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