Sunday Herald Sun - - Opinion -

YOU’D think, with all its trou­bles over the past five years, the Lib­eral Party might lis­ten to the time-tested ad­vice of its most suc­cess­ful mod­ern leader.

The best way for the party to win elec­tions, writes John Howard in the in­tro­duc­tion to new edi­tion of Howard: The Art of Per­sua­sion, is to em­pha­sise the “the cen­tral role of the fam­ily”. It’s what he’s al­ways said. “In­tact and fully func­tional fam­i­lies con­sti­tute the least costly so­cial wel­fare sys­tem yet de­vised by mankind,” Howard wrote in his best-seller The Men­zies Era.

“There is no in­sti­tu­tion that pro­vides more emotional sup­port and re­as­sur­ance to the in­di­vid­ual than the fam­ily,” he wrote in a 1988 pol­icy doc­u­ment Fu­ture Direc­tions, whose pack­age of fam­ily val­ues, home own­er­ship and “one united na­tion” be­came the blue­print for the Howard gov­ern­ment eight years later.

His gov­ern­ment had “a re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that the fam­ily unit has the le­gal, fi­nan­cial and so­cial sup­port to sus­tain it. This will re­quire ac­tion on two lev­els — re­ver­sal of mod­ern an­tifam­ily at­ti­tudes and in­cen­tives to re­in­force the fam­ily”.

As PM he promised a tax bias to­wards fam­i­lies with de­pen­dent chil­dren. His am­bi­tion was “to pro­foundly ad­van­tage the fam­i­lies of Mid­dle Aus­tralia. It has meant more to me than any­thing else”.

And that is what he de­liv­ered, with gen­er­ous fam­ily tax ben­e­fits, Fam­ily Re­la­tion­ship Cen­tres to coun­sel cou­ples in dif­fi­culty, a baby bonus, and as­sis­tance for sin­gle-in­come fam­i­lies with de­pen­dent chil­dren.

He was the most fam­i­lyfriendly PM in our his­tory.

But over the past decade, his poli­cies came to be de­rided as anachro­nis­tic “mid­dle-class wel­fare”, even by his own side.

The 2014 Ab­bott bud­get tried to cut the Fam­ily Tax Ben­e­fits but was blocked in the Se­nate.

The Turn­bull gov­ern­ment, with Scott Mor­ri­son as Trea­surer, tried again and man­aged a freeze last year, sav­ing $2.4 bil­lion.

Howard’s suc­ces­sors bought the fem­i­nist gospel and lost their way with ill-fated paid parental leave schemes and ex­pen­sive sub­sidised child­care.

Cor­po­rate tax cuts, jobs and in­fra­struc­ture are im­por­tant, but they leave peo­ple cold.

Spend­ing money to strengthen fam­i­lies is an in­vest­ment in so­cial in­fra­struc­ture.

Why is it bet­ter to build a road than to but­tress the build­ing blocks of so­ci­ety? REG­U­LAR COLUM­NIST ANNIKA SMETHURST IS ON LEAVE

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