Tag Archives: Australian Labor Party

The socialist objective: anachronism or fundamental?

As it stands the Labor Party in Australia has the following objective in its constitution:

    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.

Carol Johnson back in July 2015 tells us the 2015 Labor national conference decided to review this ‘socialist objective’ because as Luke Foley claimed:

    … no-one in the party today argues that state ownership is Labor’s central, defining purpose.

Continue reading The socialist objective: anachronism or fundamental?

Turning back boats – only by agreement

Turning back asylum seeker boats can only be done legally and ethically, in my view, with the agreement of transitional countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand. Unfortunately the form of the decision made at the ALP conference makes clear that the ALP would seek to act without such agreement. Continue reading Turning back boats – only by agreement

Saturday salon 25/7

1. Leaders summit

On Wednesday, prior to COAG on Thursday, our political leaders held a summit or retreat to dicuss taxation and the future of the federation. By all accounts they enjoyed the talkfest – Jay Weatherall said it was “very positive” and that “in my sense and my operation in COAG over the last five years, this is probably the most constructive I have ever seen”.

Despite that there is no evidence they actually decided anything except lowering the threshold at which the GST applies to offshore online purchases. Continue reading Saturday salon 25/7

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. Continue reading Will Labor dump the Socialist Objective?

Rudd, Gillard and Beyond

Troy Bramston’s book Rudd, Gillard and Beyond has on its front cover “Why Labor lost and what it must do to win again and stay in power”. It is short, strikes a reasonable balance on the whole and contains a good deal of new material. It focusses primarily on the narrative arc of the Labor Party in and out of power since the Whitlam years. The clash of personalities and the political scheming are seen in that context.

In this piece I write about the book and it’s subject, rather than attempt a review as such.

Bramston draws on Whitlam’s foreword to The Whitlam Legacy (edited by Bramston) which forms a ‘valedictory’ message to the party he led in opposition and in government for a record 11 years. He draws on interviews with Hawke, Keating and Rudd for the book, also Beazley and Simon Crean as former leaders. Gillard declined to be interviewed.

On the 2010 leadership change, Bramston subscribes to the view that Rudd’s administration at this time was increasingly centralised, chaotic and paralysed in terms of decision-making. His communication with the people through the media became confused.

That is the view I got from Bramston. Not as vivid as the language apparently used in Philip Chubb’s book, according to Stephen Mills’ review of Bramston, but contra Mills, in substantial agreement with Chubb.

Crean view is that cabinet worked well under Hawke and Keating but never worked as a vibrant decision-making forum under either Rudd or Gillard. Under Rudd cabinet was effectively replaced by the ‘gang of four’ (Rudd, Gillard, Swan and Tanner). Towards the end it too was supplanted. Gillard complained in the email, reproduced in full, that she sent Rudd two days before the challenge, that work to be done in broader consultation had been folded into the Prime Minister’s Office and decisions communicated to the back bench of which she knew nothing.

Gillard was increasingly concerned and tried hard to rectify matters. Along the way she did sound out certain people about putting herself forward, but her claim that she made the final decision on the day is probably true. Certainly she knew about the plotting and did not discourage it, but resolutely refused to make herself available. This is a reasonable summary of Gillard’s position:

‘Gillard was the last person onboard,’ says one MP… ‘There was no strategy, no planning, no move on Rudd in advance. Gillard did everything she could under the worst possible circumstances to help. He just wouldn’t listen.’

According to Mills’ review Rudd couldn’t listen, he was in such a state.

Certainly Gillard’s staff prepared a speech for her in the event she became PM, Bramston says at least two weeks before the event.

Gillard denies that she gave any instruction in this regard. In my view, even if she did, Gillard did nothing unethical. Nevertheless the manner of coming to the prime ministership was highly problematical in public perception and hence in political impact.

Bramston’s scoop is an email Gillard sent Rudd and Alistair Jordan two days before the famous meeting. This graphically shows how even Gillard was left in the dark, with back-benchers being briefed on matters of which she had no knowledge.

