My Confessions of Conservatism

It is a source of some frustration to me that as I get older I have become more conservative. I made a reasonably successful career based on pushing the envelope, doing new things and doing things differently. I was an inveterate challenger of the status quo. In my somewhat distorted imagination I am inclined to see a raging lion displaced by a reactionary pussycat!

I wonder what happened. One probable explanation is that the more we are removed from our past, the greater propensity we have to idealise it. This is, of course, the “good old days” syndrome. I have had this forcibly reinforced over the years by a myriad of elderly relatives. Now my grandchildren have learnt to wince (just as I did in response to my older relatives) whenever I start a sentence with “When I was a boy……”.

It is not as though I am total troglodyte. Good heavens, I do own and use an I-Pad. I sometimes reluctantly make some responses to Facebook. But I do confess to an absolute revulsion to Twitter. Surely any idea of consequence requires at least a few sentences to be communicated to others.

And, yes I know, I have already discredited myself to the younger generation as a result of stating this viewpoint.

It seems I am at odds with mainstream society. I don’t watch those excruciating reality TV shows. Although I have heard the names of Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, I have no idea why they seem to be celebrities. I couldn’t name any current pop stars or for that matter any current film stars. But I expect my declining relevance to the world is my own fault?

In general the changing mores of the modern world provide me with little angst. But occasionally my sensibilities are jarred.

Let me give you a couple of examples which will probably cement my reputation with you as a troglodyte.

The first issue that concerns me is same sex marriage. Now, whilst I am probably blind to some of my own prejudices, I am definitely not homophobic. I count among my best friends a number of gay people. I am more than pleased to see them in happy, enduring, loving relationships. I enjoy their company and I have genuine affection for them. I want their relationships to have the same protection under law as heterosexual couples. They need the same safeguards for property rights and so on. If someone chooses to exercise their innate preference to form a homosexual relationship then I don’t want there to be any impediment to their so doing. But if such a relationship is legally formalised I find it difficult to accept it as “marriage”.

Currently, and for most of human history, marriage has been defined as the legal recognition of the relationship between a man and a woman. This has been the case for all cultures and all religions as far as I am aware. No doubt, before the widespread availability of contraception, it was a safeguard to protect the offspring of heterosexual union. Whilst some might make such a claim, I find it difficult to accept that the idea that marriage must be between a man and a woman is bigotry. It is just how marriage is traditionally defined. Whilst not all heterosexual unions produce children, it is designed to ensure that the offspring of those that do are given the best opportunity to experience a stable and nurturing environment.

Although modern society allows many other options, it is hard to argue against the fact that the mainstay of our society is still the nuclear family. I know there are other alternatives, and they might sometimes, or perhaps often, be successful, but it seems to me that children are best nurtured in an environment where both parents are present and are likely to be there to provide parental support in the long term.

In my simplistic mind I see two elements to this dilemma.

The first is the long term commitment of two adults to a relationship. If two adults want to make that commitment, whatever their sexual orientation, we should do all that we can to facilitate such an arrangement. In this respect the law should make no distinction on the basis of whether the couple are heterosexual or homosexual. In such a relationship we need to ensure that the welfare of the two participants in the union is properly addressed.

The second element relates to procreation. When the union has the likelihood of resulting in offspring, there seems to me to be other issues to be addressed. I know that there are many people in de facto relationships that are wonderful parents and they have trust in their partners and don’t seem to need to make the commitment of marriage. And there are many who marry who either can’t or don’t want to have children. However for many couples who have had children or are contemplating children the marriage commitment gives them some comfort that the long term welfare of their progeny will be secured.

Now I suspect I am trying too hard to rationalise my position. I cannot help but believe that a foundation stone of our society is the nurturing family. It seems to me very beneficial for children to be born into a family where they are loved and cared for by a mother and a father. Although there will always be courageous parents who can successfully rear children on their own, I suspect this is the exception rather than the rule. And of course those taking issue with my stance will instance the many conventional marriages that have failed their offspring. Perhaps I am just idealising my own childhood. Nevertheless I can only wish that children were as well nurtured as I was in such a conventional family. Indeed, when I was young, being a member of my family seemed to be the greatest blessing with which I could be bestowed!

Let me now proceed to a contingent matter where I am unashamedly a conservative.

