How Do We Now Understand Freedom?

Transcript of the Hon. John Anderson’s talk at Freedom18 on 23 May 2018

‘How do we now understand Freedom?’
Rob, thank you very much for that kind introduction. It’s great to be with you.

I acknowledge Paul Green, Michael Kellahan, Senator Jacinta Collins, and I’m sure there are numerous others, but if I could say ‘friends, one and all’, I hope you’ll accept that as a mark of my respect for you all here, and the fact that I appreciate very much the chance to speak to you.

Forgive me for not being in a suit. There’s a reason, and the reason is, that my son and his wife had a little baby boy last night in Tamworth, and I’m changing my program. Thank you so much for your help and cooperation with this, so that I can jump on a plane and go and be with him.

Thanks, I suspect to Telstra, he tried to ring me six times last night, and I tried to ring him twice. The fact that I didn’t take the calls adds to the urgency for me. We’re very close, and I need to go and see them all. Thank you for your understanding.

‘OKA’ as we already called him, Oliver Kenneth Anderson, has arrived in a world very different, in many ways, and facing extraordinarily different challenges to the one that I arrived in some six generations ago.

I was thinking about this as I came in this morning. My father went within an ace of losing his life in the North African Desert in Monty’s great push back against Rommel, the second day of El Alamein. He was not expected to live, but he did. It badly impacted and disrupted his life. He married quite a few years after the war, when he was already well into his 30s, at St. Stephen’s, just opposite, when it was a Presbyterian Church.

I was born a couple of years after that. My parents felt free to enrol me in an Anglican boarding school in Sydney. A fellow, who wrote my biography, to my horror, one day emerged in my office. I’d authorized the biography. He had a great wad of papers, was about that high. I said, “Now, Paul, what on earth are those?” He said, “Oh, these are your school records.”

“Right!” Right on the top was the application form that my parents had filled out. In my mother’s strong writing, in the section quaintly labelled, “The boy is to be prepared for…” she had written, “the land.”

My father was very … I shouldn’t laugh at that. I once, when I was a member of Parliament in Canberra … I always used to do this…you probably do the same, Jacinta? When the school kids come in to see you, in the school groups to see the Parliament, to see how it all works, you find yourself sincerely hoping that you get to meet them before they have lots of question time.

We had a group in one day. It was a terrible, terrible drought. It was a central school, one of those schools from inland New South Wales, where they stop at Year 10. They were quite flat and depressed. It was obvious the drought was playing very heavily on them. I said to them, in conversation, “How many of you feel that you’re going to be able to find jobs back in your home district when you finish?” Only one put his hand up. All the others felt they’d have to leave that rural community. They turned on this fellow. It was very obvious he was a nice guy, but perhaps not the sharpest of them. One of them said, “Well, how come you don’t think you have to go away to get a job?” To which he replied in a certain sort of dulcet, rural tone, “I’ll be all right. My dad’s going to put me back on the land.” A sharp mate replied, “What as, Tom? Fertilizer?”

Anyway, my mother had filled out that I was to be equipped for the land, and my father, who in his even stronger handwriting … that had been crossed out and the words “university” written. So I’ve always known his quick personality. I’ve pursued both.

They felt free to enrol me in an Anglican school. That Anglican school felt free to employ a chaplain who preached the Bible. I heard him preach that Bible as a young kid. I was initially unimpressed. I was then deeply offended. It’s a terrible thing to have your ideas challenged, isn’t it, in this age when we think we should wrap our kids up in cotton wool and not confront them?

But eventually, I felt ‘free’ … that word … to decide in favour of what he was telling me, and I became a believer. I’ve lived my life in a free country, as a free man, from a remote little rural community, in a land of opportunity, which, in one of those terribly mistaken moves that sometimes happens in a free society … I ended up as a Deputy Prime Minister of the country. You’re probably wondering how that happened. That makes two of us, but it did.

