28/09/2011 - 11:19

Makeover more than just slicker spin

28/09/2011 - 11:19


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Labor’s current leadership doesn’t seem capable of reforming the party.

A VERY learned contact of mine is among those to have left the once-great Australian Labor Party, joining an exodus that has increased markedly since Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard emerged as leaders in 2006.

What makes him even more interesting is that for many years his mother was a leading member of a sizeable ALP branch in an eastern capital.

Until recently, her branch was still quite vibrant, numbering several hundred members. That’s no longer the case.

Numbers have dramatically slumped to just a handful of rusted-on loyalists.

My contact believes there are several factors for this shift, the first of which is that: “People are just bored with attending meaningless branch meetings.

“They see being an ALP member as an utterly futile exercise.”

I queried further; where does his mother believe those hundreds have gone?

“The really keen ones, those who were somewhat younger, joined GetUp,” he said.

“Others have just vanished.”

If my contact’s mother’s branch is representative – and I suspect it is – older ones elsewhere have moved on while some younger, more activist-oriented ones have signed up to GetUp for a fee, with only the rusties remaining. The once-great ALP is becoming a shell of its former self.

That brief chat came to mind when I recently read the following paragraphs in The Australian, the newspaper the Gillard-Greens alliance loves to hate.

Julia Gillard will today attack the dominance of Labor’s factions by proposing to broaden the party’s base through online memberships and trialling US-style primaries to choose candidates,” it reported. 

“The prime minister will also ask party officials to recruit 8,000 members a year – double the current rate – and adopt issue-based campaigning in the style of activist group GetUp to reconnect with the community.”

Further on in the story, which claimed all this was part of Ms Gillard’s drive to reform the ALP, my contact’s claims were confirmed: “Labor’s membership was ageing and haemorrhaging, leaving the party unable to man some election booths in last year’s election,” it continued.

The “ageing” refers to the remaining rusties, while the “haemorrhaging” are those in GetUp or those no longer attending meetings.

Further indication came in a recent article by Chris Mitchell, The Australian’s editor, who wrote that Gillard-led Labor shed “two per cent to the Greens and 10 per cent to Tony Abbott” during the past year.

Now, a couple of points on the two opening paragraphs in that first story.

Firstly, the US-style primaries idea comes from an inquiry in the ALP undertaken by party elders John Faulkner, Steve Bracks and Bob Carr.

Under the proposed primaries, rank-and-file union and party members would get a vote on who’ll become candidates.

But the system proposed was that such contests would only be run in non-Labor seats, with 20 per cent of direct voters from union ranks, 60 per cent from branch members, and another 20 per cent from non-member backers.

The glaring loophole is, of course, that those presently in parliament won’t be facing such open democratic challenges.

They’re to be immune from having their careers threatened by rank-and-file initiated disendorsement.

However, it’s those presently holding safe to very safe Labor seats who are primarily responsible for the malaise the ALP presently finds itself.

Everyone in the Rudd-Gillard cabinets has, like obedient little children, been mute on the global heating hoax that’s set to see imposed a burdensome tax upon Australian industry.

And no evidence exists that a single backbencher has ever broken rank inside caucus by speaking out against this act of wilful economic vandalism.

What the ALP desperately needs is a fully-fledged backbench revolt against this crazy Greens-inspired tax that Ms Gillard has kowtowed to. 

Instead, the ALP’s entire Canberra contingent is meekly going along with her and the Greens.

But there’s to be no way of removing all those obedient safe-seat warmers in the so-called Gillard reform package, which ensures weak-kneed yes-men and yes-women remain. 

Secondly, what precisely is GetUp, the group that’s attracting some bored Laborite rank and filers to pay to join?

As far as I know only one insightful account has appeared on GetUp, and it’s not been in a newspaper where you’d expect to find it.

It’s in a journal, Quadrant, (March 2011) which, although a worthy publication, isn’t widely read beyond the ranks of those who devote time to Australian public and cultural affairs.

Significantly also, its author, Kieran Morris, is a member of the NSW Young Liberal Movement.

Here I won’t recount his conclusions and judgements – readers can do that by Googling ‘Kieran Morris + Inside GetUp and the New Youth Politics’.

Among other things, his research discloses that GetUp, which Ms Gillard is modelling her ‘New ALP’ upon, is essentially a tightly controlled money-raising America-style rah-rah-rah razzamatazz PR entity.

It’s basically something that’s well suited for spoiled high school kids.

Although GetUp’s founders and controllers view it as an “independent, progressive, community advocacy organisation”, is that what it is?

Definitely not.

“Original board members included Australian Workers Union secretary Bill Shorten, Australian Fabian Society secretary Evan Thornley –‘our mission is to remove the world’s dependence on oil’ –green activist Cate Faehrmann, and left-wing trade union researcher and ‘community organiser’ Amanda Tattersall,” Morris wrote. “Lachlan Harris worked for the GetUp office before becoming an adviser to Kevin Rudd.”

Not too many Liberals and/or Nationals among that crew.

“The organisation was inspired by, and modelled on, similar groups in the USA, such as MoveOn.org, formed in 1998 in response to the impeachment of President Bill Clinton by the House of Representatives, and Win Back Respect, a web-based campaign established in 2004 against former President George W. Bush,” Mr Morris continues. 

“One of the founders of GetUp, David Madden, was also a co-founder of this American organisation.

“Much like GetUp, Win Back Respect produced ads attacking conservative politicians and, using donations from online contributors, paid for a speaking tour by Wesley Clark, a retired general turned Democratic Party activist who had been nominated in the 2004 Democrat primaries.

“The organisation also used online donations to hire a charter plane for the Band of Sisters, a group of female relatives of US soldiers killed or serving in Iraq, to harass Vice-President Dick Cheney on the 2004 campaign trail.

“While studying law at Harvard University, David Madden met another Australian, Jeremy Heimans, who joined him in founding GetUp.”

What Ms Gillard seems to be doing is accepting that ALP branches will continue to wither, and this once-great party will become a centrally controlled blog-site run by a handful of rich bright sparks devising campaigns and slogans for media and blogging crusades that target individuals.

Yesterday it was John Howard, today Tony Abbott, then another non-Labor leader.

How long this lasts is anyone’s guess.

But the one thing that’s certain is there’s no way a GetUp-style ALP will last 111 years.

Remember the ALP was created in 1900, the year before Australia federated.

An entity promoting vacuous rah-rah-rah razzamatazz attack dog-style crusades hasn’t a snowflake’s chance in hell of reaching the next decade, let alone the 22nd century.

That means genuine and fundamental democratic reform of the ALP is still to be initiated.

Clearly safe Victorian ALP seat holder, Julia Gillard, isn’t up to such a high and noble calling.


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