Don Watson On Inspiring Support for Radical Change


Don Watson’s article in The Monthly poses a powerful message to all of us seeking the radical changes needed to give the world a future. The target was Labor supporters but the message is equally important to the Greens and other progressive parties.  In a sense the article supplements Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN with its memorable bottom line of: “We are in the beginning of mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” (Given that the human plague has grown by over 22% (1.5 billion) since she was born and 3 times since 1950 perhaps she should have added eternal population growth to the fairy tales that require urgent action.)
The future desperately needs leadership that can inspire us to support the action required to minimize the damage being done by the human plague in a way that doesn’t make the people at the bottom of the pile even worse off than they are now.
Don Watson’s article was about the importance of speech writers like Labor’s Graham Freudenberg who have a clear vision on policy and ideas combined with the skills to turn these things into memorable, stirring speeches like Gough’s “It’s Time” speech.

Read and discuss.

40 thoughts on “Don Watson On Inspiring Support for Radical Change”

  1. I suppose this finding from the review:
    “Finding 3: Labor did not craft a simple narrative that unified its many policies.”
    – is some recognition of Watson’s call, although it’s incredibly prosaic and fails to see that it’s about more than ‘unifying policies’.

    There’s so much that’s contradictory and unresolved in the review though, including the lukewarm commitment to “care for the environment” (added on like an afterthought at the end of a lust of values) vs the stronger call “Labor should position itself as a party of economic growth and job creation.”

    There’s no recognition and no discussion of the conflict between those statements. It’s particularly apparent at a moment when 11000 scientists have said that we cannot continue endless “economic growth”.

    And why, at this moment in history, they chose two middle aged white men, a lawyer and an economist, to conduct the review, I don’t know.

  2. I guess one problem for Labor, which Watson doesn’t acknowledge, is that many people with vision have left the party over the treatment of refugees.

    Many of course went to the Greens, but the Greens have the same problem – there isn’t a clear narrative that appeals to people. Bob Brown was capable of representing that personally, and many people of all parties respected him, but it isn’t there now.

    I would add that one of the problems for progressive parties is that they have to abandon patriarchy, and in Australia – unlike, say, New Zealand – it seems they can’t do that. Both ALP and Greens tried a female leader at the federal level, and quickly reverted to ‘blokes’.

  3. Val,

    Being a review of a political Party, I think it was reasonable to have the review conducted and written by two persons with recent and very senior political experience.

    Experience counts. I imagine they drew on a wide range of opinion and analyses. Brian has described some of this from the inside of the tent. (BTW speaking for myself, it doesn’t worry me that this blog is conducted by a “white” male person. Should it?)

    In a very basic way, a huge publicly funded review of Labor policies was conducted recently. It was done by the largest, most diverse group of Australians possible. It was a Federal Election.

    The results are there to ponder, seat by seat, booth by booth. Press and TV commentators, step aside: listen to the vox populi.

  4. Val:

    Both ALP and Greens tried a female leader at the federal level, and quickly reverted to ‘blokes’.

    You have got to do better than that. It sounds as though your big objection to DiNatale and Shorten was their gender rather than their competence and what they stood for. If that is not what you are saying it would be useful to know who you thought should have become Green and Labor leaders at the time and reasons other than gender for your decision.
    Right now I think that it would have been better if Tanya Plibersek had become leader of the Labor party because she has the presence and skills to beat the blustering bully we have leading the country at the moment.
    Right now the premier of NSW is a woman and the premier, deputy premier and opposition leader of Qld are all women. We seem to be getting over the idea that gender is important when selecting leaders and it would be a shame if the women’s movement opposed this change.

  5. John
    I’m with you every step of the way there ( sorry if I’ve made you guilty by association to me somehow )

    Except for Plibersek, she has an atrocious record when the voters are asked. Almost campaign shes been highly involved with has been a dismal failure. And it not because she doesn’t have a dick.

