24/04/2014 - 16:43

Time for Labor to rebuild trust

24/04/2014 - 16:43


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The battered party could start on the long road back by taking advice from Joe Bullock and its 1980s’ team of MPs.

Time for Labor to rebuild trust
MOVES: Federal leader Bill Shorten outlined plans last week to reform the Labor Party. Photo: Attila Csaszar

The battered party could start on the long road back by taking advice from Joe Bullock and its 1980s’ team of MPs.

Because I have, and have had, many friends and close contacts who are, or were, members of the Australian Labor Party or ardent backers, I find myself pondering how Labor can be saved.

Being saved, means saved from itself and its unimaginative and long-time tenth-rate leadership.

Labor is in bad shape – wipeouts in NSW and Queensland, national defeat, Tasmania imploding and now a dismal Senate showing in Western Australia’s re-run election.

No-one, I suspect, who’s close to Labor seems capable of standing back and proposing a life-saving resuscitation strategy.

Recently I again pondered on what advice one could give and soon began counting the number of Australian history units I had studied during my secondary and tertiary education years in which the ALP was a substantial component.

The tally was four – twice as a matriculation student, once as undergraduate and once in a two-year honours history seminar titled Australian Society and Politics, 1900-1950.

One of those undertaking the latter with me was Kim Beazley, later long-time federal Labor leader, and now Australia’s representative in Washington.

I raise this because studying the ALP – about which there’s an over-abundance written – you cannot ignore its various splits and its ups and downs.

Unionism and the ALP dominate Australian academic political writing.

Even I became so enmeshed when researching an article, published under the title, Australia – A Democracy or just another Ballotocracy, (National Observer, No. 76, Autumn 2008, pages 7-32).

That exercise set out to analyse and describe how Australia’s constitution failed to incorporate the unique Swiss-style democratic requirement that empowers electors, as opposed to politicians, to bring on referendums.

Much to my surprise, I discovered that the ALP, from Federation until 1963 (at its Perth National Conference of that year, in fact), had such a plank in its platform.

Unfortunately, federal Labor never got around to implementing it.

However, never claim that commitment to true democracy was mere window dressing, since WA Labor premier, John “Happy Jack” Scaddan’s government introduced such legislation to transform Western Australia into a real democracy, like Switzerland and half the states of the US.

Shamefully, the conservative-dominated Legislative Council rejected Mr Scaddan’s bill.

Labor certainly seems to have had everything – from wastrels (Kevin Rudd, Wayne Swan and Julia Gillard, to name three); to stolid economic managers (Peter Walsh and Gary Johns); to pro-conscriptionists (Billy Hughes) and opponents (John Curtin), and so on.

It’s had the lot, even clandestine communists in its ranks.

But does it have a core of far-sighted members capable of confronting reality and devising ways ahead for lasting reforms, not only of itself, but also for Australia, into the 21st century?

Judging by the past decade or so, I would say no.

After every election loss – federal or state – Labor convenes an inquiry to assess why it failed.

Who recently said the following?

“The problem the Labor Party has is this: when the Labor Party says to voters, ‘trust us, we have your interests at heart’, the voters don’t trust them.

“And the voters are right. The Labor Party hasn’t demonstrated that they are capable of being trusted with looking after the interests of working people and their families.

“When they do, they will win and win and win and win.”

Yes, Labor’s Senator-elect, Joe Bullock.

Clearly, Western Australians and Labor are lucky he will be their man in Canberra.

Keep your fingers crossed the silly ones within that party – and there are plenty of them, as the calamitous Rudd-Gillard years so clearly showed – don’t thwart Mr Bullock from providing wise counsel.

One of the major problems Labor faces is that there are too few Joe Bullocks in its ranks; its branches and in parliaments.

He’s a true-blue Labor man, not a phoney like so many holding down cushy safe seats they should never have been preselected for.

That’s the central problem.

Labor’s parliamentary line-ups are bereft of people capable of objective assessment.

That leaves Labor with just one option to save itself, and in the process, hopefully, help hold the line for Australia over dangerous times ahead.

Here, therefore, is my advice.

Don’t look to those MPs who have served in Australia’s various parliaments since 2000.

Go back further and contact all those federal MPs, now retired, but who served before that year – yes, back to the 1980s.

Federal Labor should convene a committee (Mr Bullock should chair it) that slowly and methodically quizzes those retired MPs for their considered advice.

I am sure they will disclose that what Mr Bullock said about trust will be confirmed and reinforced by those interviewees.

Then comes the really tough part – implementing what these MPs, many of whom have resigned from the ALP in disgust, recommend.

If that can’t be done, the Bullock committee should urge that Labor merges with the Greens, which is making inroads into its ranks, to get the suicide over and done with sooner rather than later.


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