Consent of the People by David Kemp

Reviewed by Richard Tutin

It could be assumed that David Kemp has produced a history or critical examination of democracy as practised in Australia. As we get deeper into the text, we find that he has done this and more.

Kemp’s experience and expertise as a political scientist, member of Federal parliament, Cabinet minister and President of the Victorian branch of the Liberal party gives him a unique position to discuss and examine the Enlightenment ideals of liberalism that have helped to shape Australian governance and politics since Federation in 1901.

This volume Consent of the People – Human Dignity Through Freedom and Equality is the final book in a five-volume series on Australian Liberalism and covers the liberal ideas of governments from Prime Minister Harold Holt (1966-67) through to Prime Minister Scott Morrison (2019-22). During this fifty-six-year period, a lot happened as successive governments of this period grappled with the economic and social challenges Australia faced both internally and from overseas.

Kemp’s thesis that Liberalism is a vital part of Australia’s democratic way of life is an important one. Liberalism lies at the heart of our national desire that all who live and come to this country can lead their way of life by enjoying equality and freedom. It allows the individual to decide for themselves how they will live and work without pressures from government. It also means that those in power can govern because they have been allowed to by the consent of the people. This is quite important for a nation that has never experienced a revolution or hostile takeover of its governing systems.

Though I read it from cover to cover this volume is not meant to be used in this way unless the reader is a keen student of politics and social history. It is a book that researchers of this period of Australian life can consult as part of their own research and examination. Its detail demonstrates Kemp’s knowledge of the period. He is also prepared to include some of his own thoughts and experiences of events and decisions that were made during his time working as a federal staff member and as a member of Parliament and Cabinet minister. These are more than reminiscences but are important contributions to the events under consideration at that point in the book.

For Kemp, Liberalism is more than just a label for the Liberal Party of Australia. It is a concept that crosses the party divide and is part of the DNA of all political parties especially the three major ones that have dominated the Australian political scene for most, if not all, of this period. He treats the topic in a dispassionate and academic manner that allows the reader to receive a very considered approach to the topic.

Kemp makes clear that Australia, as a nation, has achieved a lot that we should not forget or underestimate. In this era of discussions on climate change, identity politics and recognition of indigenous Australians in the Constitution it is good to be reminded that the ideals of Liberalism have fuelled the desire for these discussions to be fostered and continued. These ideals will also be important when final decisions are eventually made.

David Kemp’s career spans academia and politics. From 1990 to 2004, he was a member of federal parliament, and from 1996 was a minister in the Howard government. He was vice president of the Executive Council and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service. Before entering parliament, he was Professor of Politics at Monash University and after leaving parliament has been Professor and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He has published seminal books on voting behaviour and political analysis and has written extensively on political liberalism and political ideas.

Consent of the People – Human Dignity through Freedom and Equality

by David Kemp


The Miegunyah Press

ISBN 978 052287 264 4

$59.99; 625pp

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