  6. Jumpy has raised the issue before about the female premiers, but I’m talking at federal level. And by the same token it doesn’t matter that Brian is a white male running this blog – I’m talking about federal leadership.
    Just look at Trump, Johnson, Putin, Bolsanaro, Duterte, etc and you will see there has been a shift to ‘strongman’ leaders in some countries. I think that is partly a reaction to feminism and threats to the traditional male role. I think Australia’s difficulty fully accepting a female leader is on the same spectrum, though not as pronounced. That’s why I’m saying male leaders who believe in equality should actually step aside to support women – make it clear. At the moment it’s ambiguous, and I suspect many Australians, and many in politics, aren’t confident about a female leader. I’m suggesting that having a strong, confident progressive message would be clearer with having a female leader.

    It’s like saying ‘choose your side’. What do you guys stand for? Genuine equality or just ‘maybe equality one day when we feel like it’?

  7. Val:

    It’s like saying ‘choose your side’. What do you guys stand for? Genuine equality or just ‘maybe equality one day when we feel like it’?

    You could ask yourself the equivalent question. You don’t sound like you would stand aside to give a male candidate a chance in a place like Qld.
    I am in favour of setting the rules for long term gender equality, not a fix to a short term problem. (Ex: At least 40% of candidates should be people who consider themselves female AND at least 40% of candidates should be people who consider themselves male.)
    Interesting thing is that the polls suggest that neither women nor men seem to be significantly more likely to vote for someone of the same gender.
    My wife has had a very well developed mind of her own for all the time I have known her. She has no intention of doing what she is told just because she has been told to do it by a woman or man.
    She also said to me over 50 yrs ago that women will only become fully liberated when people become liberated. She understood that men’s lives, just like women’s lives were limited by the expectations placed upon them.

  8. There’s nothing in any of that that contradicts what I’m saying John. In Australia we’ve had 30 Prime Ministers, 29 of them men, and the one female PM we had was treated pretty disrespectfully. It’s time for change to a society that really values human beings. That’s what you’re saying, yet at the same time you seem to be defending a position of inequality (29/30 prime ministers male).

    Why, if I were in the position to stand for Qld premier, should I stand aside for a man? Because 2 of 39 Qld Premiers have been female? Nowhere near 40%, is it? I think you could call for that when you’ve had 39 female premiers, which is some way off yet.

  9. Val: In the last 12 yrs the only man to be premier of Qld lasted one term only. n addition, given that the leader of both parties are women it is most unlikely that the premier will be a man after the next election. How long are we expected to go back into the past to justify your demand that we preference female premiers in Qld? Is it time Qld had a male premier? What is your criteria?
    I think the important thing is to have a reasonable mix of female and male members in parliament, ministries and shadow cabinets so that women and men of talent get exposed and tested. In some cases it may be necessary to have gender balanced quotas like what I talked about in my previous comment to achieve this. (The Greens seem to have been able to get the balance without quotas.)

  10. John, it took over 150 years for Queensland to elect a female premier, so I think you can afford to wait a few more before worrying about female over-representation!

    However, given the terrible situation that is happening in Queensland and NSW at present, I am happy to postpone further debate on gender till another time.

    Did you see the editorial in the Tasmanian Examiner on Morrison’s ‘thoughts and prayers’ remark? It is really worth looking at. I hope people are beginning to wake up to the charlatans running this country.

  11. Val: I am not worried about the female leader issue in Qld at the moment but i would get worried when people start saying only a woman has what it takes to win in Qld.
    In case you missed it what I want for the future is a system that encourages both young women and men with talent to enter politics and not be put off with a perception that their progress will be blocked by their gender. In other words the end to the gender wars.
    Problem I see with some feminists is that they want to win the gender war and seize power, not share it.
    Happy to talk about ending the gender war but can’t see much point in talking to you about it at the moment.
    Liked the Examiner editorial.

