fixing australia human rights sustainable earth sustainable shelter terror australis association site archives

Fixing Australia

Australia is broken. Democracy has holes in it, cracks in it, and it needs fixing. Since the 2004 Federal election we know that our government is not going to fix it. I think we need to do that fixing, and this blog is a start of getting some ideas together.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Labor for Refugees: leaving the ALP?

by Kevin Peoples
Labor For Refugees (Victoria)

I have let two weeks go by since the election to ensure a degree of objectivity and calmness in what I have to say.

I have stayed with the ALP since the Tampa for two reasons. One is the certain knowledge that only one of the two major parties can form government and an ALP government was always going to be better than a Howard government - not just for refugees and asylum seekers but in a range of issues. Since the last January National Conference in Sydney, when the party firmly rejected the initiatives of Labor For Refugees and adopted policies that pandered to the irrational and xenophobic fears in our community, I have continued that support, torn between a realisation that I share virtually nothing in common with the Federal Labor leadership and on the other hand the absolute necessity to defeat Howard.

The second reason why I have stayed with the ALP is the support from the membership of the party. The Labor people who have joined and worked for Labor For Refugees represent what is best in the party. They deserve so much better. In the moral vacuum that is now Federal Labor they are an embarrassing paradox - people who have not lost the vision of a better world, who are appalled at Australia's involvement in the illegal, immoral and unwinnable war in Iraq (the ALP was weak on the war at the time and still is), the treatment of refugees and the failure to distribute equitably the gains made in the economy, yet they remain in a party that has moved so far to the Right it no longer knows what it stands for. As a disillusioned Labor voter said to me as I handed him a how to vote card, 'You know what ALP stands for mate? I said 'No'. He replied 'It stands for Another Liberal Party'.

Lindsay Tanner is right to question the identity of the ALP. Barry Jones is right when he says we now have two right of centre major parties in Australia. Jones is right when he argues that if Australian voters have to chose between a serious conservative party over one masquerading as one then why wouldn't they go for the genuine thing. The current leadership of the ALP has chosen the worst of all possible responses to the challenge facing all Labor parties in a global economy dominated by the American model of capitalism. Voters on the right do not trust it and it has alienated its supporters on the left.

Our party is dying under the strain of the compromise it has made with the new economic orthodoxy. A primary vote of 38% after three losses is a disaster. The central problem is that the ALP has failed to present a genuine economic alternative. We should be looking to Europe, not the USA or Blair's Britain for new models. Supporters of economic rationalist ideas would have us believe we have no choice. They are wrong.

The ALP is now embarrassed about its trade union history. It has turned its back on the trade union movement, which despite decreasing numbers, is still a significant group in our community. Instead, our leaders seek out the new 'aspirational' voters in the lower and middle classes whose individualism and materialism is at odds with the old inclusive and cooperative values that drove 'old' Labor.

Hawke and Keating crossed the Centre to the Right and destroyed whatever philosophical underpinnings Labor had with their 'reforms' of the Australian economy in the 1980's. Those 'reforms' inevitably led to a weakening of Labor's traditional ties, especially with its core constituents. Who does this party now represent? When the answer to that question is not immediately obvious, then any party has little choice but to turn to focus groups, to the media, to what is being said on talk-back radio, to 'expert' advisers, to influential groups, especially business whose values now dominate our society. The party must hear what people are saying. You then cut your cloth to those who will buy. Weathercocks.

It is not surprising then that our leader in the recent election had nothing to say about the economy. It's Labor's sort of economy. They have no other model. Of course he was never going to speak about the two million Australians who live in poverty or the 800,000 Australian children in poverty. He had nothing to say about the 65% of Australians who earn less than $600.00 per week and the growing pressure on families where unpaid overtime has become the norm. He had nothing to say about the growth of casual work and the real levels of underemployment and unemployment.

The Labor vision is now so narrow that our leader was never going to say anything about international inequalities, about the developing world with its debt and abysmal poverty. This is now a party that votes annually in favour of free trade over fair trade.

There was not a word about the scandalous Labor acceptance of the American Free Trade Agreement. What can you say when your policy is the same as the government?

Importantly, the ALP has failed to take up the challenge of defining the so-called 'war on terror'. The 'war on terror' is open-ended nonsense. The ALP has taken over the absurd notions of a fight between 'good' and 'evil'. We have allowed Howard to frighten Australians with these nonsensical notions. Howard and Bush's only solution is a fight to the death. This is no solution. We know that it is impossible to generalise about 'terror'. We know that at the heart of 'terror' is politics and real issues. We know that politics is about solving problems not waging crusades.

The ALP is undemocratic and secretative. Members are work-horses who are trotted out around the streets during campaigns. New policies are developed by a small clique for campaigns. Sitting candidates learn of new policies when they are announced to the press. And factions run the show. How unsightly it is to watch the current manoeuvrings for positions of prestige.

I am not prepared to continue as Secretary of Labor For Refugees (Victoria). Laurie Ferguson, an implacable opponent of refugees and asylum seekers is the new shadow minister. We can expect nothing from the party in the future. I no longer feel any loyalty to the current party. But for the sake of those who have joined with us and who I know agree with much of what I have said above, I am willing to join in discussions with them at our meeting in November to see what they think both about our future and the the future of the ALP.

