Will Labor dump the Socialist Objective?

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.

15 thoughts on “Will Labor dump the Socialist Objective?”

  1. Given the low credibility of politics/politicians generally I think a change in the Labor Constitution would not boost Labor’s electoral outcome. It may even be damaging because it draws attention to Labor’s socialist leanings. Maybe longer term it might help but cynicism fades slowly.
    I had hoped that Labor, following the Rudd/Gillard events would re-group by entering a two year re-build program headed up by Tanya. That was the time to reinvent Labor, clean up policy and maybe even better deal with the control of the Party. And make changes to the Constitution. At the end of two years leadership would be declared vacant and a permanent (I know recent history makes that sound odd) leader voted in. That did not happen. Shorten is holding a hopeful position right now, but Abbott is gifting him that by being the lousy PM. If Abbott had any sort of skill, I wonder if Bill Shorten would still be leader. A Constitutional change will not help Bill into the top job.

  2. Geoff, in reporting Shorten’s opinion poll rating woes the Oz was suggesting that the national conference provided an opportunity for Bill to reboot his leadership. Unfortunately journalists tend to see this as a matter of Bill getting his way.

    It seems as though there is going to be some genuine discussion at the conference for a change, and Shorten seems to be happy to accept what comes out and run with it. I think that is a whole lot more healthy.

    We’ll see how he goes when he has something more positive to advocate.

  3. Thanks Brian, probably correct. Interesting times ahead I think. I can’t see Abbott surviving too long especially if Labor decides on another leader.
    I read today that Labor is going to upgrade its environmental policy. I believe that will attract a lot of votes away from the LNP.

  4. I caught part of Alan Jones today. He was claiming that the Labor Caucus can still tip the leader notwithstanding the intentions of Rudd. I missed about just how the leader could still be spilled.

    Maybe Tanya can get a chance soon? Now if Abbott was tipped for Julie Bishop…

  5. Geoff, don’t quote me, but I think it only takes a 60% caucus vote to create a spill. It has often been pointed out that Rudd’s rules would not have saved him in 2010. Also they are only Caucus rules, so far, and can be cancelled or changed by Caucus.

    But probably they won’t and the current long election process exposes them to an opportunistic strike from Abbott calling an early election.

    I think it will be Shorten vs Abbott and not until an election is due.

    1. “I think it will be Shorten vs Abbott and not until an election is due.”
      Pity. On-going political stodge…

  6. The weakness of involving the party members in the election of a new leader is that it leaves the party in a very weak position while this is going on. Keep in mind that leaders may die or leave for reasons that have nothing to do with a caucus revolt.

  7. Involving party members is a great idea because (a) it makes it harder for the media to beat up a leadership crisis and (b) it activates the base. It is immaterial whether the party is “weak” during a leadership contest unless it coincides with an election campaign, which is unlikely to happen very often.

  8. The ALP fretting over whether they should erase “socialist” and other swear-words from their official documents is just plain silly.

    Their time would be better spent gazing into mirrors and then trying to understand why they are so distrusted and held in contempt by the very people one would think were their core supporters.

    Make no mistake. The ALP is usually (though not always) far less senselessly cruel and perverse than is the Losers’ Party, however, that alone will not restore the prestige and trust the enjoyed many decades ago.

    Ever since the first or second year of Bob Hawke’s prime ministership, the ALP has been seen as the Left-leaning party of big business, the party of personal career enhancement and to blazes with the constituents and their needs and their hopes.

    Playing a form of scrabble with the word “socialist” is much easier and much more comfortable than the hard work of finding out why former supporters now wouldn’t touch the ALP with a barge-pole. Besides, nobody will thank you at all for uncovering unpleasant truths that would , in turn, require diligent corrective action.

  9. Graham, I know that some regard these formal statements of purpose as about as relevant as theologians debating how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

    I think Labor needs to do the listening and self-reflection and then come up with a clear statement which shows they understand the situation we’re in and where they see us as going. Then party members and the public can hold them accountable.

  10. Yeah, Brian. I’m an incurable optimist and I do hope something good does come out of his ritual dance.

    I’m not sure how they will get a complete change of direction when the ALP consistently believes that policy failures happen because they didn’t explain themselves enough rather than because they didn’t even bother listening – first of all, to their own rank-and-file members, and then, to FORMER rank-and-file members and to ordinary members of the public.

    My suggestion of a slogan for this bun-fight: SHUT UP – LISTEN – ASK WHY – BELIEVE THE ANSWERS.

  11. With an opponent like Tony a leader election process that takes yonks could leave an opposition party dangerously exposed. When Labor is in opposition perhaps the policy should insist on an automatic leadership spill early in the term while leaving the replacement of leaders who resign or die to the party room for the rest of the term.
    The current policy is OK when Labor is in government.

  12. With ALP backward somersault on boat turn backs , Hansard is LNPs best friend.
    Dorothy Dixers in the first week back will be a delight to listen to for a change. If Dutton doesn’t shine with this after being handed a golden, Sr Morrison success, he should get reshuffled to the LNP chook tending portfolio at Kirribilli.

    The doubling of refugee intake from offshore UNHCR facilities is a good idea, happy with that.

  13. Shorten has what it takes to establish better working arrangements with our neighbours, allow more refugees to settle here and sort out something reasonable for those in limbo. He may also get more aid to the countries that are currently caught with massive inflows of refugees.
    It may not be perfect but it will be better and more decent than what we have.

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