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Coalition’s rising star Josh Frydenberg champions modern classical liberalism

16 November 2013 1,071 views 2 Comments

JOSH Frydenberg, the energetic 42-year-old federal MP for the affluent inner-Melbourne electorate of Kooyong, is the first Liberal Jewish member of the House of Representatives.

On the face of it this seems remarkable, especially as eight Jewish convicts were transported to Botany Bay in 1788 on the so-called First Fleet.

The talented Frydenberg, who champions a modern version of classical liberalism, is heavily influenced by the humane and civil ideas of Zelman Cowen, – our second Jewish governor-general, – and especially by Australia’s longest serving prime minister, Robert Menzies, who held Kooyong from 1934 to 1966.

Apart from Menzies, previous members for Kooyong include former deputy prime minister and chief justice of the High Court John Latham and the flamboyant “colt from Kooyong”, Andrew Peacock, who served as foreign minister and opposition leader.

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In his maiden speech in October 2010, Frydenberg made clear he was indebted to three famous political theorists: John Stuart Mill, Edmund Burke and Adam Smith. In their writings, Frydenberg found what he regarded as “the best elements of both liberal and conservative traditions”.

Mill’s argument that the state has the right to intervene in the affairs of the individual only to prevent harm to others is fundamental to Frydenberg’s political philosophy. Burke’s spirited defence of social traditions and the institutions of the state, and his opposition to utopian notions of change for change’s sake, are also central to his understanding of the limits to governmental action. Influenced by the insights of Scottish political economist Smith, Frydenberg is adamant the opportunity to prosper is best served by competitive markets.

However, his contemporary vision of liberalism is to achieve what Menzies termed “civilised capitalism”. This involves unleashing what Frydenberg describes as “the power of individual enterprise”, while providing “a safety net for those who, despite their best efforts, are unable to cope”. These commitments and motivations, to Frydenberg, are not negotiable.

From 1996 to 1998, Frydenberg, a champion tennis player who gained two “blues”, lived and studied at Bob Hawke’s alma mater, University College, Oxford. In contrast to Hawke’s labourist populism, Frydenberg’s political vision is driven by notions of individual liberty, individual responsibility and equality of opportunity, not an equality of outcomes, which he maintains has socialistic overtones and implications.

As well as Menzies, Frydenberg’s prime political heroes are Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher. Not surprisingly, Frydenberg also deeply admires John Monash, the Melbourne-born Jewish engineer who commanded Australian troops in World War I and after whom Monash University is named.

Since the election, Frydenberg has been extraordinarily busy. In particular, as parliamentary secretary to Tony Abbott, he now has primary responsibility for promoting and implementing the government’s crucial deregulation agenda.

Deregulation involves a Coalition commitment to cut $1 billion a year in red and green tape. What Frydenberg labels the “scandalous culture of piling on new regulations without assessing the consequences for productivity” must end.

He says the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor governments “really dropped the ball, being responsible for the introduction of more than 21,000 additional regulations”. As he argued in a speech to the Sydney Institute last month: “Questions must be asked first before new regulations are passed. What is their purpose? What is their cost? What is their impact on productivity? What is their impact on new entrants? And what is their effectiveness in managing risk?

“Only then, when it is absolutely necessary and with no sensible alternatives available, should we proceed to regulate.”

After making the point that it is business, not government, that creates real wealth and long-term employment, Frydenberg concluded: ” If we do not act now to tackle the avalanche of red and green tape, we will be unnecessarily raising the risk on Australia’s $400bn investment pipeline and, in the process, endangering tens of thousands of potential new jobs.”

Because deregulation is such a critically important area of micro-economic reform, Frydenberg has been consulting with his ministerial colleagues as well as several key stakeholders – including the Business Council of Australia, the Council of Small Business of Australia, Minerals Council of Australia, Australia Institute of Company Directors, Australian Food and Grocery Council, Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Australian Industry Group. Business seems to be responding extremely positively to the Coalition’s call for a “cultural change” in government’s approach to deregulation.

As befits someone who, at Oxford, gained an MPhil in international relations, Frydenberg is also acutely interested in defence and foreign affairs. In what will clearly be an Asian century, he is particularly keen to promote relations with China, India, and Indonesia.

Recently in Sydney he confided to me his great disappointment that fewer and fewer schools, colleges and universities are teaching Bahasa Indonesia, the national language spoken throughout the Indonesian archipelago – our closest important neighbour, which boasts a population of more than 248 million.

Frydenberg’s interests are wide, his intellect is keen, his ambitions unambiguous. So don’t be surprised if, before the next federal election, he is elevated to a senior ministry.

Indeed, it seems to me the member for Kooyong is a potential prime minister.

If, in time, he achieves our nation’s highest office, Frydenberg will be the first Jewish person to do so.

Ross Fitzgerald is the author of 36 books, including his memoir ‘My Name is Ross: An Alcoholic’s Journey’, available as an e-book and a talking book read by the author.

THE WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN, NOVEMBER 16-17, 2013, P 22.

2 Comments »

  • Tony Wells (author) said:

    Rising Liberal star

    ROSS Fitzgerald’s commentary on Josh Frydenberg profiles an up and coming Liberal MP with capacity and commitment to help make Australia a better place (“Coalition’s rising star from Kooyong champions a modern version of classic liberalism”, 16-17/11).