Freedom is a wonderful thing, but the New Atheists would say that I’d been subjected to child abuse, would they not? That’s what Richard Dawkins says it is for a child to be exposed to the Gospel. He has friends in the old atheists. A communist regime in Beijing has recently determined that children under the age of 18 should not be exposed to the Gospel, lest it disturb young minds.

Here in Australia, in the context of the Religious Freedom Review, we’ve heard some very interesting comments. You might have heard … I think it was the Chief of the ACT Assembly who commented, “We don’t need legislation to preserve freedom of religion. We need legislation to grant us freedom from religion.”

Crispin Hull is freelance journalist, I know him well, I like him. I sat at a table with him at a wedding. I’ve even asked him to put speech notes together for me occasionally, not in relation to religious freedom, I have to tell you, but in relation to a roadway project I was once involved with. He wrote an article that appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald. He said, “We don’t need legislation to preserve religious freedom. We need legislation to protect us from religion.” He specifically referred to the same-sex marriage vote. He said, “This is a great reform in the continuum of great reforms in Western civilization” – the abolition of slavery, labour laws for women and children, the vote for women … same-sex marriage.

Now, there’s an odd one out there. The others were all actively pursued, spearheaded, driven by Christians, but that doesn’t seem to have occurred to him. His very progressive agenda, which he points to as a good thing, has overwhelmingly been led by the people he opposes, the people he now says should be silenced.

But my favorite of these ‘religion belongs in the private sphere’ is this one. “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade the public square.” Is there anyone who as a matter of interest who could tell me who said that? Well, it was a man on the rise as a very prominent politician, with prime ministerial aspirations. His name was Lord Melbourne, and he said it about 200 years ago. He went on to become Prime Minister of Great Britain. He’s remembered for … well, there’s a city named after him in Australia. It’s not a bad place if you can get past Sydney, reflecting my own biases. I’m told he was a gifted advisor to the young Queen Victoria, who appreciated his counsel, but you don’t know much about Lord Melbourne.

Consider his legacy against the person he was attacking in particular and that man and his friends’ legacy. He was in essence saying, “Religion shouldn’t be allowed in the public square. It’s a private matter. You have nothing to say to the broader debate, no contribution to make.” His charge was aimed at William Wilberforce and the Clapham Sect. Consider their legacies.

William Wilberforce led what Eric Metaxas, I think, accurately described … I have a fascination with history … the greatest human rights movement of all times. The Left, which now opposes us … I don’t want to be political here today, but by that, let me say, the militant secular humanists, now, will want to decry history or airbrush it out. There was a time when human rights was at the top of the list of their concerns. I’m not quite sure what happened. It doesn’t suit the narrative apparently, the greatest human rights movement. The anti-slavery movement was so successful that it turned around the way we think. It didn’t just lead to the end of the slave trade, and/or slavery itself. It changed the way the civilized world, if I could use that term loosely, thought about slavery. We think it’s abhorrent, don’t we? Only 200 … at the time this place was settled, it was thought of as part of the natural order of things.

By the way, all the great Enlightenment thinkers … we often, I think, falsely paint the Enlightenment as being at enmity, somehow, with Christianity. “That’s how we got rid of all those dreadful ideas. We grew out of them, and now freedom’s derived from the Enlightenment.” Misunderstands the enlightenment very, very badly … it was a mixed bag. Lots of what happened in the name of the Enlightenment was terrific. In England, the Enlightenment and Christianity were deeply enmeshed together, and advanced their interests.

That’s very significant, because that’s the place that colonized this place. In France, though … do all of you remember? When most people say when they eulogize Enlightenment and Enlightenment figures, they’re thinking of Frenchmen and Europeans. Most of those people thought slavery was part of the natural order of things, that women were second-rate humans, and that racism was also totally acceptable. The concept of the noble savage comes from more out of the Enlightenment thinking that it does out of Christian thinking.

