Tag Archives: Australian Labor Party

Labor – Green skirmish. A view from inner suburban caffelatte land.

It started with Paul Howe’s article in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.  It has now snowballed into a full media storm. The great ALP-Green skirmish.

It is an interesting viewpoint from where I sit (or live).  I live in Northcote, which is your typical lefty inner suburban Melbourne lefty suburb.  Working class, and with plenty of migrants up to twenty years ago, but now almost all gentrified with mainly anglo tertiary educated professional people.

And the microcosm of my suburb, and of my municipality (Darebin) and my Federal Division (Batman) says a lot about the changes and subsequent friction that is occurring between the ALP and the Greens.

Northcote was Labor as Labor can be.  It was one of the safest seats in Australia for the Australian Labor Party, which has held the seat for all but six years since 1910. However, at the 2010 election the Greens overtook the Liberals on preferences and came second against Labor, reducing the seat to a “fairly safe” Labor seat. Just look at the swing to the Greens in the last Federal election:

This was partly due to the wave of Green votes in the south of the electorate (where Northcote is located).  Northcote is very similar in its housing and population to suburbs such as Brunswick and Fitzroy which are recognised as areas with the highest Green vote in Australia.

But the swing to the Greens was not uniform and the next table tells the story:

In inner city Northcote the Greens are doing really well, outpolling the ALP, but back in the more brick veneer north, in Preston  where you still have plenty of migrants and fruit trees and tomatoes in the backyards the ALP still reigns supreme (and the failure of the Greens to capture these voters is why they won’t replace the ALP. But that’s another story).

Here we have the dilemma of the ALP in a nutshell.  In the south the tertiary educated progressive voter (which in many cases is also quite affluent) who is concerned by climate, refugees, same sex marriage etc. has left the ALP.  While in the north you have people who most likely feel that these are peripheral issues, and perhaps they see the ALP dealing with them as a irrelevancy as they are more concerned with things such as electricity prices and pensions.  Also I may speculate that while I can’t see areas like Preston moving anywhere near the Coalition, this may be a different story in other parts of Australia.

Drag0nista made a very interesting observation that those who seems to think that the ALP needs to win progressive voters back off the Greens to win, are mistaken. They need to win back disaffected Labor voters who are parked with the Libs or others/independents.

If Drag0nista is correct, right wing strategists of the ALP may have decided that it is better to gain votes by distancing themselves from the Greens in middle suburbia than retaining them in the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.  Perhaps they have decided that if inner seats become Green it is a price to pay if the ALP gets votes elsewhere.  Because the first thing I got from Howe’s article was that he really didn’t ‘get’ the inner suburban Green voter.

If Howe thinks that by thinking the way he does in that article he is going to reclaim the green voter in the inner suburb he’s seriously mistaken.  The Green voter in the inner suburb is a different type of voter that was encountered before.  They have had enough of the ALP chasing the so called ‘Western Sydney Battler’ vote and feel abandoned.  While I thought that the Greens are wrong in not giving the Malaysian solution at least a go for a limited amount of time, they are politically right in not wavering from their position.  Remember when the Democrats made a deal with the Coalition to introduce the GST?  Arguably the GST was better for their changes, but it did really hurt them electorally.  I think that for some voters not voting for either major parties, with their inevitable compromises and policy changes gives them some sort of moral superiority, any compromise would be seen as a betrayal.

There are also two main weaknesses in Howe’s argument.  One is that he may rant against the Greens, but he fails to ask why the Greens have arisen in the first place.  Why did people who voted ALP, or were even members decided to go for the Greens?  I think the ALP needs to ask that question.

The other is that while he mentions the DLP, and Lang etc. these were internal splits in the Party. The Greens arose from a grassroot movement and as such it is a very different phenomenon, and one that due to this may have much more momentum.

Personally I have voted ALP and Greens in different elections and I will continue to do so.  I like and dislike aspects of both parties, but as a NVL (Never Vote Liberal) person I don’t have a lot of other choices if I actually want to cast a vote.  I just hope that we won’t witness long decades of the ALP and the Greens squabbling while the Coalition is in government.

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ALP membership blues

After Senator John Faulkner delivered a speech dealing with the future of the Australian Labor Party, there has been plenty of discussion about why the Labor Party has been losing members in the past few years such as in today’s Age.

If we want an answer why this is happened, we only have to look at how the speech was reported by many in the media.  What was reported was not the essence of Falkner’s message, but how this may create splits in the Party.

I used to be a member of the ALP from 1983 to 2001.  These were the days when we had strong Federal and Victorian State ALP governments (yes the first two terms of the Cain government in Victoria were popular).  But even then I could see how the echelons of the party were afraid of a ‘ALP Split Looms’ type of headline.  So even though there were conferences where nominally members of the ALP could debate policy, by the time conference was on, any possible contencious motion would have been filtered and eliminated by those whose job was to ensure that the Conference would end up with a happy family snap.

