NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian Address to Sydney Institute
Thursday, 9 November 2017
I believe that Liberalism is the philosophy that best underpins good government.
But how does a philosophy dating from the 17th century fare today – and what does a good, modern Liberal government look like?
This evening I will put the case for what must be hallmarks of good government in the 21st century.
Naturally, our personal backgrounds and life experiences form our outlook and values.
My parents were migrants of Armenian background who came to Australia separately during the 1960s.
A nurse and a welder, they embraced Australia as a place where they could build a new life as Australians while being proud of their cultural heritage.
My sisters and I were instilled with the values of respect, hard work and civic responsibility.
Our parents showed us the importance of making the most of freedoms, choices and opportunities which neither of them had.
They championed the belief that if we worked hard and took nothing for granted, Australia was a place where we could achieve anything we put our mind to and shape our own path in life.
These values were complemented by the times in which I grew up.
As a teenager forming her views during the Cold War, there were clear distinctions in my mind between free and democratic societies which protected the rights of the individual – and “mean” dictatorships which thwarted personal freedoms and condemned everyone to the same outcomes no matter how hard they worked.
For someone who appreciated the value of hard work and the opportunities that came with it, and the ability to think and express myself freely, the Cold War cemented the values I hold dear to this day – values I subsequently discovered had been championed by Liberals for centuries.
These were the principles spelled out in the 17th century by John Locke – who wrote about an individual’s right to life and liberty – in the 18th century by Adam Smith – who argued for limited government – and in the 19th century by John Stuart Mill – who advocated individual freedom, free speech and, most importantly, equality of opportunity.
Since the Age of Enlightenment, these ideas have endured and stood the test of time.
They have been advanced, nuanced and interpreted by new generations.
And they have given people around the world and here in Australia the opportunity to lead a better life.
It was these timeless Liberal values that inspired me to contribute to public life in order to create those opportunities for others, and to protect and defend them through good government.
Principles of Good Liberal Governments
Good Liberal governments appreciate that a strong economy is the best means of creating jobs, opportunity and investing for the community.
Good Liberal governments are effective and efficient, and choose to limit their scope – they stay out of people’s lives and give people the freedom to make their own choices.
Good Liberal governments are enablers – allowing all sections of the community to flourish.
Good Liberal governments ensure that hard work is rewarded – they cut taxes and reduce red tape so there is incentive for individuals and businesses to do better.
Good Liberal governments support the most vulnerable – they break down barriers to opportunity and social inclusion and provide extra support and protection to those who need it most.
And good Liberal governments respect the environment we live in – taking a balanced, responsible approach to land use and development.
As Margaret Thatcher said in 1988, in a speech to the Conservative Party conference: “No generation has a free hold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy – with a full repairing lease.”
Liberal Governments throughout Australia’s political history have understood these natural human aspirations and worked to create equality of opportunity for all citizens – no matter what their background or circumstances.
Liberal Values Today
As it has been during the past four centuries, Liberalism today is the most appropriate philosophy to support societies through the complexities of disruption and dislocation in the digital age.
When I travel around NSW, I take inspiration from the young people I am privileged to meet.
Those young people want choices, opportunities and access to those things that provide a fulfilling life.
They do not want to be held back by existing structures, but have the freedom to shape their own.
They want to know that they will be rewarded for effort and initiative.
They want to see governments provide support for the most vulnerable and they crave a sensible approach to protecting the environment.
Their vision of hope and aspiration for the future should be supported and enabled by government – not constrained by it.
Just as the early philosophers of Liberalism expressed its guiding principles for their times, today new voices are espousing Liberal values for new generations.
These voices are often leaders in business and civil society – people who are shaping our future.
Bill Gates, for instance, believes that freedom and innovation are inherently linked.
In a speech on “Creating Digital Dividends”, delivered in the year 2000, Gates said that: “If you give people tools, and they use their natural abilities and their curiosity, they will develop things in ways that will surprise you very much beyond what you may have expected.”
Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, has spoken about the importance of freedom to drive social change, saying earlier this year that:
“If people have the freedom to do what they want – whether that is taking a chance on a new idea or building their community – their inherent creativity and goodness will help society flourish.”
I do not propose to speculate on Gates’ and Zuckerberg’s political allegiances – but it is telling that their inherently Liberal ideas are the ones shaping our present and our future.
Challenges to Governments and Institutions
While the founding values of Liberalism are as clear and relevant as ever today, for those of us in government, it is vital that we make sure Liberalism continues to deliver not just in theory but in practice.
Institutions everywhere are being disrupted by demographic, economic and technological change.
Not only are these forces changing lives – too quickly, for some – the digital revolution is also giving more people than ever before a voice on the decisions that affect them.
People are demanding that governments listen and respond to their everyday concerns.
And moving quickly to punish those governments that don’t.
In many nations, as the disparity between rich and poor increases, communities are cynical about putting trust in systems which they believe are working only for the privileged few.
For every citizen who has benefited from economic growth and change, there is another citizen who fears it, or feels left behind.
New jobs and industries require different skills than those our economy was based on even a decade ago.
Digital technology can disillusion as well as empower, adding to a sense of powerlessness and cynicism towards institutions.
Australia is not immune from this global phenomenon – and while we are undoubtedly better placed to overcome these social and economic challenges than other nations, expectations of leadership and institutions are changing, often beyond our ability to satisfy them.
Hallmarks of Modern Liberalism: Collaboration and Compassion
Good Liberal governments in the 21st century must build the compact of trust and shared responsibility with citizens and civil society – a compact that has broken down in many countries.
Our challenge is to govern for all, not just those with the loudest voice.
We must put equality of opportunity at the heart of every decision we make – ensuring that every citizen has the chance to reach their potential and have a good quality of life.