Let’s just clean up the history a little bit there. We must get a grip on our history. It wasn’t only the ending of slavery that can be directly traced to people of profound Christian belief. Wilberforce let no one or anyone doubt that. Read his works. He was driven not by what was popular. In fact, he had everything to lose as an up-and-comer, a man of high wealth, high society, soon on his way to the prime ministership, by advocating that African slaves were not goods and chattels. They were human beings. He did it anyway. Where did that conversion of heart come from? It came from his Christian faith. It was deep. It was profound. It changed his life. It altered human history.

He went on to be active in something like 27 or 28, I think it was, different societies. No, I’m sorry … 77 or 78, a vast number. Even the RSPCA … blood sports were common, and people were frequently very cruel to animals. A whole lot of other societies … the reformation of rotten politics in Great Britain. He was backed by people like the Thorntons, the wealthiest people in Britain at the time, by leading thinkers. They were very big on data, and on information, and on evidence. They built their case. They built their narrative around evidence and around reason. Around evidence and around reason … how much of that do we see now in our society?

Such was their legacy. I need not go on. Decent labour laws … an extraordinary influence over the settlement of this colony. I don’t know whether Stuart Piggin’s here. If he is I’ll apologize. If he’s not, I’ll apologize when I see him. He’s about to launch a brilliant book. He gave me an advance copy. I had no idea of the influence of the deeply profoundly believing Christians at the top of the economic and business and political and military world in Britain on the establishment of this country. It is extraordinary, you can trace it through, as a matter of fact, that in the 1740s, you saw the great Wesleyan and Whitfield and stories of mass Christian revival across Britain, and then up and down the east coast of America. Then, from the 1780s on, you get the Declaration of Independence, profoundly influenced by that sort of thinking in America. What was its undergirding principle? Freedom … based on the worth and dignity of every individual.

Same thing in a different form in Britain as the evangelicals came to power. One man who came to power in that time was a fellow called Charles Middleton, the head of the Navy, the world’s most powerful navy, as you know, at that time. He learned that there was to be a colony established in Australia, and he said, “Terrific. We’ll get to work. We’ll make sure it’s done properly. He chose the ships. They were all under five years old, bar one. He made sure they were properly victualed. The convicts weighed more when they arrived here than when they left England. In those days, that was unheard of. Why? Because he saw them as human beings … and he saw them as people to be rehabilitated, not cast off, and he saw a great future for a nation of freedom. Charles Middleton, head of the Navy … he was a Bible-believing Christian, and we want to say, now, it doesn’t matter.

Then you come to the AMP. It’s been in the news lately hasn’t it? In this wonderful modern world … I love Australia, but I’m really distressed with where we’re at. Look at the raw statistics on the breakdown of trust in our society. It is appalling. If you look at the ANU’s work, we’re in uncharted territory. We’ve been a skeptical bunch in Australia for a long time. We believe that our politicians are there for themselves, not for us, but every so often, there’s been this incredible resurgence of hope.

Jacinta, I had to tell you, 1996 was one of those moments, when people like ME were elected to government. It was terrific.
Jacinta Collins interjects: “I was already there”.

(John Anderson continues): You were already there? Well, there you go. Well, I had ANU’s work. There was a great resurgence of hope and confidence in the system.

Now, I don’t know how it happened – we sort of lost it over a period of time. The Australian people decided that they needed a new injection of hope and that came in 2007. Now the massive surge in hope and in confidence in the system … ANU’s work’s fascinating on this. Have a look at it.

Do you know what’s happened since then? We’ve gone into uncharted waters. The level of distrust is palpable. It has reached unprecedented levels and elections make no difference. We go on being just as distrustful as ever.

That’s what we’ve got to, this brave new world that we’ve built. At the same time that that is happening, we now find that our institutions can’t be trusted. I’m talking about the AMP, the Australian Mutual Provident Society. It was deeply steeped in Christian ethos, and it became … it was set up by believers for the good of the community, and it became one of the most trusted financial institutions in the world, without any shadow of a doubt.

Anybody here trust the AMP anymore? Well, what happens directly when trust breaks down in a free and democratic society? – we run for protection. We run for law. We run for regulation. We tie ourselves up in red tape and in caution and in lawfare. That’s what happens. When we don’t tie ourselves up in lawfare, we tie ourselves up in lawlording, trying to prevent lawfare. That’s the vicious cycle we’ve got into.

