I was reading this over lunch and I think it is an important piece in defining the Gillard reign. May that end soon.
March 28, 2013
The ALP must forgo the politics of division and seize the chance to inspire pride in its achievements.
The politics of the next few months is no longer about the result of the next election. It is about the future of the ALP. Political parties are resilient, can defy the odds and rebuild quickly. However, the essence of that rebuilding begins with a clarity of purpose as to what the party stands for and its point of difference with its competitor.
When the last two warriors of the Hawke/Keating era are sacked or resign you know the situation is serious, very serious. Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson have given their entire lives to the labour movement, have mentored the Prime Minister and have been the banner carriers for loyalty.
The polls tell us that the party is headed for a devastating defeat, the divisions are on show and the accumulated wisdom of John Faulkner, Crean, Kim Carr and Ferguson has been sidelined.
Advertisement Politics can be made more difficult than it really is. There are three essential tenets. First, take responsibility; second, reject the ideas that distract, divide and discount the nation; and third, argue to the last breath for the ideas and ideals that make the nation a better place. Honesty will, nearly always, win over duplicity.
The starting point is responsibility. It is too easy to blame the opposition, the media or Kevin Rudd. The latter may have been an irritant, but in the big picture of recent politics he was a mosquito. The government’s problems do not stem from Rudd’s removal but the means and justification for doing it.
The result was that the electorate did not give the ALP the right to govern alone. In the process of forming government, concessions were made that had lasting significance. When a sensible policy of pricing carbon at international levels became a tax, it subverted trust in a government that promised it would not introduce such a tax. When the umbilical cord of trust between the governed and those who govern is broken, it cannot be easily restored.
When the mining tax was touted as a negotiating coup, somebody forgot to tell us about state royalties. These are errors of judgment and explanation.
All that was necessary was for the government to argue that the policies are natural extensions of pre-existing policies – the international pricing of crude oil and the petroleum resources tax. The tax will prove effective, but will have left behind a reputation for incompetence.
The two most recent prime ministers have sought from caucus a special right to select their own ministers, but in both cases, the cabinet process has been allowed to be frittered away. The media reform was moderate, but the process was flawed. A jackboot approach to discussions and timing would not have been permitted if the proper process of cabinet had been followed.
Once responsibility is accepted, the ALP must reject the ideas and processes that have no home in the party. A Labor Party that cultivates division, or taxes superannuation retrospectively, or cannot justify deficits, or makes regional tours presidential visitations, or reinvents class warfare, or steals the rhetoric of Pauline Hanson on migrants, or embraces the Pacific refugee solution of John Howard, or attacks single mothers and narrows its base to a mythical group of blue-collar workers, cannot win an election.
On the other hand, an ALP that demonstrates its commitment to future generations through education, health care, fair wages, superannuation, the environment and protection of the most vulnerable is capable of winning.
We need a new script for the ALP about this nation that begins with the premise that the nation should not be written down or diminished. A country proud of itself, comfortable that it has plotted a different course over past generations and the opportunities it has created.
The government should start with the benefit of strong economic credentials, measured by low unemployment, inflation and interest rates. Living standards have improved in difficult times and the rest of the world sometimes marvels at the model for success created in this country. The debt level by comparison with most other nations is small. We are in this position partly because of collective government and Reserve Bank management that opened the economy and because of the decisive action of the Rudd government on the global financial crisis. We need to win the debate that economic success is not measured by the size of the surplus.
But running a deficit does not imply that governments can in some magical ways find the capacity for free goods. The essential truth of what Crean and Ferguson were arguing is that a society must create wealth before it can be distributed. A productive and adaptive nation knows the vital role of businesses, both large and small, who invest in the country.
It knows that businesses often risk their home and life savings to make those investments. Business is vital, but people are not just economic units. It also knows that there is an essential role of unions in protecting the interests of workers and acting as agents for constructive change. If real wages and superannuation and conditions of work are to be improved, increases in productive capacity will be many times more important than fights over shares of the cake.
From these twin principles – a country writ large and consensus about our capacity to fund improvement in living standards – the ALP has an opportunity to define its priorities and commitments.
A simplified tax system for small business, investments in education, improvements in superannuation and healthcare, the development of an effective infrastructure, investment market, the adoption of the Crean blueprint for regional development (which institutionalises the role of local governments and regional leaders), and the generation of its own environmental credentials will give the party a policy base for the future.
There will be imposts and changes to tax necessary to produce these outcomes. The employees must know that their negotiated wage outcomes will contain superannuation, the minimum wage will contain a component in recognition of superannuation improvement. The Medicare levy may be required to help fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The government should not underestimate the common sense and compassion of the Australian people.
Politics is ultimately a choice between parties. The points of difference based on personality are peripheral and the real differences need to be based on principles.
The Labor Party will need to demonstrate it is the culture and philosophy that counts. In that regard Whitlam, Hawke and Keating have provided the party with a solid foundation. Crean and Ferguson have helped build those foundations.
The task for Julia Gillard is to build on them, not put them at risk.
Bill Kelty was secretary of the ACTU from 1983 until 2000 and a key influence during the Hawke and Keating governments.
- The strangely malleable legacy of the Hawke-Keating years (crikey.com.au)
- Change the policy framework, change the party structure (trevorcook.typepad.com)
- Creaned: How it all went so wrong (smh.com.au)
- Gillard signals ‘sustainable’ budget super changes (abc.net.au)
- Labor fights for unity (someidiotblogger.com)
- ‘Chicken Kev’ leaves a bad taste (theage.com.au)
- Crean points finger at Rudd (theage.com.au)