It is arguable that Gillard put herself forward in the best interests of the party, just as it is arguable that Rudd’s desire to regain the office took no shape until Gillard was in a hopeless position politically.

Bramston records Rudd’s account of what went on in the famous meeting in June 2010. Rudd said that Gillard agreed he would continue in the job until an election was due to be called. If the government was then not in a winning position he would hand over. Then Gillard’s adviser, Amanda Lampe, entered the room without authorisation to say that Gillard was needed on the phone. Gillard took the call in his outer office, came back and said that she had decided to challenge. Rudd took this as reneging on an agreement, rather than changing her mind in the face of new information. Rudd thereupon terminated the meeting.

Bramston says that the person on the other end of the phone was Stephen Conroy, who told her that it was all over the news and there was no way she could exit the meeting and say everything was OK. Quite clearly Rudd would be given no space to rebuild his position.

Rudd came to regard Gillard’s action as an ‘original sin’ and sought to right the wrong. Bramston simply asserts that Rudd began his attempt to regain the leadership immediately, although I’ve seen no evidence that he became active in that regard before around December 2012, when Gillard airbrushed him from Labor history in a speech to the national ALP convention. Certainly Bramston cites no evidence.

On the leaks during the 2010 campaign Bramston says:

It is widely understood within Labor that these leaks came directly from Rudd or his supporters.

This is lazy journalism and neglects the possibility that the leaks could have come from Abbott supporters within the public service.

Bramston rather neglects the role of the media in the political process. He does mention the egregious attitude the media took to Gillard, but it comes late and is underdone.

Bramston cites opinion poll research at various points. In June 2010 he notes a UMR report that Gillard had a positive rating of 22% in doing her job. Rudd was on net -17%. The report compiled ‘word clouds’ about the politicians. Rudd was seen as arrogant, untrustworthy, disappointing, hopeless, dud, liar, incompetent and trier. Gillard was seen as strong, positive, intelligent, competent, good, smart and confident. This research was shown around caucus, some say by Gillard herself.

There awere no word clouds in 2013, but the ratings were very much reversed.

In the 2013 election Rudd’s best chance would have been to project calmness and rely on the fact that he was neither Abbott nor Gillard. Bramston’s summary account is that Rudd blew a winning position by over-agitation, hair-brained ideas, and trying to do everyone’s job accept his own. Certainly the election campaign office was staffed by Gillard loyalists, who had worked up a campaign for Gillard.

There is a serious question whether Rudd in fact saved the furniture. Bramston describes detailed ground work done in marginal NSW seats by the party and by the unions throughout Australia.

By the end of the campaign, 396,408 phone calls had been made by over 500 volunteers to undecided voters. US research shows this is the most effective way to target undecided voters, other than doorknocking.

The unions worked on similar strategies across the country including targeting their own membership.

Bramston has a succinct summary of what each Labor prime minister achieved in office and notes their failures. Whitalm perhaps comes out best. Bramston feels that history may become kinder to both Gillard and Rudd. Amazingly he thinks Gillard did her best work in foreign affairs. For example, securing an annual leaders forum with India and China had eluded her predecessors.

One of her biggest failures was to do exactly nothing about party reform, when her party needed it most. Part of Rudd’s legacy is that he started the party reform ball rolling.

Keating is perhaps most eloquent about what Labor is about:

‘I believe the public has accepted the Labor model: an open, competitive, flexible economy grafted to a social wage guaranteeing access and equity in health, education, in superannuation and in social policy generally.’

He says Labor is losing the debate about how you facilitate the organic development of that construct.

Shorten’s shorter creed:

‘Labor believes in building a good society. A good society is founded on jobs, education, healthcare, good retirement incomes, a fair go at work.’

Shorten admires Hawke’s ‘consensus’ political model, Keating’s ‘bravery’ and Whitlam’s ‘reform vision’. Bramston thinks he’ll need all three.

Finally Bramston gives his own ideas on party reform under the headings of

  • leadership reform
  • candidate selection
  • unions
  • conferences, and
  • members.

