25/01/2012 - 10:53

Labor battles to reconnect with ‘its people’

25/01/2012 - 10:53


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The Labor Party just ain’t what it used to be.

The Labor Party just ain’t what it used to be.

FOR those who didn’t read a recently published no-holds-barred assessment of the Australian Labor Party, here’s a brief summary with additional commentary.

It was written by the acerbic Mark Latham, appearing in the Australian Financial Review as pre-Christmas office parties gathered pace.

All who have read his The Latham Diaries will undoubtedly agree that the author takes no prisoners when combatively expounding a case.

And vintage Latham surfaced yet again in the AFR piece.

He began his assessment by making a truly original point, namely that Labor is presently in the midst of its fourth split.

No-one has previously viewed that party in such a way.

“When people think of the great Labor splits, they think of 1916, 1931 and 1955, when a significant number of federal MPs defected from the party,” Latham began. 

“Now, a new split, with a new series of defections, is under way.”

This current split, he claimed, was between “Labor’s rank and file membership” that’s been deserting the party in droves because they’re “repulsed by the heavy hand of factional control.”

Unlike previous splits, this one has remained somewhat under wraps; no-one inside rapidly vaporising Labor is inclined to talk about it, but whenever they do then never speak too loudly.

But according to Latham, two significant party insiders – Troy Bramston, formerly Kevin Rudd’s speechwriter, and onetime NSW party official Luke Foley – recently let pussy out of the box.

“Bramston has chronicled the long-term decline in Labor’s national membership: from 150,000 in the 1930s, to 50,000 in the 1990s, to just 11,665 members who voted in the ballot for the national presidency last month,” Latham wrote.

“Foley has broken down the state records by membership category.”

The figures indicate that only 16 per cent of Labor’s NSW members belong to trade unions affiliated to the party, with over half these being concessional members, so people outside the workforce.

Foley’s figures exposed the emptiness of Labor’s structure, since of Labor 11,665 active members, just 1,860 (16 per cent) are likely to belong to an affiliated union.

“This represents, on average, just 12 Labor unionists in each federal electorate – not enough for a footy team,” Latham continued.

“The notion of Labor as a trade union-based party, a grassroots organisation of Australian workers, is a myth.

“When Labor MPs say they represent working people in this country, they are mouthing a fraud.”

Ouch, Mark, stop that, it hurts.

To rub more salt into those wounds, he’s dobbed-in two Labor heavyweights NSW opposition leader John Robertson, and Australian Workers’ Union boss Paul Howse.

“The union secretaries have actively encouraged the marginalisation of Labor’s membership,” Latham said.

“Let me give two examples. When he was the head of Unions NSW, John Robertson openly declared branch meetings to be a waste of time.

“Now he’s the leader of the NSW Parliamentary Labor Party. 

“More recently, right-wing factional boss Paul Howes heavily criticised his local branches, saying he couldn’t be bothered attending their meetings.”

Basically Labor’s leadership and parliamentary wing are far removed from the average worker, which helps explain why Labor now finds itself moving increasingly towards crackpot policies promoted by the zany Greens, thereby moving further from average Aussie battlers.

When did this disconnect begin?

Although the answer is found in various publications, a convincing explanation is carried in a book released back in 1999.

Written by Sydney lawyer Michael Thompson, it is titled, Labor without Class – The Gentrification of the ALP

Thompson, then a loyal ALP member, began by following on from a little-known comment by one-time Labor leader Arthur Calwell, who’d contended in his 1972 memoirs, titled Be Just and Fear Not, that already by the late 1960s there had emerged what he called a ‘faction’ of (Labor and non-Labor) individuals in parliament that he regarded as “aggressive, assertive, philosophical, way-out people”.

 “These people seek to challenge all accepted views and standards that govern our society,” Calwell wrote.

“Nothing that exists is above criticism to them.

“There are more of them in the Labor Party than any other party.

“But the newspapers, radio and television media have also been the object of similar penetration.”

Thompson describes this gentrified Labor leadership strata as now being primarily: “Drawn from among the tertiary-educated middle class whose members have gone to university since the 1960s, where they imbibed the social causes of feminism, multiculturalism, environmentalism and the like, which their counter-culture lecturers had imported from America.

“They now occupy many of the senior positions in politics, the ABC and SBS, universities, schools, government departments and agencies, courts, anti-discrimination and other such boards and non-government organisations, and also in the private, non-traded-goods sector (e.g. journalists and human resource management).”

All, or nearly all, invariably draw taxpayer-funded perks and salaries.

Among those now occupying Labor’s top strata are: Kevin Rudd, diplomat/public servant; Julia Gillard, student activist, lawyer, political staffer; Wayne Swan, lecturer and political staffer; Greg Combet, union leader; Penny Wong, lawyer and union official; Mark Arbib, union and party organiser; and Tanya Plibersek, campus women’s officer and domestic violence unit, NSW Government’s Office for Status and Advancement of Women and political staffer.

These gentrified individuals and their colleagues and hangers-on now dominate Labor’s parliamentary wing and the various cliques and factions, with their primary desire being to impose their ideological imprint upon Australia.

Interestingly, soon after Calwell alerted readers of what he dubbed “way-out people” within Labor’s rank, the costly Whitlam Labor years (1972-75) opted for truly way-out borrowing and spending plans, including secret financial manoeuvres – the Loans Affair – to acquire billions of dollars from unnamed Middle Eastern sources, with those moves finally prompting then governor-general, Sir John Kerr, a man with long-time ALP links, to sack a Labor government.

The new or post-Calwell Labor began increasingly moving away from old-style bread-and-butter issues; today the only real Labor man in federal parliament is Victorian Senator John Madigan.

But he’s not an ALP member. He’s from the Democratic Labor Party that emerged from Labor’s third, or 1955, split.

Senator Madigan entered the workforce as a structural steel fabrication apprentice, attended Newport Tafe, worked at the Victorian Railways Newport Workshops, and is a blacksmith and boilermaker from Hepburn Springs, central Victoria. 

Unlike Senator Madigan, those named above only ever enter the type of work sites he’s familiar with when embarking on media stunts accompanied by big press and TV crews, briefly wearing borrowed hard hats and fluoro vests.

In his maiden speech last August, Senator Madigan, in characteristic low-key style, said: “The DLP and the ALP are not the same. 

“We differ in a number of ways but we both came from the same lineage and however some members on both sides may dislike it, we are kin, of sorts.”

Indeed, they aren’t the same, but are kin. But only “of sorts”.

Latham concluded: “Never forget the key number: 12 trade unionists per electorate. Everything else is Labor-inspired spin to convince the media that the party is still a legitimate grassroots force.”


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