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).