Problem is all changes need to be approved by the ALP convention which is not due until 2015.

Overall Bramston’s book is good value. I’d also unreservedly recommend Mungo MacCallum’s The Mad Marathon: the Story of the 2013 Election for what it covers. Jacqueline Kent’s Take Your best Shot is useful on Gillard’s prime ministership. Kerry-Anne Walsh’s The Stalking of Julia Gillard is brilliant on the role of the media, but marred in my opinion by a visceral hatred of Rudd which affects her objectivity.

Bill Shorten gets serious, or does he?

Bill Shorten’s plans to reform the ALP were greeted with unrestrained enthusiasm by Mark Latham, a remarkable event in itself. Others have some reservations or are not so sure.

Laura Tingle pointed out (paywalled) that he actually proposes nothing about senate candidate selection, it’s a matter for the states. He asked the national ALP secretary to work with the National Executive and the WA state secretary “to recommend the best way of giving local party members a meaningful say in the selection of Senate candidates.”

Our work in Western Australia will be used to inform our other State branches in allowing local members to contribute to Senate pre-selection nationally.

Farr said that there would have been discussion within the ALP before Shorten went to press. Shorten is reasonably confident of his reforms getting up, he says. Farr described it as a “well-planned offensive”. Apparently NSW in July are going to consider the union membership link and introduce one-click joining facilities via the internet.

Count me confused. Here in Queensland last year before the election my wife, who is not currently a union member, went on the internet and had no difficulty in joining with one click for the princely sum of five dollars. (She has since made a more substantial donation.)

After the current publicity she rang the Qld office asking if her membership was OK. She had been a union member for years, acted as union rep etc, but is currently not a member. “You’re fine” she was told. Could she vote in a leadership ballot if Shorto gave up? “Certainly.”

Malcolm Farr pointed out on RN Drive that achieving rank and file input to senate selection would be the real prize. At present it can be a sinecure for party and union officials, a privilege they might be expected to relinquish reluctantly.

Shorten is recommending a 70:30 membership/central panel split in selecting candidates. He’s also recommending more primary-style selections, as successfully trialled in Western Sydney.

Shorten wants broader input in a review of Labor’s entire policy platform prior to the 2015 national conference.

He looks forward to a membership of 100,000. I believe it is 40,000 at present.

David Lockwood at New Matilda thinks the union link should remain, indeed should be strengthened and “democratised”.

Union delegates to ALP conferences should be elected by ordinary union members, not appointed by national secretaries. Furthermore, the selection of parliamentary candidates should be in the hands of rank-and-file members of the party and the affiliated unions…

Break the link with unions and the Labor Party

ceases to be an authentic voice for working people, it will lose its core meaning and become nothing more than a pale imitation of the conservative parties.

Lockwood sees Labor as representing working people, not Australians generally. He says there are 1.8 million union members, roughly 18% of the workforce. This has been stable for three years. He sees anti-union laws as an inhibitor of greater membership. This should change, he says.

Shorten said Abbott did not put Labor in Opposition, the Australian people did. It’s hard to see the Australian people handing over the government of the country to an overtly union-based party, however democratised.

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Politics at Monash University, assembles a catalogue of negativity about the Shorten proposals. The Party is a victim of its own success. Nothing left to fight for, apparently.

Labor has addressed some of the worst excesses of societal disadvantage and inequality when in government. In doing so, it has transformed both the life opportunities but also the political and social expectations of Labor’s former working-class base.

This has left Labor bifurcated and fractured between a progressive and traditional cohort. Increased membership “is unlikely to bridge the policy and cultural divide that separates these voting segments.”

As to a faction-free Labor Party, the bigger it grows the more power aggregates around cliques.

With that sort of negativity we may as well hand over the game to our natural rulers, the Tories.

Most of my working life was spent inside government. I’m not a natural joiner. Now I work as a sole trader providing direct services to capitalists, pensioners, professionals and self-funded retirees. I can’t see a role for a union.

Shorten has a bit of the anti-politician about him. I might go look for that one-click entry portal.