Ditch the ALP? Viewpoint from an ex-member

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Photographer: Mark Graham/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Boy…the ALP is copping plenty of flack on twitter because it decided ultimately to vote for the Coalition tax package.  “I’ll never vote for the ALP again!” “They just handed Morrison the next election!”

When I read these tweets I find myself in a common predicament.  On one hand I agree with the sentiment that the ALP could have at least abstain by not attending the division.  On the other hand I also see the realpolitik facing the ALP.  The government killed two stones with a bird (that is my animal-friendly version of that saying)  it got the whole package through and caused damaged to the ALP and Albanese.

I have been an ALP member from 1983 to 2001.  The Tampa thing made me decide not to renew my membership.  But I wasn’t just disillusioned with Labor.  I was disillusioned with Australia as a whole, who I thought left xenophobia behind.  But with that it also came a reality about politics, and that what we would like is often not how a party can win an election.  As I was trying to explain this on twitter I realised that putting forward such a view on Twitter can be fraught with danger as it can be misinterpreted. So for what is worth this is my view.

Damned if you do and damned if you don’t

The ALP faced this dilemma after it was clear that the legislation would have passed with crossbench support. Waive it through and get the anger from left voters.  Vote against it and risk (in their view) to give the government a big stick they could have used for the next few years – this aided and abetted by the Murdoch media and as a consequence other media as well.  It is an unfortunate fact that despite I believe that the ABC is not anti Labor (despite some on Twitter that are absolutely convinced on this, but that’s another story) I can envisage Leigh Sales in a couple of years saying ‘…but you did vote against low income earners getting a tax cut’.  Which brings me to the next point.

ALP should explain it better…really?

Some tweeps have stated that the ALP could have voted against it and then explain why to the voters.  Really? What have these people been during the last elections?  The reality is that there is a substantial portion of the Australian media that are hostile to the ALP no matter what.  Not only the Murdoch media.  This channel 9 example labelling Albanese ‘unedifying’ for what it was a mild rebuke shows how difficult selling a message can be.  Especially from opposition.  Add the blatant lies such as the death tax then I can see why the ALP got cold feed at the first hurdle.

Why all this anger now?  The ALP has been ‘disappointing’ lefties for ages.

One thing I was surprised was why of all a sudden this ‘I am done with the ALP’ comment as the ALP was this progressive socialist party.  Lenin himself said in 1913 that “The Australian Labour Party does not even call itself a socialist party. Actually it is a liberal-bourgeois party”.

In the 1980s, when the Hawke government was enjoying its popularity the cartoonist Kaz Cooke did a cartoon with her character ‘Hermoine the Modern Girl’ wearing a T-Shirt stating ‘Join the ALP and develop your sense of irony’.

The ‘three mines policy’ in 1984 which allowed three uranium mines in Australia was a compromise that caused a huge disquiet among the rank and file (and probably was one of the issues that sparked the creation of the Greens federally).  Here in Victoria I was a member of the ALP Conservation Policy Committee and there were furious battles between the left and the government on allowing logging in native forests.

And even with Julia Gillard that has been hailed as a lefty saint.  What was one of the first things she did when she became PM after deposing Rudd? She went up to Darwin with western Sydney MP David Bradbury in tow on a naval patrol boat on a training exercise clearly pitching to voters in outer metropolitan electorates such as Mr Bradbury’s Lindsay, who were perceived to be concerned about rising boat arrivals.

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Personally, I was surprised that there were so many people outraged about a tax,  and not about the policy that still allows TPVs which don’t allow for family reunification and mandatory detention and offshore processing.  These policies were there at the last elections.

The ALP will not carry all our hopes of a progressive Australia – because it needs votes of those who aren’t.

There seems to be still a number of left voters that hope that the ALP will execute all their wishes for a progressive Australia.  But the ALP won’t do this.  This is especially the case after the ALP brought forward a mildly progressive redistributive program at the elections that almost everyone thought they would win and didn’t.  I cannot blame the ALP for thinking that doing so it will condemn them to more years in opposition.

There are some that think the opposite,  That not having an ‘alternative’ by not giving a ‘choice’ this will ensure that the ALP won’t win the next elections.  But how so?  All the talk last election campaign was about Labor policies and how they would affect retirees.  We can blame the ALP for not being able to explain it, but the blame is not all to them.  Stories of retirees who were crying poor on TV, and yes, even on the ABC didn’t give much scope for informative and nuanced debate.  We political tweeps that love politics may get that but many voters don’t.  Their priorities are somewhere else and with good reasons.  How would a continual message that ‘The ALP didn’t want you to get tax cuts’ would play?  Would they  think “Oh in 2029-2030, someone currently earning around $138,000 a year will see the biggest fall in the average tax rate they pay (2.1 per cent), while someone on just less than the full-time minimum wage earning around $37,000 a year will see their average tax rate rise by 5 per cent?” I don’t think so. People are busy with their children, their parents, their work.  Many don’t have the time or energy to get into the nitty-gritty of tax policies.  What’s important is what it is in their pay packet and what bills they need to pay.  Many may decide how to vote in the last few weeks of an electoral campaign.  Any so call ‘unedifying’ behaviour by Albanese won’t really register much three years form an election.  A message in the next three years that ‘Labor voted against your tax cuts’ might.

Labor apologist? No. Just reality.

What I wrote may sound like I am a Labor apologist.  I don’t think I am.  I still think the ALP should have abstained from the vote in the Senate.  What I wrote above that voters may not care what happens three years from an election may also have applied here, but I can also see how the ALP may think at the moment after losing an election they were expected to win.

And the reality is that we may vote for the Greens (as I did in the Senate) which have great lefty policies and may vote mostly with their conscience.  But while we may huff and puff about ‘never voting ALP anymore’ the reality is also that next election the only party that can remove Morrison is the ALP.  Some may think who cares they are the same, which is patently not true  – there are differences. But only the ALP can form an alternative government which on balance is better than a conservative Morrison one.  That’s the reality.

1 Comment

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One response to “Ditch the ALP? Viewpoint from an ex-member

  1. Alex

    Sadly, this is the most insightful thing I’ve read on it. I mean, FFS, Frydenburg still keeps saying that Labor voted *against* the regressive tax changes tax cuts even though they adopted what the guardian has dubbed their bitchnfold position. Imagine if they hadn’t actually voted for it.

    FWIW, Labor didn’t lose because of their policies. They lost because they focused on the cost and undersold the benefit. They lost because Morrison was allowed to be a marketer, not a politician (the job of a marketer is, when selling you a shit sandwich, to keep your focus on the bread, not the filling). They lost because they didn’t sell an overall vision of a better Australia for all Australians.

    Unfortunately, they will learn the wrong lessons from the defeat. Even in what was a narrow defeat (just like last time), they have allowed Morrison to sell it as a resounding victory rather than a lead that disappears at the first by-election.

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