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Labor has to show a little faith

THERE’S a bit of navel gazing going on in Labor Party ranks at the moment as the fallout from last year’s federal election loss continues.

It’s worthwhile, therefore, to take stock of where party members feel things might have gone wrong in recent times, as the entrails are picked over for signs of disease.

Who, for example, penned the following hard-hitting lines: “Labor supporters around the country are voting with their feet and staying home.

“The ALP’s long-standing internal culture could perhaps best be described as Masonic-Leninist.

“Byzantine structures, unfamiliar jargon, exclusionary attitudes and an atmosphere of secrecy characterise Labor’s organisational culture.

“Politics inevitably entails many destructive and negative aspects, but there is no reason why we should allow these features to dominate our party’s culture.”

Former Labor MHR and WA One Nation Senate candidate, Graeme Campbell, could easily have penned them.

They may well have been Brian Burke’s – except perhaps for a word or two. He understands Labor’s increasingly obvious weaknesses.

But neither wrote them.

The author was Federal Labor frontbencher, Melbourne MHR, Lindsay Tanner, who penned them for a submission he recently sent to former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke and one-time NSW Labor Premier, Neville Wran.

They’re reviewing the ALP.

Labor’s leadership is desperately trying to grapple with its potentially terminal troubles.

Aggregate voter support is tumbling. Labor even failed to dislodge embattled two-term John Howard, and this when both Coalition parties face even graver terminal problems.

It’s possible, indeed probable, that if Australia’s parties weren’t beneficiaries of compulsory federal public funding (taxpayer cash) of around $1 per vote at each federal election, all would be approaching insolvency.

Labor would probably have remained operational slightly longer than the Coalition parties because it also benefits from compulsory dues drawn from affiliated (although) declining membership unions, plus four times those dues from rich business donors.

That’s little consolation.

In WA, Gallop-led Labor attracted just 37 per cent of the statewide vote at the election.

South Australia’s new Labor Premier Mike Rann did even worse – just 34 per cent. He’s premier only because conservative independent, now speaker, Peter Lewis, and another ex-Liberal said they’d back Labor.

Queensland’s Peter Beattie gained power in his first contest only because of an independent’s backing.

In Victoria, Labor leader Steve Bracks took over because of the good graces of two of three conservative independents, who backed him rather than Liberal Jeff Kennett.

Although Labor now holds the Northern Territory it was largely because the conservatives held power from 1974 to 2001, longer than even the Menzies-Holt-Gorton-McMahon 23-year era.

Although Labor holds NSW and Tasmania relatively comfortably, if the conservative forces presented even a half-credible alternative the situation could rapidly alter.

The Tanner submission rightly rejected a series of explanations excusing Labor’s tumbling support – the union 60-40 formula, Tampa, and so on.

“We have to rethink how to organise ourselves, not just how we present ourselves,” Mr Tanner’s submission says.

“Our problems are not structural, not cyclical. A new coat of paint might help. But re-stumping is the main priority.”

There’s certainly something fundamentally askew with a party that once scored well at national and State levels but now relies on renegade non-Labor MPs to form governments.

Perhaps Australian voters are wisening-up to being spun to.

A good case of this by three Labor premiers mentioned can be seen in the debates at the Constitutional Convention held in Canberra in February 1998.

At that jamboree Messrs Gallop, Beattie, and Rann teamed-up to argue that Australia’s head of state should be elected, not secretly selected as Prime Ministers do with governors general, and Premiers with governors.

The three were thus opposing the formidable conservative monarchists, who wanted the present undemocratic arrangements preserved, and the reactionary republicans – called the Australian Republican Movement – who adamantly opposed Australians being permitted to elect presidents.

Dr Gallop said: “The election of the head of state shall be by the people of Australia voting direction by secret ballot with preferential voting by means of a simple transferable vote.”

Mr Beattie said: “I came to this convention as a strong supporter of the direct election of the president, and I remain a strong supporter of the direct election of the president.

“I have faith in the Australian people. I have faith in their intelligence; I have faith in their commitment; and I have faith in the fact that they want to have a direct say.”

Mr Rann said: “In our paper Geoff Gallop and I raised another option that deserves both debate and serious consideration: the direct election of the president.

“This is the option most favored by the vast majority of Australians.”

So let’s test each of them.

The last time I surveyed Queensland’s political arrangements no evidence existed of Mr Beattie instituting an elected governorship.

Dr Gallop actually promised to move towards electing WA governors but dishonored his promise last month.

Mr Rann shows no sign of democratising South Australia’s governorship.

For them the Constitutional Convention was do as we say, not as we’ll do.

Neither man shows, to use Mr Beattie’s words, faith in their citizenry.

Perhaps that’s why so many voters have lost faith in Labor.

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