  12. “Problem I see with some feminists including you is that they want to win the gender war and seize power, not share it.”
    Comments like that aren’t helpful if you really want to have a respectful discussion. I’m disappointed and hurt that you’d say such a thing. It’s a wilful misreading of what I’m saying.

  13. Val: I edited the comment about you out of my previous comment but I do stick by the

    Problem I see with some feminists is that they want to win the gender war and seize power, not share it.

  14. Val, we can’t change history. In Qld at present we have the best people leading each of the main political parties. We’ve had a string of female governors, our Chief Medical Officer for decades now has been a woman, the new Chief of Police is a woman, I think she ran the fire brigade before that.

    If I run through the local ABC weekly presenters 24/7, leaving out Sunday the weekend, we get 7 women and 4 men. In rugby league we have a string of female commentators. Fiona Simpson has been NFF head honcho for yonks.

    However, no-one is counting and no-one is commenting or complaining that the women are taking over the joint.

    Inside Labor, the need is for greater cultural diversity, and to some degree youth (in part, older people have more time).

    This article was about speeches and the need for a narrative, plus what constitutes leadership, I think.

    Two notable speeches in recent times were Gillard’s misogyny speech, and Greta Thunberg,s speech to the UN.

    One of Shorten’s failures is that he never said “no” to any of his shadow ministers, didn’t make Chris Bowen modify negative gearing and franking credits to restrict the effects to high income earners.

    Albo is basing his strategy on what he has identified as Labor values. First among these is the dignity of work, which he wants to become dignified rather than exploitative. That is quite a large job at present. I’ve got a partly finished post where I’ll try to spell it out.

    In “growth” he wants people to become all they can be, to fulfil their human potential. Economic growth can happen within planetary boundaries. It’s part of my mission to make this more explicit.

  15. Thanks, Brian, for steering away from a somewhat gender-led discussion.

    When Labor got turfed and appeared leaderless, I suggested that they appoint an interim leader for two years. During that time they could develop their policies, structure etc. and generate a viable option for government. After two years, leadership would be up for grabs, and the new leader would hopefully have a clear way to challenge the LNP. That did not happen.

    Slightly off topic, but I was listening to the Senate today (12/11) when Steele-John was speaking. It is reported that he called the major parties “arsonists”. He came close, but what he really called them was “borderline arsonists” which in my understanding is a bit shy of “arsonists”. Steele-Johns spoke very powerfully, he said what should have been said as the Senate debated a Bill that I think went to extending the life of coal powered generation.

  16. The human plague has grown by over 22% (1.5 billion) since she (16 yr old Greta Thunberg) was born and 3 times since 1950

    Both the growing size of the plague and the growing environmental impact per capita are contributing to extinctions, climate change, water shortages and the excess potentially productive land we will need if we have widespread droughts and other disasters that reduce the supply of essentials such as food.
    So what should we do? (And who are the “we” we are talking about?) What can be imposed on countries where births exceed deaths? What can be achieved by educating and liberating women? Should the Catholic church be bankrupted by forcing them to pay for the damage their ban on contraception has done all ready?
    What could we do to reduce the per capita damage caused by the plague.
    Any thoughts?

  17. By coincidence China has just revealed it has two cases of the bubonic plague that took some 30 million lives when last rampant. It’s deadly in four days and can be transmitted on the breath of a near bye person. Now if that got loose, and with all our air travel it would not take too long to get established. It is treatable but you need to get help very quickly.
    I guess you can see that I agree with John about population excess. Earth is already overloaded and on top of that our life expectancy grows by about a year every decade.
    I don’t think there is an answer that any government will adopt. Maybe some kind of natural intervention or cataclysm
    will provide a solution.