Unfortunately any real passionate debate on the floor of conference would look ‘bad’ in the media.  The inevitable comments of ‘how a Party can govern the country/state if they even can’t run themselves’ would be repeated, and of course the reason of the debate would be lost in the reporting of personalities factions etc.  We know the story.

This filtering would  take a variety of forms.  The idea was that rank and file members would join a Policy Committee to formulate policies and motions that would then be brought to conference.  Of course they had to go through a conference ‘Agenda Committee’ that would decide which motions were to be debated and which wouldn’t be.  While the sound of being on an ‘Agenda Committee’ sounds as exciting as searching for fleas in a dog, it was extremely important for factions (and associated ministers) to have representatives there to ensure that motions that were favourable to a faction or another would go through,  and in some cases collude if the motion was seen to controversial.

Often these type of motions wouldn’t even go as far as the Agenda Committee.  That is because ministers would ensure that friendly members would be present in policy committees to ensure that unfriendly ‘radical’ motions were either watered down, postponed ad infinitum or even better abandoned.  You knew how the wind would blow.  The Environment Policy Committee in the late 80’s spend lots of time for a forestry policy and even now I remember a young Peter Batchelor in his job as Socialist Left ministerial gatekeeper absolutely flying off his handle in rage about it in a SL meeting at Trades Hall, calling the policy (to protect native forests) irresponsible, unrealistic and with no concept of the realities of being in government etc.

In the article by Ian Munro, he states that is unusual for Labor is that this dissatisfaction comes while it is in power.  Normally there is some disaffection after losing office or after a long period in opposition.  I don’t agree.  I found that when in opposition, when the Party has lost its government bureaucracy it tends to rely more on members.  And because oppositions don’t make decisions that put people off-side there is less disenchantment.  Of course when in power the Parliamentary Party quickly forgets the rank and file (and in some way sees it as a bit of a nuisance) and start to rely on the bureaucracy and highly paid advisers that don’t hide their condescension and contempt for the ‘amateur’ rank and file, but these advisers quickly flee the scene if the party loses power as the luster and prestige of power (and a healthy pay cheque) disappear.

The answer?  One way forward was actually mentioned in Ian Munro’s article:

A network of policy communities concerned with social issues such as health and law reform typified the party during the 1970s. They were active and they linked Labor to community activists, offering a “community of support” for its ideas.

“They were issues-based groups that offered innovative policy thinking that was able to be picked up when Labor got into office,” .

One of the beneficiaries of that work was former Victorian premier John Cain, who speaks of the “prodigious” policy development that preceded his time in office.

I do remember that time because it was when I joined the ALP.  Community groups were invited in developing policies and many of these ideas (such as the ground-breaking Flora and Fauna legislation) were formulated from this process, even if the participants were not ALP members it gave the party considerable energy and purpose.  The difference now however is that Labor has abandoned these groups, seeing them as another pressure group instead as their constituency.  Consequently we see Julia Gillard glibly talking about the value of work and setting the alarm early, and these ex-allies going to the Greens.

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Big ALP loss? It’s time to talk about the membership thing again.

In 2001, after the ALP lost another federal election, Bob Hawke, and  Neville Wran were appointed to write a report about  the structure of the ALP.  I remember it because it was just a few months before I decided not to renew my membership and also because it was the first time that I saw two Labor heroes of mine up close when I went to a party forum where the rank and file was asked about their opinions.

The media release stated: “The recommendations are geared towards making the Party more participatory and democratic, more attractive to potential members, and more in step with the attitudes and aspirations of the Australian electorate.”

“The Report is the result of a rigorous consultation program spanning nine months and involving more than 2000 branch members who attended Party forums in every state and territory. We also met with community leaders, Premiers and Chief Ministers, past and present members of parliament, national union leaders, women’s groups and academics from around the country.
I don’t know what happened to that review.  But not much considering that ten years later we are still talking about the ALP being ‘more participatory and democratic’.  Of course after the near death experience of last year’s election there was another inquiry, this time by Steve Bracks.  Again the report recommended ‘expanding the Party membership, having a say in the party affairs, being involved in the selection of quality candidates’ [SOURCE].

All this was revisited again after the NSW bloodbath.  But from past experiences I wouldn’t hold my breath about much ALP reform.  Of course I haven’t been a member now for ten years but I don’t think the ALP has changed that much.   I remember at that meeting with Hawke and Wran that rank and file members main frustration was that they didn’t feel like they were appreciated much by the Party.  They were seen as foot soldiers to help candidates letterboxing or handing how to vote cards at elections but nothing much more.  And of course they felt disimpowered by the party machine when it came to chose their representatives for their local seats or even being heard when passing resolutions.