The modern Labour Party in this country, was founded largely by evangelical Christian believers. Here’s a stunning little factoid for you. In the Parliament that was elected in this very place in 1891, there were 35 Labour members, 21 of them were Bible-believing Christians. I’m not too sure how many of them would be welcome in today’s Labour party, but I’m not here to be political, other than to make a rather provocative comment that they would’ve thoroughly endorsed something that a later Liberal prime minister was to say.

Robert Menzies said this, staunch Presbyterian that he was, and deep thinker who knew his history, “Democracy is more than a machine. It is a spirit. It is based upon the Christian conception that there is in every human soul a spark of the divine, that with all their inequalities of mind and body, the souls of men stand equal in the sight of God.” That’s been washed out of our society and washed out of our major political parties to a very alarming degree.

I put it to you that we are in danger of fulfilling ‘s prophecy. He was a former BBC reporter … lived in Russia.

My phone is working. That’s very disconcerting … three times. There’s a silent button on those, I daresay, but Telstra being Telstra, if you put it on silent, it’ll ring louder than ever this morning, but not last night when it was on. Is that right? Something like that … now, where was I?
Malcolm Muggeridge … Waterloo Lectures. If you can get a copy of it, they are brilliant … inaugural Blaise Paschal Lectures, Waterloo, in the US, in 1978. He said, “We in the West are in danger of ending our experience with freedom and civilization, not because we’re going to be overtaken by greater military powers, but because we’re eating ourselves up from within.”

I had an extraordinary opportunity a couple of weeks ago to talk to Neal Ferguson. He’s a Scot, so that gives him a head start. Sorry … is that the wrong thing to say? He taught at Oxford. He was in at Harvard. He’s now at Stanford. Prolific writer … economic historian of huge note. I said to him … and he’s just written a fascinating book about the power of social media, called The Square and the Tower. I recommend it to you, if you can get a hold of it.

The Square and the Tower … the imagery’s based on Sienna, in Italy. Have you been there? Beautiful, beautiful city square … except, like Australia Square, it’s not square. It’s round. Okay? Go figure. They run the horses there. You’ve got a tower. That represents government and hierarchy, society … sort of institutions. The square represents community and the way they network. That’s been completely and absolutely revolutionized by social media.

He actually writes in that book that he wonders whether it hasn’t made us so unstable, now, that we may become ungovernable. It’s an interesting insight, because he said it’s massively exacerbating the other issues that we face. I said to him, “What do you think are the three greatest threats confronting the West?”

He said, in ascending order … Islamization. The possibility of miscalculation, secondly, over the rise of China … which sees itself simply recovering its rightful position in the world. It’s a staggering thing to go back to Reformation times and contemplate that China was probably responsible for around 30% of global GDP, Britain for about four, America for about two. In more recent times, China’s slipped back to probably six or 7%, whilst America and Britain and Europe are probably well over half of global GDP. Now, the balance is being altered, and how we handle that process is a big issue for us all, a very big issue for us all.

He said the greatest, the one which, if we could only come to grips with, would mean that the other two would not be a problem, is that we no longer believe in our own culture. We do not know our history. We are not able to understand the lessons of history. We have no hope … I’m paraphrasing … of avoiding repeating the mistakes of history. We have washed out our memory.

Something fascinating that Jordan Peterson … this Canadian clinical psychologist, who’s been taking the storm, and reaching out to young people so effectively … he talks about the importance of history. He says, “Look.” Again, I’m paraphrasing, but the way I’m understanding what he’s saying is that it’s incredibly important. You burn your hand on the toaster as a little kid, for the rest of your life, you do what? You avoid putting your hand on the toaster so you don’t get burned. It’s part of your corporate memory.