State governments in particular have a heavy responsibility.
Our decisions have the most direct and immediate impact on the lives of the people and communities we serve.
We are responsible for the infrastructure and services that allow individuals to get ahead and for communities to grow stronger.
And we are responsible for the greatest enabler of all – education.
If every child has a good education and a supportive learning environment, then through hard work and personal choices they will have the best opportunities to reach their potential and live fulfilling lives.
This is why investment in education in NSW is an absolute priority for my government.
I am ambitious and optimistic about the benefits that good state governments can bring to people’s lives.
But as a leader of a modern Liberal government, I know that we must look beyond just what we have known, and ask deeper questions about the type of society we want to contribute to and be part of.
At this time of such rapid change and disruption, we must put collaboration and compassion at the core of 21st century government.
We must champion collaboration between government, business and the not-for-profit sector to grow the economy, harness innovation and tackle social challenges.
Elsewhere in Australia there is a growing trend of confrontation between governments and business.
But the reality is that only working together, pooling resources and expertise, can we create the jobs that our economies need.
Just as education is an enabler of opportunity, job security is the key to giving our citizens control over their lives and future.
In NSW, we know that a thriving private sector means more and better jobs, more choices and more opportunities for our citizens today and ultimately their children and grandchildren.
But at the same time, we expect businesses to fulfil their social contract, operate ethically and give back to the community.
We want to engage business not just in building infrastructure and providing services, but in supporting government and not-profits in overcoming social challenges.
Collaboration is a fundamentally Liberal principle.
It springs from our belief in limited government – a belief that government does not have all the answers, but must work in partnership with other sectors towards better outcomes.
Compassion, too, is fundamentally Liberal.
Liberal compassion is about genuinely understanding our citizens’ aspirations, concerns and fears, and working with communities to dedicate resources where they are needed – including to the most isolated and most vulnerable in our society.
To me, nothing could be more Liberal than opening up opportunities for those who are locked out, or feel locked out of opportunity in NSW.
As a government – and a society – it is incumbent on us to break cycles of disadvantage so that more of our citizens have access to the same choices and opportunities that many of us take for granted.
True compassion requires us to understand the aspirations of our citizens and communities.
We know that for people to feel a greater sense of empowerment and inclusion in society, they must have a say in the future of their community and how it is shaped.
The key to achieving that is for individuals and communities to have a meaningful voice, and for governments to respect their views – to listen and then act accordingly.
When people feel a sense of place and belonging, their sense of shared responsibility to the community grows – and so too does their engagement in our democracy.
Society is at its strongest – and moves forward the fastest – when governments, communities, business and the not-for-profit sector work together for the greater good.
And it is the role of good, modern Liberal governments to foster this sense of shared responsibility.
In NSW, we have strived to apply these values to every decision we have made.
We understand that we need to make these principles work for the aspirations and challenges of new generations and diverse communities.
We have rebuilt the state budget and reshaped the government, cutting waste and moving resources from the bureaucracy to the front line.
With strong financial management and innovative solutions such as asset recycling, we have built a platform to invest for the future – in infrastructure and services that can rival the world’s best and change people’s lives and prospects.
NSW today has the strongest and fastest growing economy, the lowest unemployment, the highest jobs growth and the highest business confidence and investment in Australia.
We have an opportunity now to secure long term economic growth and social progress for our state – and it is an opportunity that I am determined we will not waste.
We are accelerating the next stage of major economic and social infrastructure projects to connect communities and transform our economy.
We are partnering with business to create hundreds of thousands of new jobs through to 2025 and beyond, in our cities, our regions and our rural communities.
We are working hand in hand with communities to ensure that as our population grows it is supported by well-planned infrastructure that reflects their local aspirations.
We are working with communities to protect our environment and local heritage.
We are collaborating with the not-for-profit sector to support our most vulnerable and make progress on the most intractable social problems – from homelessness to mental health, reducing the number of children in out of home care, or the rates of recidivism in our prison population.
We are using our strong budget position to help address the cost of living and put first home ownership within reach for those who work hard.
We are doing everything within our control to make sure that social or economic disadvantage is not a barrier to having a better quality of life in NSW.
And we are doing so by adopting classical Liberal principles for 21st century challenges, embracing collaboration, compassion and shared responsibility as our core values.
The Political Struggle
The rise of populism around the world has emboldened those who would argue that bigger, more interventionist government can solve every problem.
We have seen the rise of high-taxing state governments in Australia, attacking business and unwilling to do the hard work of economic reform.
Modern times have demonstrated that the old Labor principles of intrusive government and equality of outcome have no place in contemporary society.
Yet at a time when Australia needs leadership focused on the future, the Labor Party remains deeply wedded to these archaic principles.
Labor has given up any pretence of economic responsibility and is pursuing an agenda that would create further economic and social dislocation.
Labor’s repeated failure to deliver sustainable social policies to grow opportunity for all makes a mockery of their claim to defend the lives of the most vulnerable.
Only a political party committed to the core Liberal principle of strong economic management has the capacity to deliver compassionate policies and lasting social change.
But just talking about that distinction between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party is not enough. Those of us who are proud to be Liberals need to counter Labor’s flawed narrative not just with the strength of our principles – but with practical action that will meet the challenges and opportunities of the age in which we live.
Liberalism as a political philosophy and an agenda for Government has endured for centuries, and proven dramatically more successful than any competing political ideology.
It has driven our national progress and unleashed the aspirations and achievements of millions of people – my family’s and mine included.
But while Liberalism’s appeal may be timeless, its success is not guaranteed unless we renew it and put it to work for Australians today and the generations that follow them.
Here in NSW, that is what we are doing and will continue to do each and every day.