In recent years there has been a concerted effort to have women rejoin the workforce as soon as possible after having children. A report by the Productivity Commission some years ago highlighted this as one of the easier ways of raising productivity in Australia. But I am sure some of the benefits of such an initiative are illusory.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, we undervalue the work of the women who choose to stay at home. Because it’s not paid it doesn’t get included in the accounts. If a woman makes a bed or cleans the room in a hotel and gets paid for it, that gets added to the production figures. If she works in a kindergarten minding other people’s children the economy values her output. If she works in aged care attending someone else’s aged parents then she is seen to make a contribution. But if she does these things for her own family and maintaining her own household they are seen as having no economic value.

Then you have the impact of grandmothers, many of who would be in this so-called underemployed category. It often falls to the lot of these women to care for their grandchildren to enable their own daughters to work, free of concerns about childcare. As a result many younger women have their careers facilitated by this assistance.

I feel it is the essence of a democratic society to provide options and choices. Certainly if women want to work in the paid workforce we should do all we reasonably can to remove impediments. It is instructive however that the report of the Productivity Commission found that many of this mature age group of women (about 50%) would prefer to work (ie in the paid workforce) less and not more. The study found that if they were able to work the hours they preferred there would be a reduction in total hours worked of almost 11%.

It is inevitable in the coming years that the participation rate of this group will increase as today’s better educated women rise through the workforce and have longer careers in paid employment. And if that is the choice of these women let us support them as best we can. But don’t let us denigrate those women who despite the valuable unpaid work they do, choose not to be part of the conventional mainstream economy. They are providing the nation with a hugely beneficial service even if it is not recognised as such by economists fixated on the size and growth of our GDP.
I am sure if we could quantify the benefits of these women as child-carers, supporters of the elderly, and nurturers of families and communities we wouldn’t feel so compelled to decry their non-participation in the paid workforce.

If women want to be high court judges fighter pilots, mining engineers, orthopaedic surgeons or members of the SAS, I would say, “Good on them!” But if they choose to indulge their natural talents as nurturers and caregivers our society will be poorer from discouraging them. And it is equally unfair that we make them feel guilty and try to push them into paid employment. Let us assure them that we value their contribution to the quality of life of our communities.

In my coaching career, I have worked with many professional women. They are invariably torn between their maternal instincts and their desire to pursue a fulfilling professional career. Most men don’t have to deal so starkly with this choice. All that I would ask is that we let women make that choice and support them in their choice. But we should be careful not to tilt the playing field unduly one way or the other.

And of course as I mentioned previously, because stable, nurturing families are the bedrock of our society, the Government in its taxation and welfare arrangements are doing us a disservice to encourage mothers to return to work if they don’t want to.

I suppose I should make a clean breast of it and reveal my other conservative position. (Although I did share it with you in a previous blog.) Forgive me if I repeat myself.

I have written before about my great concern for indigenous Australians. It cannot be denied that from the time of European settlement in Australia our Aboriginal population has suffered terrible injustice. This injustice, compounded by the well-meaning but largely unsuccessful interventions by Governments of all persuasions, has resulted in an indigenous population suffering severe disadvantage. We only need to look at the statistics on longevity, health, unemployment, incarceration and a host of other social indicators to understand these Australians have been let down.

Successive Governments have spent more and more on indigenous welfare and social programs with little or no effect. A huge industry has been established supporting these measures, and with it has come a strong vested interest group urging more such expenditure despite its inefficacy. Expenditure on such programs by Commonwealth, State and Local Governments is well in excess of $20 billion dollars per annum!

It has been proposed that we should change our constitution in a way that properly recognises that indigenous people occupied Australia before they were over-run by European settlers. When Captain Cook formally took possession of Australia on behalf of the British Government, he did so invoking the concept of “terra nullius”, a legal concept which implied that the land so acquired belonged to no one. This ignored the fact that, depending on whose version of prehistory you believe, that Australia had been inhabited for probably at least thirteen thousand years prior by the ancestors of our indigenous population. And I suppose the Aboriginal claim to prior possession was always weakened by the fact they were a disparate people comprising many tribes, each of which could only make claim to a small amount of ill-defined territory, each of which had its own language and cultural traditions. Pre-European Australia was never a unified nation of indigenous people but a fractious conglomerate of competing tribal interests.

For some time those sympathetic to the indigenous cause have argued that proper affirmation of indigenous occupation prior to European conquest was required to ameliorate the hurt caused by European invasion and the appropriate place to acknowledge this recognition was in the Australian constitution. Thus started a movement, which had support from both sides of politics, to amend the constitution. The original ambition of the proposed referendum was merely to acknowledge the pre-European conquest occupation of Australia by indigenous peoples. There have now been many suggestions to extend that intent.

But there seems to me to be a great danger here.