  18. Brian: One of my more important comments on the Hawken report is worth repeating:

    Brian: There are herds of elephants thundering around that should be considered if we are serious about saving the planet. A few that come to mind include:
    Inequality: Far too many people in the world have a standard of living that is completely unacceptable. I guess, in theory, we could save the planet by reducing everyone’s standard of living down to that “enjoyed” by the bottom 10% of the world’s population but I can’t see it getting popular support.
    Free market multinational capitalism: What this has done is weakened the ability of countries to control what crosses their borders and what happens within their countries. A country that cleans up their production methods can be swamped by the products of countries that are less responsible.
    Corporate capitalism: The responsibility of boards and CEO’s is “adding shareholder value.” Sometimes this can fit in with saving the planet and yes, there are companies that won’t invest in questionable activities. However,………
    Kids provide long term welfare: Increasing country income and education of women leads to a reduction in birth rates: to a point where the more affluent parts of the world would have reducing populations if it wasn’t for immigration and business support for growing populations to help grow their business.
    I am sure there are more elephants than this that need to be dealt with if we are to save the planet.

    I would add worksharing and social justice to that list. Contracting an economy without worksharing and social justice means that some people end up facing the very serious crisis of losing their jobs in a shrinking economy. People at the bottom of the pile will have even less than they have now to hope for.
    GM quite rightly added population growth to the list of elephants.

  19. Brian: We have to deal with not only entrenched inequality but the transient changes in family income as a result the changes we need to make to protect the planet. I am thinking coal miners because of my background but asking a small group to cop a dramatic drop in income/quality of life because their jobs need to disappear for the good of the world is unfair and may produce the political outcomes we have seen in Central Qld.

  20. John, Labor was never going to take jobs off the coal miners. It’s position then and now, as far as I can make out, is that the jobs will go when people stop buying our coal, which they will sooner or later.

    However, I like your notion counting emissions. I read somewhere that Britain’s emissions had gone up when you take into account their consumption, while there official emissions were going down. That is much fairer than the current fad of counting our ‘scope 3’ emissions (other people burning our coal) as ours.

  21. Brian: The last washery I helped commission (Isaac Plains) was placed in care and maintenance in late 2014 by the previous owners and recommenced mining in January 2016 . So it is a stretch to say all coal miners jobs are safe under Labor.
    More to the point, coal industry development jobs have fallen since the mining boom ended. This has had a very negative effect on towns like Mooranbah and Mackay with fewer jobs and the price of houses plummeting. Would not have helped the Central Qld vote for a party that is not supporting a new boom.

  22. John, I didn’t say all coal jobs would be safe under Labor. It’s distressing, but true, that the 20-19 election review said that there would be coal mining in Oz in the “foreseeable future”.

    However, that is after the election.

    During the election the Qld Govt approved the Olive Downs mine near Moranbah, which will wipe out koala habitat thew size of Sydney. Also:

    The mine site, considered one of Australia’s biggest, also includes 11 highly significant wetlands.

    Not one green group made a submission. Theyt choose their targets and this one was not sexy enough. The mine is scheduled to run for 79 years.

    I counted five such approvals by the Qld government from Jan-Aug 2019. From memory, that didn’t include BMA’s Red Hill mine near Moranbah. There’s no date on that link.

    I did a bit of a search, and was shocked to find this from August 2 this year – More coal mines on map for Queensland as government calls for tenders.

    I’d missed that one, but we have the Qld government opening five new areas for coal exploration, including 60 sq km near Moranbah.

    As far as I can see Qld Labor is getting no electoral credit for any of this bad stuff it’s doing.

    Any coal mine opening now risks becoming a stranded before it’s planned course is run. There is going to be terrible troubles repairing the landscape.

    Labor has promised to update the environmental legislation that governs federal approval of resource projects. I can’t see that changing. There will be ructions down the track.

  23. Zoot: Two problems:
    1. Modelling is complex. It would take a lot of effort to go through a model, understand the assumptions and check its design.
    2. Political and business leaders tend to have a short term focus and will think in terms of potential affects on the result of the next election or leadership challenge.

