis and the Bourbons?

    Also, I think your definition of "conservative" differs very little from Mr. Sinodino's. How, then, do you explain the difference between your view and Mr. Sinodino's view on, say, mass immigration, a.k.a. Big Australia, if you and he are both "conservative"?

  13. "Arthur Sinodinos".
    "Sinodinos", Theres your problem...

  14. ARTHUR SINODINOS: I think what I mean by it is that Australians like that their society evolves rather than tries to jump forward in big steps. We're not ones for cultural revolution - certainly not in the Chinese sense.

    I think the Fabians would welcome Arthur as a member.

  15. "Citizen Sane said..."
    He is absolutely correct.
    Now that the Greece is failing and is overrun with leftists/communists i've noticed a lot of Greek media is labeling everything Anglo worldwide (including everything german and everything nordic ) as far-right-wing-extremist-nazism that need to be eliminated.
    They are blaming specifically all Northern Europeans for their problems.

  16. The Liberal Party is profoundly depressing. They're essentially a centre-left party. I regard them as being more of a menace than the Labor Party because at least Labor is open about its policies to destroy Australia. Unfortunately many well-meaning people still support the Liberal Party because they still think it's a conservative party.

  17. I recently read Peter Hichens' excellent book The Broken Compass in which he talks at great length about the betrayal of conservative values by the British Conservative Party. Exactly the same thing has happened in Australia. The major parties represent a self-perpetuating political class hopelessly out of touch with the hopes and beliefs of ordinary people.

  18. Nick Minchin is a Liberal paleoconservative.

    Also see Greg Sheridan's (who seems to be becoming increasingly paleo himself) take down of Malcolm Turnbull:

    For further criticism of modern Liberal thinking.

  19. Sorry, I'm using the literal meaning of conservative: Resistant to change.

    In talking about us I would say "Conservative" with a capital 'C' to distinguish.

    So, I'm a Conservative, which I take to mean a conservative classical liberal. But it also means I am, unlike Hayek, also resistant to change as a matter of principle (in either direction 'good' or 'bad').

    I'm an engineer, and I can tell you that any dynamical system which does not have a certain amount of built in resistance (damping) is doomed to go off the rails. Conservatism fills the role of damping.

  20. I'm sorry, JP, but 'wanting the government to lag behind trends in society' is virtually the definition of conservative.

    I'm sorry, Brett, but 'wanting the government to lag behind trends in society' is the Leftist definition of conservatism, and it is unfortunate that many self-defined conservatives (like you) accept this definition.

    "Lagging behind the trends in society" is not conservatism, it is merely a means for achieving Leftist goals more slowly. If you accept the goal of "lagging behind the trends in society", then you have already conceded that the "trends" are inevitable and outside the control of the political process, neither of which is true. Accepting this definition means there is nothing you want to conserve; you are willing to accept "change" so long as it happens at an acceptably slow pace.

    It's why the Kremlin in the waning days of Soviet power was rightly called conservative.

    Only Leftists called them this! Nobody on the Right called the Kremlin hard-liners "conservatives". You must be young, but I remember very well the attempted coup against Gorbachev in 1991, and it was the Leftist western media that called the Communists "the conservatives". Obviously, this was because to the Leftist media, "the conservatives" are always the bad guys.

    As for being a recipe for declining more slowly, I would say it is equally a recipe for improving more steadily. Unless you really think we need a 'strong government to lead us to a glorious future'.

    How on Earth is "lagging behind the trends in society" a recipe for improvement??? The "trends in society" are universally bad not least because they are created and encouraged by the Left, which is trying to destroy everything that conservatives believe in! The Left seeks our destruction, and all you seem to want to do is die more slowly.

    The "trends in society" must be reversed, not accepted, if we are to survive as a civilization and a people.

  21. A mate at work is of Greek origin and he hates the snooty attitude Greek families have. Funnily enough he's a whiter shade of pale because his origins are one of the smaller Greek islands that the Turks never got to and he takes advantage of that to slag off 'the wogs'. When anyone objects he avers 'It's all right, I'm a wog, too'.

  22. JP, see my later posts. I think we are talking at cross purposes. I'm using 'conservative' in the dictionary sense, not talking about a proper Conservative political platform, which must contain an element of conservatism, but of course much more than just that.

  23. "Brett_McS said..."

    I knew of a greek with very fair freckled skin and gingery hair he looked more irish than greek. He associated more with the (anglo-celtic) Australians at work than he did with the dark haired "wog" greeks who they themselves seemed to only want to associate with each other and middleasterners.
    It's interesting but not often talked about.