Society’s the same. We have so much that we can learn from the classroom of history, but we washed it out of the system. Why? Largely because it doesn’t serve the modern narrative … I’ve talked about Wilberforce. I’ve talked about the shaping of our society, the establishment, deeply within our psyche, and within our political systems, that the worth and dignity of all should be acknowledged. That doesn’t suit the modern narrative at all, because its sources are Christian, and we hate Christianity.

The elites, now, detest Christianity. We’ve morphed from a view where we thought, broadly speaking, as a society, it was true, to a position where it was thought of as just one of many truths, to where most of today’s intelligentsia will say, “It’s bad, and it’s dangerous, and you shouldn’t expose your children to it.” How dumb are we? Why is there such a total disconnect between intelligence and learning on the one hand, and wisdom on the other hand?

Somebody I saw the other day commented that wisdom is understanding consequences. If you want to understand consequences, the best place to start is history. Many of you, like me, of course, are Christians. The Bible is history. Can we rely on them? Yes, we can. It’s not bunk because it’s history. It’s to be relied upon, because it’s faithful and reliable history. Why do we discount our history so readily? As Churchill said, “The further you can see into the past, the further you’ll be able to see into the future.”

What is freedom? What is it? Given that we now have incredibly strongly opposing sets of views on what freedom is, and somebody’s going to lose badly out of this, how might we understand freedom? Classically, I suppose, we talk of negative freedom and positive freedom. Negative freedom is freedom from, and fear of oppression, fear of being locked up, of being persecuted or judged without trial, but also freedom from personal bondage, to addiction, to anxiety, and to fear.

Now, all the evidence is that we’re not doing very well, actually, on that personal front. The data tells you we’re distrustful, we’re cynical, we’re unhappy, anxiety levels are very high, depression is high. Unbelievably, in this country, unbelievably, youth suicide is at horrifically high levels, by the national

standard. Deloittes have done some research which I also find very concerning. 92% of young Australians believe that they will not have the same opportunities and quality of life that their parents and grandparents had. Well, it would knock the hope out of them, wouldn’t it, in this wonderful, new, militantly secularist society that we now live in?

“By their fruits shall they be known.” The numbers are reversed in Indonesia, by the way, where 92% of young Indonesians believe that they will have a better life and better opportunities than their parents and grandparents.

In an understanding, I believe we need to deeply get our minds … deeply get our minds … around freedom, what it is, what it is that we’re really trying to defend. Oz Guinness is here next week. Twelve months ago he gave me a copy of a book that he’s written. It hasn’t hit the bookshelves yet. It’s called Last Call for Freedom. Can I urge you, if you do nothing else this year, when it hits the bookshelves, get a copy of it, because he unpacks the concept of Western freedom.

Freedom is something that very, very few human beings down through the ages have known. Many of those who have achieved a degree of personal and political freedom have not been able to hold onto it. They have not been able to hold onto it. It’s a fragile flower, infrequently grown, easily lost. You can turn yourself into a cut-flower society in a free democracy very easily. We need to be wary. We really do.

Janet Albrechtsen wrote last year … and it was a great line … I think she’s a terrifically interesting writer … that freedom of speech is the premier freedom. It’s the first freedom. Her logic, I thought, was very compelling. She said to me … or, she said in the article, sorry, not to me … that it’s the most important freedom because it’s the one by which we defend all other freedoms. Does that strike a resonance with you? It did with me.

I put it to a very interesting man called Frank Furedi, last year. Now, Frank Furedi is a man of the Left, and we share neither political nor religious conviction, but he’s a warm and friendly man. We’ve had a couple of great conversations. Here’s a little plug. You can find one of them on my website, Now, he’s written a book, ‘What’s Happening in Our Universities’, and he says, “In the 60s, when I was a student radical, we tested the boundaries. We wanted to push hard on every idea, and every institution, find the weak points to see what we … Regardless of how that might’ve ended up, we were about expanding our minds. Our universities today … they’re about closing our minds.”