I never had rosy coloured glasses when it came to the ALP.  I knew from the start that being a party of government it attracted indviduals which were interested in power (and more often than not they wanted to do good with that power) but it really lost its community feeling once it created government.  I could feel that very much in the period of the Cain/Kirner government.  The ALP in Victoria came to power just after I joined in the early 80’s.  And I remember it really connected to the community which resulted in pretty good policy.  Those were the days were conservationists felt confortable being in the Party or at least siding with it.  In fact one of the best and more ground breaking pieces of legislation, the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act came from this process of consultation.

However I could see that as the ALP stayed in government over the years the connection with the community (and with the rank and file which was really part of it) became more tenouos and strained.  The party became more interested in listening to bureaucrats and political advisers.  So much so that from being allies, progressive elements in the rank and file and the community became enemies.  But lo and behold once the ALP lost power and it didn’t have bureaucrats or high powered political advisers anymore the ‘membership’ was re-discovered.

I wonder whether this is what also happened in NSW, but even more pronounced than what happened in Victoria after the demise of the Kirner government.  The only difference is that this time the more progressive elements of the community found another voice in the Greens.  So now the ALP has even less potential membership to rely on.

Membership is an issue but not the main one.  If Labor could really engage with the progressive community as at least the Victorian ALP did in the early 80’s it would be a great step.  Of course unlike then many would be now involved with the Greens which would have a vested interest in the ALP going towards the current path of being the party of “hard-working heterosexual white suburban families” which would reduce their vote in the inner suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne even further, but it’s worth a shot.  Of course the ALP won’t take on more ‘extreme’ ideas, but the current way of relying on focus groups hasn’t exactly being a roaring electoral success either.

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Inner suburban Melbourne – Ripe for Greens pickings? Not so fast Batman!

I live in the suburb of Northcote in inner Melbourne.  It is located in the Federal seat of Batman, which was until recently the safest seat for Labor in Australia.  There was a swing of about 6% to the Greens.  The local Member, Martin Ferguson won the seat still with a comfortable margin, however it is not the safest seat in Australia for Labor anymore.  In fact we have the very desirable situation in Batman whether the two major parties are Labor and The Greens with the Liberals third.

I must confess (sorry to all my ALP member friends) that I was part of the 6% this time.  I have voted Green in the Senate before,  but this was the first time that I didn’t vote ALP for the House of Representatives.

Why?  Well, there were a number of reasons.  But my shift started when just after Gillard became Prime Minister we saw her on a navy ship with the Member for Lindsay to show those xenophobes in the mythical western suburbs of Sydney that Labor was as ‘tough’ on boats as the opposition.  ‘That’s not the Labor Party I usually vote for’ I thought.  There seemed that throughout the campaign the ALP was very keen to appease and give lots of attention to what these voters in Western Sydney.  So all this talk about asylum seekers and town hall meetings there….what about a meeting with Julia Gillard at Northcote Town Hall? I wanted inner Melbourne to be the anthesis of what ‘Western Sydney’ was supposed to be.  An area where pandering had to be done for the opposite reason.  Not because of mortgages and asylum seekers, but because of progressive politics.

Also I had issues with Martin Ferguson.  He was parachuted by the ALP into Batman from Sydney because the Party head to find him a safe seat after being head of the ACTU, and his views are probably the most divergent from those of Labor voters in the area.  He’s right wing Labor, and from what I read quite pro mining, pro uranium etc.

My decision was despite the fact that I don’t see the Greens with rose coloured glasses.  I sometime found their hectoring ‘holier than though’ hectoring towards Labor irritating.  I would read  letters in the “Melbourne Times’ with passionate anger of Green members/voters who were ALP.  Like lovers spurned they saw Labor as something that was a betrayal and had to be despised.  Well that’s easy for you to say.  Try to get enough votes to form a government.

So it was interesting to read the main article in the comments page of the Sunday Age about the Victorian ALP worrying that Seats that shown big swings towards The Greens in the Federal election, seats that were safe Labor like Northcote, Melbourne, Richmond and Brunswick could be lost at the forthcoming election. But I do wonder whether that’s on the cards.  At this stage I am certainly going to vote Labor.  Despite the fact that my local member, Fiona Richardson is saying silly things such as that the Greens are a new ‘Left DLP’ she seems to have worked for the electorate and not taking it for granted.  Personally, as a commuter cyclist, she has the runs on the board successfully advocating for a major roundabout and a bridge over Merri Creek which makes cycling much safer and quicker.  Unlike Martin Ferguson she sounds progressive on many issues.  And generally the ALP government has been remarkably stable and affective, despite being in power for quite some time (of course there are negative areas, which is inevitable for a government which has been in power for some time).  So it will be interesting to see if other voters in Northcote and the other seats in inner Melbourne sees it like me, or whether the Green surge will be unstoppable.

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I’d rather be at home watching Get Smart.

