John Quiggin has penned a piece We’re all “real Australians”:
Labor won’t win elections by targeting some groups at the expense of others
Quiggin says that shadow health minister Chris Bowen, the member for McMahon in Western Sydney, tells us that Labor needs to win the trust of suburban voters. Then:
- Bowen seems to think, however, that lots of voters (though not enough to give Labor a majority) live in a place he calls the “inner city,” and that Labor is paying them too much attention.
That is after he has told us that Bowen “tells us that Labor needs to win the trust of suburban voters.”
Then after analysing the results of the last election, Quiggin tells us:
- In other words, Labor’s support base consists primarily of non-elite urban voters, while the Coalition depends mainly on rural, regional and well-off urban voters. This would be unsurprising if it weren’t for the fact that so much political commentary, including Bowen’s, assumes the opposite. (Emphasis added)
No source given, so I went looking, and found Bowen’s Jack Ferguson Memorial Lecture What would Jack think? Australia and the suburbs in 2020, posted on Chris Bowen’s site on 28 November, 2020. There is nothing else on that site on Bowen’s recent thoughts about suburban dwellers.
Bowen says Australia is “one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with 90% of the population living in urban areas”, and:
- from the point of view of the Labor Party, sometimes discussions of our political future and strategy seem like a zero-sum game between the inner cities and the regions, as if the millions of voters who live in suburbs are just flown over in the debate between the inner cities and the bush.
Let me be frank, this debate sometimes frustrates me. We could win every Inner-City seat and every conceivable vote from possible voters in the regions and still fall far short of government, if we are not winning the support of the millions of voters in the suburbs.
The people in the suburbs are not travelling well, according to Bowen:
Since becoming Shadow Minister for Health eighteen months ago, I’ve had the opportunity to think a lot about the health of Australians. But also about the health of our society. And the two are very much linked.
We are in the middle of a pandemic. But we are a society with too many epidemics.
And they are getting worse.
We have epidemics of diabetes, obesity and mental ill-health.
We also have epidemics of household debt and job insecurity.
We have epidemics of drug addiction, with ice use still rife in too many communities.
We are the most debt-laden, most depressed, most addicted and medicated, most insecure generation in our country’s history.
There are real fault lines in our society. Things aren’t working as well as they should.
And while these are national crises, there are particular ramifications in and for our suburbs, where so many Australians live. In many instances, it’s the suburbs where these phenomena are having the most acute impact.
Bowen says that Labor MPs are often painted us as inner-city elites, unaware and unconcerned about the lives of most Australians.
We need to remind voters, he says, that we are from the suburbs – from them, and for them.
- That we celebrate and will protect the rich diversity of backgrounds, faiths and vocations that the suburbs hold, and that each of them has a place in our Party.
What many in the suburbs need, he says, is a dignified, rewarding and secure life in the suburbs, not an aspiration to get out of them.
- we have to recognise a good life in the suburbs, supported by good public services and infrastructure, with access to safe and secure jobs, is a very noble aspiration for millions of Australians.
He then goes on to talk about three issues of concern:
Firstly, is the impact of casualisation and the gig economy.
Secondly, the decline of manufacturing and sucking of jobs towards the central business districts of capital cities.
And the third is that rapid growth in housing in outer suburbs has not been accompanied by a growth in social and physical infrastructure, with negative implications for the health and well-being of millions.
On the first, he says:
Australia has one of the highest rates of casualisation in the OECD. One in four Australian workers is a casual. Half of those have no guaranteed hours. That’s a problem for very many reasons, including the overwhelming evidence that such job insecurity damages physical and mental health.
It’s not surprising that insecure workers face increased stress, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. It’s also the case that casual, insecure workers suffer physical ill-health than more secure workers. Insecure workers, for example, have a 34% higher risk of heart disease.
He cites a study of Australian rideshare and delivery drivers who earn an average of $10.42 an hour. That’s less than $100 for more than a full day’s work.
Bowen stresses that Neville Wran always asked of any cabinet proposal “What’s in it for Joe Blow and his Missus?”
Jack Ferguson as his long term deputy was a key player in this connection and a constant anchor in what the suburbs were thinking.
I’m not sure what Quiggin read, but I’m fairly sure it wasn’t that speech. What comes through to me is an inclusive, empathetic and compassionate politician, who want to support the right of everyone to lead a dignified life of their choosing.
On his site Bowen has a series of speeches in recent months outlining the ideas and principles that underpin Labor’s values and help shape its policy agenda, on Financial stability, Australia and Indonesia, Openness, Opportunity, Innovation, The Middle Class, Action on inequality, Gender equality, Engagement with Asia, and Growth.
Bowen sounds as though he thinks Labor should be brave in its policy options.
Is anyone listening? Or would they rather just report biffo, and keep on saying that Labor is hopelessly lost in the weeds.
I suspect what Quiggin saw was the same as Katharine Murphy reported on when she wrote in the Guardian of Bowen:
- The senior New South Wales Labor rightwinger and shadow federal health minister has used a new essay titled “Australia’s social democratic moment?” to argue Labor won’t win the next election unless it reconnects with voters who have historically looked to the ALP to improve their living standards “but have been looking elsewhere in recent years”.
Bowen says Labor in 2020 needs to define opportunity and aspiration more inclusively, finding better ways “to tell the story of our commitment to working people – and it can’t just be that we will make it easier for the children of the working class to get out of it”.
He says the challenge is to convince voters Labor is not “merely interested in providing pathways to improved social mobility, but also improving the lot of those who can’t or don’t want to take that path”.
- Bowen’s essay appears in a new collection of contributions by right faction players, including the former Labor leader Bill Shorten, the current deputy leader Richard Marles, and frontbenchers Jim Chalmers and Ed Husic, edited by Nick Dyrenfurth of the John Curtin Research Centre and unionist Misha Zelinsky.
I suspect it will appear soon on their “https://www.curtinrc.org/publications”>publications page. I like their theme Labor ideas for a better Australia, and on their main page the quote from John Curtin:
‘The nation looked to Labor, and it did not look in vain.’
Except that Bowen is saying that the nation will not naturally look to Labor in current circumstances.
Are the media actually interested in what Labor people are saying, or on climate change, for example, just interested in what Joel Fitzgibbon is up to? Murphy couldn’t get through the article without reference to him.
Chris Bowen, Richard Marles, Jim Chalmers are all on board with concerted action on climate change. On the weekend after the 2019 election loss Tony Burke penned an article – Tony Burke floats Green New Deal-style approach to Labor’s climate policy.
Burke says we can’t ignore the science and then there is the matter of intergenerational equity:
“This issue is as much core business for Labor as anything we do in welfare or redistribution of taxation. This is about making sure we are looking after the disadvantaged, except the disadvantaged here isn’t between rich and poor, it’s between present and future.”
Tony Burke is classified as NSW right. As Leader of the House he’s in the core leadership group.
So Mark Butler, Penny Wong, Tanya Plibersek all support Anthony Albanese who has made climate action as his number one priority, with ample support from the senior right wingers in the party.
Labor is formally consulting the membership and 500 branches in shaping the platform it will take to the next election. There are plenty ideas going around. Can we listen, please, rather than select something sexy to grab eyeballs from all the colour and movement?
Or a prop for something you wanted to say anyway.