We could adopt a far more aggressive stance to the current leadership and structure of the party. We could join with like-minded groups and become outspoken critics of the party and its direction. We could sponsor seminars, discussions and debates about the challengers facing Labor. We could look at European models of parties of the left and how they have coped with the challenge of the American model of globalisation.

It seems to me that we would be involved in a struggle for the heart and mind of Labor. It would be unpleasant and will take courage and time. I'm not sure if I am up to it.


  • At Thursday, October 28, 2004 7:14:00 PM, Blogger Dave Riley said…

    I don't know how people can stomach the ALP. The little game the party played to the "doctors' wives" syndrome -- soft left/caring positions -- were very unique and isolated in a campaign that was engineered as me-tooism. But Labor For Refugees has consistenly pandered to the party I fear without causing enough fuss --accepting a little bit of this(eg "Lawrence for National President!) and that while the ALP simply went about its business. The axis isn't righ/left any more -- this party is boldly Tory. Ultimately it comes down to party loyalty -- but to what?

  • At Friday, October 29, 2004 12:13:00 PM, Blogger refolution said…

    Maybe refugee activists have to get really radical and put up their own candidates for the Senate. The ALP has been an utter abject failure on the isssues and Laurie Ferguson's move to Shadow Immigration Minister is the final straw.
    Refugee and asylum seeker support gained the ALP in SA a third senate seat and the seat of Adelaide, despite the nation wide rejection of the ALP. This is their reward.
    From out of no-where "Family First" has moved into the Senate. Why couldn't an "Australians Supporting Refugees Party" do somthing similar.
    Whatever happens the old game of keeping everyone in the know informed and going around in never increasing circles must change. This issue has to become mainstream and if no onle else will take it on, then maybe change the challenmge is to do it from within.
    There are excellent activists who seem to have the skills. Is it possible or...?

  • At Friday, October 29, 2004 2:35:00 PM, Blogger Daniel Boase-Jelinek said…

    The criticisms of the ALP entirely miss the point - that political parties do not lead public opinion; they follow it.

    Berating the ALP for being weak-kneed on refugees (or any other issue) is a complete waste of time. The ALP exists to gain political power. The policies it espouses at any particular time are shaped by public opinion. The results of the latest election are a clear indication of where that public opinion stands on refugees - they are absolutely not an issue of concern for the 52% of Australian voters who voted for Howard.

    Our job is to focus on public attitudes to refugees. We need to develop strategies that make the Australian people think a bit more deeply about the plight of refugees.

    It is quite clear that the campaign up until now has not touched the hearts of middle Australia. Our challenge is to find a way to touch those hearts.

  • At Sunday, November 07, 2004 1:21:00 PM, Blogger Project_SafeCom said…

    It seems to me that Labor for Refugees should openly state its intention to defect from the ALP and either join The Greens or found its own political party.If it starts its own political party, it can either stand as a pressuring issues party or lobby to get the many folks who are seriously critical of the Federal Labor Party over the invasion of Iraq. I can think of some more issues over which it should be quite easy to link to others. I agree, Kevin, hesitating any longer at the feet of the "high and mighty" in the ALP would probably be a waste of time.

    However, I hope that Labor for Refugees first meets with "the dissenters" on the backbenches: Carmen Lawrence, John Falkner, Lindsay Tanner - and yes, include Barry Jones. Not only are they the most likely allies of L4R over refugee policy, but they're also people who should know about this change of direction. Quietly, I would want them to defect from the ALP as well. They may as well do that together with you.

  • At Friday, November 12, 2004 9:45:00 AM, Blogger refolution said…

    Corrected version...

    The following may interest people.
    It seems interest rates did matter!!!

    "We learnt the hard way: failure to kill rates scare cost us poll - ALP chief"

    Date: November 11 2004, SMH
    By Mike Seccombe

    The effectiveness of the Government's interest rates scare campaign on people with large mortgages was the main factor in the federal election result, the ALP's national secretary, Tim Gartrell, said yesterday.

    In a post-mortem analysis of the campaign at the National Press Club, Mr Gartrell said it became clear to him by the last week of the campaign that the Government's "overwhelmingly negative" advertising campaign had succeeded in raising fears about Labor's economic management and the inexperience of its leader, Mark Latham.

    Much as many people wanted change, they were bound to the Government by fear based on record levels of debt, he said.

    The "glaring lesson" from an early analysis of the election result was that seats with the most mortgages generally recorded the biggest swings against Labor.

    "Blue or white collar, tradesperson or professional, the most important factor was whether they had a mortgage," he said. "Of the 15 seats with the highest proportion of mortgages, 11 had a higher than average swing against Labor. The sentiment was best summed up by a woman in a swinging voter focus group in the middle of the campaign, who said 'I like what Mark Latham and Labor are on about, I really want a change, but I'm scared about interest rates'."

    The Coalition has been getting away with lies and setting the agenda for far too long. Remember the parents who sewed their children's lips etc and Ruddock's Australia wide fact-giving tour to schools and institutions, when he was Immigration Minister? (To ignore SIEVX and Children Overboard!)

    Labor must stand up and inform, defend and establish the truth.
    But who will do it on behalf of refugees?
    Politics now seems to have become give the people what they want, not lead the people to what is right and vital.
    Capital punishment will resume after this transmission break???
    And what will the ALP do???


Post a Comment

<< Home