The cause seems valid and worthy. Any thinking person would want to take any steps necessary to improve the lot of our fellow indigenous men and women. But I have reservations.

In retrospect I wonder if the proposed change to the constitution to recognise the prior occupation of Australia by indigenous people is only symbolism. Will it help educate another indigenous child, provide another indigenous job or reduce the level of indigenous incarceration?  We have of course previously indulged in such symbolism with little effect other than it made people feel good for a short time. Kevin Rudd’s heartfelt apology for the stolen generation, the walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge, the various welcome to country ceremonies, the Sorry Day and so on are well-meant gestures but it is hard to demonstrate they have advanced the indigenous cause in any meaningful way. In some cases these initiatives have been unhelpful by exaggerating the sense of victimhood that some felt. I would still vote for such a change (recognition of prior occupation) only because it is likely to do little harm and may create (for a short time) a little goodwill.

If there were to be further changes to the constitution the only one that I, at this stage, could agree to is the removal of all reference of race from the document. We don’t need a constitution that discriminates either for or against any of our citizens on the basis of ethnicity.

History has demonstrated the great difficulty of constitutional change. We as a nation seem to be at our most conservative, and probably rightly so, when there is a move to modify the constitution. Noel Pearson acknowledges this and maintains that if the referendum is to be successful it must be led by the conservatives.

I have the greatest respect for Noel Pearson. He was the first indigenous leader to point out the disastrous effects of welfare on his people. The work he has done to further indigenous education and reduce dysfunction in remote communities is commendable.

Pearson has proposed that only minor changes to the constitution should be made largely to the effect of removing all reference to race. But he has recommended that the Constitution mandate the formation of an indigenous advisory body. I can probably live with that but I suspect many conservatives won’t. They will point out that other special interest groups, perhaps women, homosexuals, Jews, Muslims and so on might argue that they deserve similar consideration.

Given how difficult it is to get referendums up I suspect if there is anything remotely controversial proposed it will fail.

Whilst I suspect otherwise, I hope the referendum doesn’t fail. Although I suspect it will achieve little materially it would at least be a gesture of good will by the Australian population to the original inhabitants. But right now, with indigenous elders at odds about the issue and conservatives concerned that a constitutionally mandated indigenous reference group might be a step too far, I don’t feel optimistic.

So there you are. I have bared my conservative breast to you. Mind you there are many issues where I cannot bring myself to take the conservative point of view. On Monday we will all take a holiday to celebrate the Queen’s birthday which paradoxically actually occurs in April. Whilst she might have many fine qualities I am not happy for her to be my monarch. I would be even more unhappy for the next in line, Prince Charles, to take on that role. So I guess it is time I took a tilt at the monarchists again. Vive la Republique!

4 Replies to “My Confessions of Conservatism”

  1. I share your distress, I too find myself unexpectedly on the conservative side of more and more social and political issues. I always looked forward to expanding my progressive ideas in retirement now I am free from most of my responsibilities but it is not working out that way!
    With regard to the issue of same sex marriage, I agree with your argument. It has been an issue I couldn’t get excited about as it hasn’t seemed like any of my business except as you say the children of same sex couples are of concern. Our son Ben, who sees first hand all sorts of families, pointed out to me that because it is a difficult process for same sex couples to have children any children they have will be wanted and cherished which as he sees, cannot be said of all children of heterosexual couples. So I have come to the view that as these children will be loved and cared for, disadvantages like role models from the missing gender, can be provided by friends, grandparents or other relations. I can imagine the potential for some hard discussions in these families during the adolescence of the presumably heterosexual children. But as a grandmother Jenny met recently said “all teenagers argue with their parents, that’s their job.”
    So, compared with the whole community, there will be different risks for the children of same sex couples but, on balance, I don’t think the risks to these children will be any greater.

    1. Thank you Larry. I must confess that I hadn’t anticipated Ben’s point of view. It is something worth considering. I hope he is right!

  2. I agree with Larry. Children from same sex relationships are planned for and very much cherished. I also think that “marriage” like a rose, by any other name will smell as sweet – so why make same sex couples feel second-class by denying them the word? Is this the spite of the righteous majority, picking on a small 10 per cent of the population who happen to be born homosexual, or if more palatable, lets call them “blue-eyed”. Will we deny blue-eyed people the public acknowledgement and celebration amongst family and friends getting married brings, because unlike the 90 percent majority with brown eyes, theirs happen to be blue. Can we just live and let live.

  3. You guys are just determined to prove my original thesis that I am really an old troglodyte!

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