This is a man of the Left, who works in universities … has, all his life. That’s what he’s writing. He says, “We have micro-aggression warnings, and we have trigger warnings, and we have safe places, and we have platform-denying, because we don’t want to offend our students. The courses are now written not to challenge, not to expand thinking, but to avoid offense, because academics don’t like being hauled before some tribunal because a student said, ‘I was offended, and I had to go to a safe place.'” Is that what we’ve got to?

I put it to him in this interview. I said, “Is free speech the first and most important freedom?” He said, “No. No, it’s not. You should know that, as a Christian.” I said, “Why? What do you mean?” He said, “Conscience. Freedom of conscience is the first freedom.” He said, “Our forebears in Europe learned that burning another human being at the stake is a truly revolting thing to do to somebody because they hold a minority view.” It’s a particularly stupid thing to do when you stop and think that, one day, that minority might be in a majority, and they’ll turn round and go to the other side.

We grow up, and so we’ve learned the genius, in many ways, of freedom at the heart of Western societies is that we’ve learned to respect people of different views. They all have worth. They all have dignity. They ought to be able to put their views, as Lord Acton put it, “without fear of government sanction or of mob sanction.” I might say, without fear of the guillotine, the hangman’s neck, or social ostracization by social media, which is killing many of our young people.

Neal Ferguson commented that we need to understand how dangerously social media is accelerating the process of polarization in our society, because the Left, which is growing, talks to itself. The Right, which is growing, talks to itself. The middle field’s left out. He said what is really horrendous is the

hateful way people talk to one another on social media. It hasn’t broken into violence yet, but the sentiments are sure there. He’s right, isn’t he?

This remarkable man … and I don’t say that lightly, because he is, Frank Furedi, a man of the Left … says to me towards the end of our conversation, “You know, John, all the old barriers are broken down. Here you are, you and I, talking, and we’re recognizing that there are differences between us which are less significant than the things we have in common. You as a man of faith, me as a man of no faith, you as a man of conservative politics, me as a man of the Left, we’re both recognizing that respect for the worth and the dignity of each individual and the right to put their most passionately held views is the key determinant of whether or not we will progress as a society.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s effectively what he said.

I thought that was a pretty valuable insight, and I passed it on in my attempt to encourage you to think, and to think deeply, about what it is that we’re seeking to preserve and to fight for, as we go forward in a world where there is enormous hostility externally, from powers and principalities that don’t agree with our version of freedom, and internally, when so many people essentially, now, think that our freedom should be defined by the state.

In a fascinating comment, Ryan T. Anderson observed that religious freedom should not be seen as a concession of a government to its subjects. I feel this very deeply. As somebody who’s been in government, who’s also been a private citizen, I don’t believe Canberra or the State Parliament here should be telling me what my religious rights are. Their job is to protect my religious rights, and in large part so that I can then seek to limit the power of the state. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God that which is God’s. I don’t want a big, obtrusive state. I want it to be a function and an extension of a service provision, if you like, and a protection of services on behalf of me and my fellow Australians. I do not want to be a function of the state.

Therein, of course, lies one of the greatest and fundamental differences of all, as we see the quite profound movement towards statism. Listen carefully to what’s happening in our educational institutions, and amongst the pronouncements of those who run them, and who want to expand their power. Think carefully about programs like Safe Schools. It’s effectively saying parents should not be raising their children and instilling in them their chosen and preferred morality.

That brings me to my final point. As we consider what freedom looks like in the area of speech and conscience, please remember what Frank Furedi said. The first freedom is conscience. I would vary it slightly, and say that I would include in freedom of conscience our most profoundly held beliefs and values, and therefore Christian faith. Some of you will want to argue a little over the nuancing of that, and you’re probably right, but that’s how I would see them, as belonging together in a commingled sense. Our right to free speech is nothing more and nothing less than the right to manifest that most important freedom of all.

The other thing to note … and many of you are lawyers. Western freedoms are carefully codified. They’re not abstract, as they were in the case of the French Revolution. Liberty, fraternity … what was it? Equality, liberty … somebody help me. Liberty, fraternity, equality … they were abstract. They turned out to be meaningless, didn’t they? Ours have been codified. Sometimes that opens up a lawyer’s picnic, but we ought to attempt to continue to properly define them.

