Thursday, 25 October 2007

The death of Dean Shillingsworth highlights, says Miranda Devine, the need for paternalism "for some". She quotes Peter Saunders, a sociologist, saying "we need to distinguish between those who are competent" and "the minority" such as Dean's mother (and father?) Rachel Pfitzner who "was arrested on Saturday and charged with her son's murder", according to The Australian. Devine writes for The Sydney Morning Herald.

According to Peter Cochrane, the idea of 'competence' has been cogent in the colonial experience since locals voiced a desire for self-rule, and "London was not entirely convinced about [the colony's competence] until the end of the 1840s". By 'London', he means the Colonial Office (located at 13-14 Downing Street).

William Charles Wentworth, who emerges in Cochrane's book Colonial Ambition as the tireless champion of self-rule, "penned numerous petitions" "[e]ach of [which] addressed the question of competency". And the language used hearkens back to the origins of English liberty, the 1630s, in such principles as:

  • Access to the "full benefits" of the British Constitution
  • Liberation from disenfranchisement
  • Freedom of the press
  • Trial by jury
  • Taxation by representation

These arguments should be familiar to any student of American independence. In New South Wales, according to Cochrane, the debate settled into an argument over the make-up of the Upper House:

The very idea of a colonial aristocracy for an Upper House designed to stem what Wentworth called "the flood of democracy" seemed a wicked travesty. ... For Wentworth, liberty was nothing if not a guarantee that patrician men of property, sensibility and standing, men like him, were at the helm of state.

Cochrane's metaphor, at this point, is of a coin with two sides. On one side is "liberty" and on the other is "authority and order". According to Devine:

As a social libertarian, Saunders has always believed that people should be free to do whatever they want as long as they are not harming others. But he is coming to the more complex idea "that you have to have one rule for one population and another for another. You've got to start discriminating."

Where does this leave the underclass?

The first mention I can find for the Centre for Independent Studies (where Saunders works) in Factiva, the news database, is in a story published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 6 September 1986 titled 'The New Right: A Consumer's Guide'. In it we learn that the CIS "Began in the mid-1970s as a one-person, backyard operation by the now executive director, Greg Lindsay. Now has a budget of almost $500,000." The story leads with a declaration that Labor's hopes for a third term are "evaporating as fast as a rain shower in one of Peko Wallsend's iron ore heaps".

In 2007, we have the opposite situation, speaking only in terms of the traditional left-right party split. In fact, however, Rudd's 'new Labor' looks like Tony Blair's in its early days. Both parties have been moving to the centre for some time, like tributary streams of the same river.

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