This question is one that brings a mix of emotions to Australian libertarians. For me it draws emotions of optimism for Australia’s political future, but on the other hand I feel overwhelmed by the prospect of how far we may have to go before we can boast a strong libertarian presence in Australian politics. When I ask the question whether Australia will ever have a Ron Paul, I am referring to whether Australia will ever have such a prominent representative of libertarianism in mainstream political debate. I think a better question to ask though is ‘How will Australia get a Ron Paul’.
Ron Paul stands out internationally as being on the forefront of bringing the libertarian movement into mainstream politics, but we are not fortunate enough as of yet to have such a prominent figure in Australian politics. Perhaps Ron Paul’s greatest contribution to the Libertarian cause is the fact that he has been able to be part of the debates, giving people the world over access to the ideas of free market economics and personal liberty. Ron Paul’s success comes not from his ability to communicate his policy perhaps, but from the mere fact that he has been able to communicate his policy. I know many of you will argue that he has not received equitable coverage in his campaign, but it cannot be denied that his bid for presidency has had far reaching effects on libertarian thinkers all over the world, and if even he doesn’t receive the Republican nomination, he will have done that, which is no small accomplishment.
What has given Paul strength is that he was able to make his case in the mainstream media and political scene, which would have been exponentially harder without the backing of a mainstream party. In Australia it is almost unthinkable that a libertarian candidate could arise from the Liberal Party, arguably the closet Australia has to an economically conservative mainstream political party.
As mainstream political party members in Australia, we do not get the privilege to be so involved in process of choosing party leadership as our American counterparts. As members of a party we are expected to support whoever gets appointed behind the closed doors of caucus. The system of choosing party leaders in Australia will always favour the more populist of politicians, without even giving a platform for the rare ideological candidates to be heard. The American system is by no means perfect, but it certainly makes it possible for more ideological candidates to be heard.
There is no doubt that there is a wealth of libertarian thinkers in Australia, but there is a mixed consensus on how to advance the libertarian movement in mainstream politics and what needs to be done to get us there. If we are to have an Australian Ron Paul, it is going to come about in either from one of the smaller parties, or after a radical change has occurred within the mainstream political parties. It can be argued that if a prominent figure representing libertarianism is going to arise anytime soon, they are probably already involved in politics, and if they are anything like Ron Paul, they are earning a tenure representing a mainstream political party. Although neither of the mainstream parties are very libertarian in their policies, they do provide a framework for success, success that can give opportunities to ambitious, ideological up and comers. Working within the framework of the mainstream parties holds certain advantages that currently are not available within any of the minor parties, but the advantages aren’t as great as they are in the U.S. One thing is clear though, that for there to be a libertarian presence in Australian politics, libertarians need to make an effort to be present in Australian politics. You can argue all day about economic theory, but at the end of the day it doesn’t make us any closer to having a Ron Paul if you aren’t championing the rationality of libertarian philosophy. Ron Paul has done us a huge favour by representing the cause, but he wouldn’t be able to do so if he didn’t fight to make himself heard.