Bert Kelly’s important place in the history of Australia can be summarized very simply. Bert arrived in Federal Parliament as the Member for Wakefield in 1958 and from then until he left the Parliament in 1977 led a long and often bitter campaign against protectionism, first against a very powerful Deputy Prime Minister and Country Party Leader in John ‘Black Jack’ McEwen and also against the deeply held and strongly defended populism of the day. We have been reminded in recent days that the debate over protectionism is never over.
Bert was opposed to protectionism because it was wrong, and it was wrong because it created a situation in which governments granted favours to some, who were thus greatly enriched, at the expense of others, who were at best impoverished and at worst, ruined.
Bert was also Minister for the Navy, a job he enjoyed immensely.
Since Bert Kelly entered parliament in 1958 there have been huge changes in the culture which informs and sustains national life.
The most striking change is the decline of Christianity as the foundation of Australian religious and moral life, and the concomitant rise of Environmentalism as the faith which informs the minds of intellectual, political and business elites.
Another important change has been the rise of the entitlement culture, a mode of feeling which generates the sense that governments have a responsibility to provide every person aggrieved in some way with all the goods and services required to lead a satisfying life.
Thus democracy and the rule of law are once again vulnerable to attacks from increasingly powerful interests.
The Bert Kelly Research Centre will play its part in their defence.