Anyone who has followed a football team (whatever code) may have felt that feeling. It’s an important final (even a Grand Final) there has been the build up, the hype. Your team was even built as the favourite the match starts. Your team makes some mistakes and the opposition gets ahead. Don’t worry you say to yourself, it’s early days yet plenty of time, you are good enough to get back and surge ahead.

But slowly and surely things are not going to plan. The other team capitalises on your team’s mistakes and your tries to cling on. In Australian Football ther other team outscores yours, and yours kicks some but not enough. In Association football the opposition has scored early and it’s defending well and now in your desperation to even the scores you are risking to go further behind. And anyway, more alarmingly your teams seems to be jinxed, everything it tries fails while the other team full of confidence seems to surge ahead.

So in both codes you are just after half time and it dawns on you that your team is not going to win this match. In fact it mysery seeing your team make mistake after mistake while the other gets more goal scoring opportunity. The performance of your team and the cheering of the opposition’s fans gets you down. You want to have it finished. When I was watching the AFL with a friend and our team was performing badly he would shout “I’d rather be at home watching Get Smart!” (These were the times where most football matches were played on Saturday afternoon and Channel 7 would show old episodes of Get Smart at 4 pm).

You may leave but in some way you feel some sort of loyalty to your team to watch it to the bitter end. Seeing them walking off in triumph as their team song blares off the speakers or even hanging around for them to get the winner’s trophy.

That’s the feeling I get watching this election campaign. Nothing seems to go well for Labor. Of course unfortunately this is mostly self inflicted. Despite the perceived unpopularity of Rudd as the Prime Minister he would have at least had the advantage of incumbency as a first term government, something lost when the Labor Party dumped him.

But apart for the leaks you can see today papers why the ALP team is behind. As someone wrote the picture of Gilliard and Rudd together looks like they are eating a lemon salad. And even Mark Latham encounter with Gilliard is portrayed as Labor ‘self inflicting’, which is interesting as Latham has been on the outer for years and not part of the ALP, and he did that as part of him being a Channel 9 journalist. I reckon that if he tried that stunt on Rudd (if he dared) it would have been seen as a poor rejected opposition leader being pathetic. But that’s the narrative for Labor in this campaign.

So this while this campaign will be used in politics courses in the future as an example of what not to do in an election, it seems that we are inevitably going to see the equivalent of the opposing team winning the trophy. A beaming Tony Abbott amongst cheering Liberals and their media supporters (Bolt, Ackerman etc.) claiming victory in a couple of weeks. In the meantime those of us who don’t want Abbott to be prime minister will have to endure more goals, more defensive blunders and more opportunities for the opposition team until then.

I wish I could be home watching Get Smart instead.

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Life wasn’t meant to be far right.

Malcolm Fraser has resigned from the Liberal Party.

This has been prompted by the Party moving too much from the right for his liking.  But unfortunately there has been a drift to the right of both major parties.

It’s quite a revelation that if you look at the social policies of the Liberal Party in the 60’s and 70’s (not necessarily the economic ones, which have been fairly constantly pro-business and anti-Unions) many of them would be seen as ‘left’ and even too risky for the Labor Party to take on.

After all the founder of the Liberal Party, Sir Robert Menzies, I think had a different idea of what the Party should be. He believed that individuals, free from interference (especially from governments and Unions) are the best judges of how to conduct their lives and to maintain a healthy economy. But also there was a strong idea of creating a cohesive community and Menzies was not shy to use Government for this aim.

I think also that there are regional differences. The Liberal Party in Victoria (where the Party was created) has always been more ‘left’ (or ‘wet’ if you want to use that methodology) than in NSW or Queensland (with the honourable exception of Peter Baum). People like Fraser, Ian McPhee, Peter Georgiou, Marie Tehan have advocated policies (especially on Asylum Seekers) that are now seen more akin to the Greens than to the ALP.

People in the ALP have left (including myself BTW) as it drifted to a populist tabloid media driven policies. While the ALP drifted from the centre left to the centre and even going to some centre right positions, the Liberal Party drifted even more on the right.

I also think that Howard has transformed the Party attracting people who were quite right wing that previously felt the Liberals to be ‘too bleeding heart’ in some aspects. These more rooted right wing people now find the Liberal Party as their home, thus leaving the traditional old fashion ‘liberal Liberals’ in the outer. Proof of this was that when a more traditional Liberal such as Malcolm Turnbull led the party and wanted things like the ETS lots of rank and file Liberals weren’t happy.

I also think that unfortunately some Liberal (and climate change is an example) see the USA Republican Party as an example. And this is a pernicious influence on Australian politics.

As Kerryn Goldsworthy says on the blog Still Life With Cat some thoughts must go to Fraser.  It must be hard to be 80 and deciding that an institution that has had your loyalty all your adult life is something to which you can no longer bear to belong.

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