  24. Zoot, if the CSIRO was working on climate and bushfires in 1987 that was a year before James Hansen’s Senate testimony. Well ahead of the curve internationally.

  25. John

    More to the point, coal industry development jobs have fallen since the mining boom ended. This has had a very negative effect on towns like Mooranbah and Mackay with fewer jobs and the price of houses plummeting.

    The mining construction boom jobs and actual mining jobs are significantly different as you’d know. There are plenty of onsite jobs available at the moment.
    With regard to housing prices, if one looks at the long term without the booms anomaly’s they’ve risen quite moderately. Certainly lower than capital cities.

    Haven’t been to Moranbah for a bit but Mackay has corrected nicely and growing.

  26. Brian,

    During the election the Qld Govt approved the Olive Downs mine near Moranbah, which will wipe out koala habitat thew size of Sydney.

    Koala habitat?
    I must admit the only koala I ever saw around Moranbah was in a little zoo they had in what they call their Town Square in the late 80s and early 90s.

    I recon about 2 1/2 years all up with bulk bush bashing in cars an on bikes, camping, running the dogs every day in the bush on the left side of Goonyella road before there were houses there.
    Not a single koala in the wild did I see or ever had anyone I know from there mention seeing one.

    All anecdotal, just eye witness, but there it is.

  27. About 55 square kilometres of koala habitat will be cleared, with the coordinator-general recommending a significant offset to protect the vulnerable species.

    That bloody ABC and their fake news.

  28. At last, zoot is factual, Hazar !!
    Mark it down on the calendar folk, even if it was an inadvertent use of his usual malicious trollery.

    Happy accident, serendipity, call it what you will.

  29. Jumpy: Have spent a lot of time in the bush but have rarely seen koalas because they spend most of their time high up in trees.
    Zoot: 55 km2=square with 7.4 km sides. Don’t like the idea of open pits with saline, acidic water in the bottom at the end of a mine’s life. If they can’t afford to fix that the mine is not viable.

  30. Oh, and you still haven’t stated whom you consider your monkeys or your circus.

    Why are you evading this so virulently?

  31. John
    Hehe, are open cutters even really considered proper “ miners “?
    Undergrounder most definitely are.

  32. Ok, I think this ( with my partial culpability) is verging on off topic.
    The WS is where I’ll go for a continuation of zoots trollery and ABC leftist bullshit.

  33. Jumpy: The in-laws thought that open-cuts were a plot to take their underground, miner killing jobs away. Wife was very glad I wasn’t an underground miner of any sort. Only worked underground for a total of a couple of days. (Coal, copper and zinc.) Most of my producing site work was in concentrators and coal washeries.

  34. Jumpy, I hadn’t thought of koalas living that far north, but this map suggests that they do, or did.

    Jumpy there should be nothing leftist about caring for the environment, or should not be. It’s true, however, that English society in the 18th century strongly privileged property owners. People in the colonies who lived off the land as against ‘developing’ it were seen as vagrants and parasites. Those values still seem to be evident in positions you take.

    That said, green groups are known to exaggerate. In Brisbane we’ve had a successful anti-zipline campaign against the BCC plan to build a zipline to Mt Coot-tha, which is our backyard. Most of the posters had koalas on them. I’ve never seen or heard of a koala in the Mt Coot-tha forest area. Yet I heard an apparently authoritative comment that 20 years ago there were koalas in every Brisbane suburb. I think that is wildly inaccurate. They have been known in the outer northern suburbs, and SE from Redlands south to the Gold Coast. I’m not sure those places are in the actual Brisbane City Council area.

    However, John is right when he says they are hard to see. They sleep 18-20 hours per day for starters.

  35. In 1980 I drove a van from Perth to Sydney, hyper-vigilant for kangaroos because there was only a thin sheet of metal between me and any roo I might collide with.
    Didn’t see a single one in the entire 4000 or so km.
    Despite that I’m positive I drove through kangaroo habitat, even though Jumpy would probably disagree.

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