Both Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan cite their fathers as major influences on their political beliefs.
ANYONE suspecting our most senior politicians are motivated by something resembling farsighted idealism can forget it.
By farsighted idealism I especially include aspirations to extend individual liberty for fellow citizens and ensure national security with markedly improved, indeed, formidable, defences.
I highlight such lofty patriotic ideals because I recently searched for what may be the wellspring of belief of Australia’s two top politicians – Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her deputy, Wayne Swan.
What I encountered was bitterly disappointing.
My search was sparked by a throw-away line by Ms Gillard’s onetime ideological ally, former Labor leader Mark Latham, who’d noted in a column that unlike most Labor leaders she’d never written anything of note – not a book, essay, or pamphlet about Labor’s traditions.
Mr Latham is, of course, a tyro with the pen and is especially prolific on Labor and public policy questions.
Gough Whitlam frequently wrote, as did Kim Beazley.
Before I came across this interesting Latham observation I’d assumed that Ms Gillard’s and Mr Swan’s ideological wellspring was perhaps a book or two by a notable author.
Perhaps even a great economist, like say John Maynard Keynes or Alfred Marshall; or maybe a great sociologist like Daniel Bell or Raymond Aron.
Better still, perhaps a great humanist writer such as George Orwell, author of 1984, someone indisputably of the political left, or that other great, also of the left, Arthur Koestler, author of Darkness at Noon, both of whom I regard highly.
Everyone in politics should read their brilliant works.
But what I learned about Ms Gillard and Mr Swan is that their attachment to leftist aspirations looks to originate primarily, if not solely, from their fathers, and secondly that they hadn’t gotten over the fact that their university fees were paid by taxpayers, since the Whitlam government had scrapped these.
That remained so until the Hawke government rightly re-instituted tertiary fees a decade later.
Let’s consider some written evidence.
During 2009, The Australian newspaper carried several features so key figures could explain “what it means to be on the left in Australia.”
Ms Gillard’s contribution was headlined: “Driven by Indignation at Injustice.”
I highlight several more-or-less-representative contentions by her for embracing leftism, by which I mean backing ever bigger and more intrusive government, greater centralisation, higher taxes, and boosts to welfare.
“My parents migrated to Australia from Wales when I was four,” Ms Gillard began.
So did mine (from Poland, via Hitler’s Reich), also when I was four.
“My dad grew up in a small coal mining village, one of seven children. He was very good at school, passed very high in the Eleven Plus exams, and was offered a scholarship. But his family’s circumstances meant that he couldn’t take up that opportunity.”
Mine grew up in a tiny Polish village, one of five children. He was also a competent student, but couldn’t continue studying because there were no secondary schools nearby. Instead he gained an apprenticeship even though these were depression years, which I’ll bet was far more severe in Poland than Wales.
“We settled in Adelaide, South Australia. My father worked in a variety of blue-collar jobs before training as a psychiatric nurse. My mother worked as a domestic in an aged care institution.”
We settled in Wyalkatchem where my father worked for 20 years as a fettler and mother a domestic and cook at the hotel and hospital.
“Between them they have contributed greatly to Australia as workers and as citizens. As well as their hard work, my parents always modelled a commitment to ideas and education that my sister and I absorbed as we grew up.”
Similarly with my parents; in spades.
“There is no way in the world that mum and dad could have afforded private school education. We didn’t come from a family where it was natural to go to university, but my parents were always very keen to get us to be the best that we could.”
Interestingly, although my parents were basic wage earners they covered my education fees at Catholic schools plus most of my university fees. So they were unlike Ms Gillard’s parents. Wonder why?
“It [education] became possible for me because of the excellent state school funded by a Labor state government and because Gough Whitlam, Labor prime minister, removed upfront university fees.”
She’s swinging the lead somewhat there since South Australian taxpayers – not SA Labor governments – funded state schools.
True, the Whitlam government scrapped tertiary fees but why ignore that the Hawke government reinstated them?
“A sense of indignation has always burned in me about what happened to my father. That someone who had the capacity to go on to higher education, to even more schooling, and who won a scholarship to do so, could still have that opportunity ripped from their hands by economic circumstance.”
In my case, a sense of ‘such is life’, when your country is conquered and occupied, thus ‘burned in me’ over what my father and, never forget, millions like him endured.
He’d been arrested without cause by Nazi occupation police during a midnight railway station dragnet; interned and forcibly dispatched to German-annexed Lorraine to work as a farm labourer, an Ostarbeiter; and would never again see his parents since Poland, in 1944, was re-occupied by the Soviet Red Army.
I’d say I’m at least on a par with Ms Gillard and remain baffled at why anyone would justify embracing a bigger taxing socialistic path in response.
My father’s background, and more crucially, my subsequent reading of many of the greats – Orwell and Koestler, especially – prompted the opposite view in me; a belief in less-intrusive governance and controls, and lower taxes, so people can become financially self-sufficient.
Mr Swan’s 1993 maiden speech revealed all.
“My father, an old Labor man, was distrustful of big banks, big entrepreneurs, big companies and the media,” he said.
“He believed that most of the institutions in our society were rigged against people who earned a wage for a living.
“He believed that the conservatives used social background as a brick wall, blocking opportunity for ordinary people.
“My parents, and many of their generation, did not get a fair go.
“I was fortunate enough to get a fair go, and I got that fair go from the Whitlam government.”
Doesn’t that help explain Mr Swan’s recent ongoing ‘class-warfare’ rhetorical rants, which even many leading Laborites have found distasteful?
He’s remained intellectually frozen since childhood.
And like Ms Gillard he conveniently ignores the fact that the Hawke Labor government, for which he was a ministerial staffer, reimposed tertiary fees.