11/02/2010 - 00:00

Little left of the Labor we knew

11/02/2010 - 00:00


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Modern Labor bears little resemblance to the party founded more than 100 years ago.

FOR several years, State Scene has wondered if the Australian Labor Party still exists, having regularly encountered people, many once-loyal party members, who now have their doubts about Labor.

One such person has argued convincingly that, although Labor exists in name, it, in fact, doesn’t.

Its structures have been hijacked by what Sydney author, Margo Saville, in her book The Battle for Bennelong: The Adventures of Maxine McKew, dubbed ‘the femocrats’ – doctors’ wives, wealthy inner-city lefties, and chardonnay socialists – who have helped transform the ALP into something vastly different, indeed unrecognisable, from days gone by.

Long vanished from Labor’s ranks are patriotic civic-minded rank-and-file pay-as-you-earn workers.

The eloquent, farsighted exponent mentioned above is Sydney lawyer and ALP member, John Muscat, also joint editor of The New City public affairs website.

He’s outlined in Quadrant magazine’s January/February issue, where he was one of seven contributors to a Forum segment titled, ‘What’s Left of the Left’, the need for belated embalming.

He contends that: “A momentous event in our national affairs has all but gone unnoticed.

“The political party which for over 100 years was known as the Australian Labor Party has ceased to exist.

“True, our prime minister and his parliamentary majority belong to an organisation bearing that name.

“But this organisation has little in common with the party which bore the name for so long. From the ashes of Labor has arisen the Rudd Ticket, a crucial turn in the professional left’s final victory over mass labourism.”

He backs this contention with four claims.

Firstly, on becoming PM, Kevin Rudd promptly discarded the century old practice of caucus electing the ministry. This meant Mr Rudd boosted his patronage powers enormously, with caucus becoming commensurately less relevant.

Secondly, pre-selections for winnable seats are increasingly awarded by the PM’s office and/or an inner-circle to carefully chosen and trusted individuals, who select those who’ll never buck their patrons.

Thirdly, Labor has increasingly pre-selected people who aren’t even party members. Leaders regularly opts for celebrities – Peter Garrett, rock singer; Maxine McKew, ABC presenter; Cheryl Kernot, Australian Democrats leader.

Not only aren’t rank and filers considered for safe seats – they no longer get a say.

Labor’s national conferences no longer adopt platforms devised by delegates but prefer vague policy chapters instead.

According to Mr Muscat, once-powerful centres within the party’s structure have nowhere to turn for authority to challenge central power – the PM and his inner Canberra-based circle.

“Today the ALP is an empty shell ….” Mr Muscat writes.

This means a once broadly based rank-and-file party that gave rise to ‘mass labourism’ has been hijacked by backers of an imperial system of anti-democratic controls from above, ones resembling feudal governance where kings reigned supreme.

And Labor claims it backs republicanism.

Labor began moving towards this outcome in the 1970s, the decade so many of its current harvest of activists and MPs adopted the ideas now being promoted by the remnant entity he calls the ‘Rudd Ticket’.

Labor encountered a structural crisis around 2000 where: “Party forums were dominated by union officials representing ever-smaller proportions of the private sector workforce and out of step with the new economy unleashed by market-oriented reform.”

The Hawke government largely implemented those reforms trough privatisation and extensive deregulation.

Mr Muscat sees the outcome of the resultant diminishing private sector union base, and emergence of an increasingly well-paid careerist fraternity that embraced the tenets of a range of 1970s social movements, as bringing about Labor’s unnoticed death.

“Rudd just formalised reality, which explains the almost complete lack of resistance to his moves,” he says.

“For Rudd, the resolution of Labor’s crisis meant the dissolution of Labor itself.”

Labor has been gobbled-up by taxpayer-funded backroom Canberra-based party employed wonks, who Mr Muscat identifies as “political technicians like staffers, pollsters, market researchers, media advisers, policy boffins, lobbyists and public relations flacks”.

He could have added lobbyists to the list.

They’ve been joined by a well-paid circle of social and welfare activists who were “invigorated by global warming and the financial crisis” and a university based fraternity that dominates, via government patronage, “fields like environmental science, preventive medicine, human rights, family policy, work-life balance and industrial relations”.

The Rudd Ticket sifts claims and contentions of these fraternities, and packages whatever is seen as election winning slogans and campaigns.

In other words, the centrally controlled Rudd Ticket spruiks what it believes will boost its standing in polls and at elections.

“When opportunities arise to fuse media management with institutional interests of activists and academics, the dividend is gold,” Mr Muscat writes.

A good example was all the hoo-hah over the climate-warming scare where well-paid individuals such as Ross Garnaut, Tim Flannery, Phillip Adams, Thomas Keneally, and others chimed in with commentary backing the interminably repeated Kevin Rudd/Penny Wong alarmist line.

Little wonder that, when the Copenhagen fiasco arrived no fewer than 114 taxpayer-funded Australian public servants and Laborites attended.

Just what that cost Australian taxpayers hasn’t been disclosed.

Disgracefully, the Liberals haven’t bothered inquiring.

With so many of this new ruling elite – who displaced the old Labor arrangement of branches, state and national conferences, dominance of a platform – now prospering, it’s little wonder nobody within the defunct ALP resisted the remoulding towards an astutely focused careerist promoting entity.

All in all it’s a bleak case of anti-democratic hijacking.

The party that no longer exists or exists only in name is something that’s morphed around Kevin Rudd, who continues eyeing-off a prestigious United Nations job.

And when he eventually gets it, the party will retain its strange new form.

So it’s worth asking whether things could have evolved otherwise.

Interestingly, the answer is yes.

To learn how one must log on to Mr Muscat’s, The New City website, where you discover what that future could have been.

On that site’s segment, “About Us”, he and editorial colleague, Jeremy Gilling write: “We are more inspired by the best days of [the] Hawke [government] than by the false promises of Whitlam.

“In particular, we draw inspiration from one of the Hawke government’s greatest figures, [former Western Australian senator] Peter Walsh, whose rare integrity and intellectual rigour earns him the title ‘Australia’s best ever finance minister’.

“Peter’s uncompromising demands that government spending and taxing policies produce real benefits for ordinary workers, rather than lurks for the privileged, whether conservative or progressive, define Labor’s ‘light on the hill’.

“… Peter Walsh’s stringent principles join a distinguishable school of Labor thought.

Little wonder Mr Walsh recently said of Mr Rudd: “The prime minister is an economic illiterate and an egomaniac.

“He won’t take any hard decisions.

“He’s capricious. He sees himself as some sort of Platonic philosopher king.”




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