    Fitzgerald indicates the value of electing MPs with values based on the experience of influential theorists and politicians, but who are then able to adapt and develop those ideas.

    Frydenberg represents a brand of politician who has the capacity to articulate policy measured against established principles and philosophy. With this approach he has a capacity to elevate political standards.

    Tony Wells, North Balwyn, Vic

    THE AUSTRALIAN, NOVEMBER 18, 2013 p 13.

  • Dan Golberg said:

    From Jewish day school to the corridors of power in Canberra

    SYDNEY – Prime Minister Tony Abbott is fond of reminding Jewish audiences that Australia is the only country, aside from Israel, where Jews have been appointed head of state, chief justice and commander-in-chief of the army.

    “There’s just one office in this country yet to be held by a Jewish person,” Abbott said late last year in his first appearance at a Jewish function since his Liberal Party’s landslide victory in September. “That’s the prime ministership. But the time will come, as Josh Frydenberg constantly reminds me, when that will change.”

    Abbott, a one-time trainee priest and a staunchly pro-Israel prime minister, was referring to his parliamentary secretary, who is the sole Jewish parliament member in his government.

    “Frydenberg’s interests are wide, his intellect is keen, his ambitions unambiguous,” wrote Australian author and analyst Ross Fitzgerald late last year in ‘The Weekend Australian’. “Indeed, it seems to me the member for Kooyong is a potential prime minister.”

    But Frydenberg, the 42-year-old representative of the Melbourne suburb of Kooyong, dismissed speculation that he may one day inherit Abbott’s mantle as prime minister. “There’s no point in taking it too seriously,” he told ‘Haaretz’. “I’m not thinking about that, that’s for sure.”

    Frydenberg has been tasked with helping Abbott cut 1 billion Australian dollars a year ($89.5 million) as part of an economic deregulation effort.

    “I’m working very closely with him on two things in particular: the deregulation agenda and the G20 summit,” he said. “The PM’s got me working with him on the biggest meeting Australia has ever held.”

    Australia commenced its presidency of the Group of 20 last month and will host the annual summit for the world’s 20 largest economies in Brisbane in November, with many of the world’s most powerful leaders expected to converge on Queensland’s capital.

    “It’s a big, big deal,” Frydenberg said. “It’s much bigger than APEC,” he added, referring to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, which Australia hosted in 2007.

    Frydenberg’s political path from Oxford and Harvard universities to Canberra’s corridors of power, where he served as senior adviser to former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and former Prime Minister John Howard a decade ago, has not gone unnoticed.

    “Howard has the highest opinion possible of Frydenberg,” wrote Greg Sheridan, foreign editor of the national daily ‘The Australian’, after last year’s election and Frydenberg’s appointment as parliamentary secretary. “Don’t be fooled by the seemingly modest nature of his promotion: the emergence from the chrysalis of parliamentary secretary to the butterfly of cabinet minister can be very fast.”

    But the Melbourne-born graduate of two Jewish day schools in the area, Bialik and Mount Scopus, had a different dream when he graduated high school: tennis.

    When he realized he “wasn’t going to be the next Boris Becker,” the former top-ranked professional tennis player from Germany, Frydenberg traded his racket for a law and economics degree from Monash University in Melbourne, named after John Monash, the Jewish commander of the Australian Corps in World War I who is still considered one of the country’s greatest military leaders.

    Still, Frydenberg twice represented Australia at the Maccabiah Games, the last in 1997, when he witnessed the collapse of the bridge carrying the Australian team across Israel’s heavily polluted Yarkon River, killing four and injuring scores more.

    A proud Jew, Frydenberg recalled his grandparents’ escape from Nazi-controlled Europe in his maiden speech to parliament in 2010. “My great-grandparents, and many relatives on both sides, perished in the Holocaust,” he told the chamber. “Like so many other immigrants to our great shores, all of my grandparents came here with nothing … but in Australia anything is possible.”

    At the government’s swearing-in ceremony last year, he used a leather-bound Bible given to him by his mentor, the late Sir Zelman Cowen. Cowen used the Bible in 1977, when he became the second Jew to be sworn in as Australia’s governor-general.

    This year, Frydenberg will likely face mounting pressure from Jewish community leaders over the government’s plans to amend parts of the Racial Discrimination Act, the nation’s race hate laws that make it illegal to deny the Holocaust or promote anti-Semitism.

    “We want to see the right balance struck, and I don’t think the current wording does that,” Frydenberg said.

    While the current law protects Australians from racial vilification, critics argue it also limits freedom of expression.

    The Jewish community has won court cases against Holocaust deniers, anti-Semites, far-right groups and religious extremists found to have violated the law.

    Peter Wertheim, the executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, was one of several representatives of ethnic minorities, including Arabs and Aborigines, who met with Attorney General George Brandis last month amid ongoing controversy over the proposal.

    “Obviously, the issue as a whole is of deep concern to many communities, including ours,” Wertheim said.

    Frydenberg said he is “very confident” a solution will be found that satisfies both sides.

    In the meantime, he’s busy working alongside the prime minister. “It’s a great position,” he said. “We have a bird’s eye view on what the government is doing.”

    Dan Golberg,

    Influential Israeli daily newspaper HAARETZ January 6, 2014