Tuesday, March 06, 2012


The last two weeks have provided some sad insights into the federal Australian Labor Party. Together they show that the party has lost its way and is no longer capable of being ‘the light on the hill’ for working Australians.

During the Rudd versus Gillard leadership fight, three statements were made by key ALP players which highlighted how badly Labor has lost the plot.

Anthony Albanese provided some teary support for Kevin Rudd but, in explaining his political motivations, he stated that he got himself elected to Parliament “to fight the Tories.” Tories? The UK Conservative Party? What a sad insight into a seemingly competent and effective minister who now admits to have derived his inspiration and enthusiasm from another country and another political system. For decades, even generations, UK politics has focused on class divisions and the struggle by ordinary people to improve their standards of living and quality of life as a result of hard work and ability, rather than inheritance and birthright. In contrast, Australia is arguably THE best example on the face of the planet where the average citizen has been able to discard history and privilege and rely on the sweat of their brow in an egalitarian society. Albanese is living in the wrong country and at the wrong time in our history to be wanting to fight ‘the Tories’.

ACTU president Ged Kearney understandably wanted federal Labor to focus on the important issues for Australia rather than being distracted over the leadership issue. She was reported by the ABC as saying that she hoped the fight would be over soon so that ‘the ALP can return to looking after the rights of workers’. Pardon me: the rights of workers? Is that the primary responsibility of the federal Australian government? What about the responsibilities of workers; or the rights of the unemployed or people on welfare; or the 80% of employees who aren’t your typical white or blue collar workers and not in trade unions? Ms Kearney should have been asking our government to get back to doing what they were elected to do: govern the nation!

When Kevin Rudd suggested that aspects of the carbon tax might need to be reviewed, finance minister Penny Wong quickly came out and criticised this statement. She claimed that, if the review resulted in a lower carbon tax, then this would ‘place a threat to the budget”. Umm, let me get this right: the carbon tax is being imposed in order to encourage industry and individuals to lower their production of carbon dioxide; if effective, the tax will therefore diminish over time and eventually it will cease to exist thanks to Australia becoming a carbon-free economy. So the carbon tax, unlike the GST and income tax, is designed to do what Wong is so critical of – to ‘place a threat to the budget’ - because it will reduce over time and eventually disappear, assuming it has been well designed. Just so we all understand, the federal Labor government is restructuring the nation’s taxation system on the basis of a tax which, if it works, will reduce over time and hopefully cease to exist. As currently structured, the carbon tax isn’t just bad politics; it’s bad governance and poor financial management with a short-term, political focus.

Finally, as this article is being written, federal treasurer Wayne Swan is sustaining his unprecedented attack on three of Australia’s billionaires who’ve made their money from the mining industry. Because they are opposed to the government’s mining and carbon taxes, Swan is in effect saying that these people should not be allowed to speak publicly on issues about which they hold strong views. Isn’t Swan being anti-democratic? Isn’t this an example of the politics of envy and possibly even a return to class warfare (where ‘upper class’ means anyone with more money than the treasurer)? This reminds me of the super-property tax that the Gallop Labor government in WA wanted to apply in the early 2000s to people owning houses worth more than a million dollars. Who protested the loudest and succeeded in having it canned? Aspirational Labor voters, many of them working in the mining industry.

Taken together, the above statements by important federal Labor ministers and their key supporter, the ACTU, show that Labor is not genuinely interested in governing for the benefit of all Australians. The in-fighting, botched funding schemes, withdrawn and revised taxation initiatives, the apparent deceit of our prime minister in denying she’d asked Bob Carr to become foreign minister: all of these and many other mistakes, errors, misguided schemes and general stuff-ups suggest that Labor has seriously lost the plot.

To have a chance of governing effectively for all Australians, federal Labor needs to select people of quality, experience and ability to be its MPs in Canberra, not just union and party hacks who have done their time and now expect their retirement reward. I accept that it will be impossible to create a greater separation between the union movement and the ALP but one has to hope that union and ACTU membership includes many people of integrity, competence and ability, people who can put Australia as a nation first on their to-do list, ahead of their own narrow sectional interests. If such people don’t exist within the ALP and union movement, we can expect to see Labor returned to the opposition benches at the next election and stay there for many years.

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