That just lets me comment on two others. Property freedom rights are actually very critical to a functioning economy … totally. You have to know that if you work hard and put together some assets, some feudal lord or some state isn’t going to come along and abscond with them.

The other one that’s vitally important is freedom of association. I was talking with a great friend from my university days, Annie Robertson, a moment ago, who, I think, rightly made the point. We need to think carefully about how we describe freedom of association, because it can rapidly descend into something that sounds exclusive, I think … I’m paraphrasing … but concerns over whether it sounds elitist or somehow exclusive, and we don’t want it to.

The right to freedom of association is astonishingly important and taken for granted by every single one of us, including many of those militant secularists who want to now strip out the right of charities and schools, and so forth, to choose people to work for them on the basis of whether or not they share their ethos. It’s incredibly important.

Does anybody seriously suggest that the Greens in Canberra should take an old believer in traditional values and marriage and … put it to me, I mean, I’m such a threatened species that I have no particular problem with the sensible use of fossil fuels. I tell you one of the main reasons. We have a population of about seven billion. For the foreseeable future … as a farmer, can I tell you something in simple black- and-white terms? Without fossil fuels for the next few years, you won’t be able to feed more than a billion or so of them, so they still have their place. Good grief.

Does anybody seriously suggest, though, that the Greens can or could or should have me as a paid up member running for a Senate spot for them? Of course not. They would say we don’t agree. We choose not to associate with him. They have that absolute right … that absolute right.

Just as my parents chose, out of freedom, to enrol me in a school which suited their ethos and their beliefs … I think they were rather surprised, I had to tell you, when I took it a little further than they thought appropriate. Old-timers might’ve said, “He became enthusiastic about faith.” Remember, enthusiasm was once a pejorative term. You’ve gone over the top … but I did, and very well, and I’m very thankful for it. They had that right. Why should today’s parents … the 30 or 35%, for example, who choose independent schools … lose the right to be secure in the knowledge that the things that they’re believing for and looking for in their children’s futures will not be delivered, or cannot be delivered, or somehow overruled by the state, as though the state has greater right to the raising of your children than you do?

Ladies and gentlemen, I think I’m sort of getting to the wind-up. I have talked a long time. I said the other night to the independent schools, the Christian schools’ dinner in Canberra the other day, that one of the great problems with former politicians is that they sometimes have microphone deprivation syndrome, like a former crack addict who can’t get to the jar fast enough. You’ve been silly enough to let me have the mic.

Look, it’s been a great privilege to be with you. I’ve just tried to give you a broad overview. You’ll have lawyers with you, if I’ve done the wrong thing. You’ll have lawyers with you who can unpack a lot more detail. The Religious Review has now hit the government. What I’m trying to do here is just build some understanding of what’s at stake, what we need to aiming at. I’ll leave it to others to try and unpack more of the detail. I know many of you have done incredibly valuable work in thinking this through, and trying to put the case in making submissions.

There’s one last thing I want you to do. If you believe, as I do, that the most important piece of news that any human being needs to hear is the Gospel, you’ll fight to the death for the right to be able to continue to carry it into the public square. I happen to believe that it is the best thing. I think history’s on my side on this one. For societies at large, we are the beneficiaries of people who believed in the Gospel in this country.

We didn’t fight for freedom. It was handed to us by people who built a society on the foundation of the worth and the dignity of every individual, whether they agreed politically or not. We ought to be prepared to stand on the shoulders of those giants, at the very least, to defend their legacy, but to preserve what they gave us for ourselves, and more than ourselves … our children and our grandchildren. Thank you very much.


John Anderson is a sixth-generation farmer and grazier from New South Wales, who spent 19 years from 1989 in the Australian Parliament. He served as a senior Cabinet minister in the reformist government led by John Howard (1996 to 2005), one of the most successful governments in Australian parliamentary history. This included six years as Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister.