The ALP constitution states:
- “The Australian Labor Party is a democratic socialist party and has the objective of the democratic socialisation of industry, production, distribution and exchange, to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in these fields.”
In practice Labor has been the party of privatisation. The last time they proposed nationalising anything was in 1947, when Chifley wanted to nationalise the banks. It was one reason he lost the election.
Back in 1981 Gareth Evans had a go at dumping the thing. He failed, he says, through “a combination of sentiment and apathy”. As a compromise 22 sub-paragraphs were added, making the whole thing meaningless.
Phillip Coorey reports that Labor is having another look at the Socialist Objective during the forthcoming national conference. Shorten wants it gone, so does Chris Bowen, who told the Fabian Society last year that
- “it’s time to replace the socialist objective with a better statement of what we stand for”, saying the objective did not reflect “our ambition for a modern, fair, sophisticated, cosmopolitan, outward-looking multicultural country”.
In his book Hearts and Minds he wrote:
“We can’t expect the public to be clear about what Labor stands for if we are not clear about this ourselves.”
NSW Labor leader Luke Foley is leading the charge to scrap the Socialist Objective at the ALP conference. He will move during Sunday’s rules debate to get rid of it. He proposes a new version:
- which speaks of “a just and equitable society where every person has the opportunity to realise their potential”, and which supports active government and competitive markets.
Not everyone agrees. Newly minted ALP senator from NSW Jenny McAllister says the language is “old-fashioned” but
- “at the heart of the objective is the confirmation that we understand the relationship between the economy and our society and that we’re willing to intervene democratically to make the economy work for all of us”.
I believe that Tanya Plibersek is of a similar mind.
Troy Bramston in the Oz reports that Labor elders, like Steve Bracks, Peter Beattie and Simon Crean want it dumped. Geoff Gallop wants it updated and wants the party to call itself “social democrat” rather than “democratic socialist”. He wants something added about the environment, about a commitment to “ensure a liveable, healthy and sustainable environment”.
That still sees us as living in an environment rather than being part of nature. As David Spratt points out, the Pope’s statement Laudato si makes this essential point and is really quite radical:
- Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature…”
Pope Francis’ key moral conundrum, he says, is what to do about the destructive character of the globalised economy. Spratt quotes Ross Garnaut at length, who in his 2013 book Dog Days: Australia after the boom, “comes to realise that the end point of the industrial revolution in the form of an international, deregulated and hegemonic late capitalism is at heart immoral and threatens our society’s future”:
- “Moral philosophers and sociologists have long drawn attention to the social underpinnings of modern economic and political institutions. Capitalism stands on the shoulders of pre-capitalist ideology – a system of beliefs and moral precepts that constrains the greed and ambition of individuals in areas where they will be damaging to order and prosperity, but allows them loose rein where this is productive for society as a whole. But the widening scope of the market economy corrodes old constraints. The democratic capitalist order is in trouble unless we renew old or build new alternative sources of constraint on individual ambition and greed, and do so in a way that retains the dynamism of individual initiative expressed through the market. These moral and social constraints… means that limits are placed on the use of corporate wealth to exercise power over policy in a democracy.”
Coorey says that whatever the ALP does about the Socialist Objective it has no practical implications. In the short term, he’s no doubt right.
Longer term, I’m reminded that Keating says current Australian politicians have the ambition of a gnat. If they don’t understand that our way of being and becoming in the world has to change, they will lead us to destruction.
A new statement of purpose has to be made, but crafting it is no trivial matter.