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Laborís death wish

By Peter McMahon - posted Friday, 1 December 2006


The Howard Government should be on the ropes and heading for the canvas right now. It has failed dismally in two of the three critical areas of government, and is quickly sliding on the third. But these days Labor is so inept it simply cannot make real headway, and so the electorate is stuck wondering what to do.

Reading the memoirs of old Labor types like Fred Daly brings out the pathos of a whole generation of Labor MPs who became inured to failure and took it for granted. To win government, Gough Whitlam and his allies had to revamp the entire party to overcome the culture of defeat. Labor under Beazley (again), is beginning to look very similar to the Labor of the 1950s and 1960s.

Labor then was up against the unprecedentedly benevolent post-war years when reconstruction and technological change generated two decades of strong economic growth, low inflation and high employment. The Coalition under Menzies milked their good luck for all it was worth, in large part continuing policies introduced by the Curtin and Chifley governments.

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More recently, Labor has suffered as the Coalition under Howard reaped the benefits of a generally benign world economy and in particular the commodities boom. Again, the Coalition benefited from the economic reforms begun by Hawke and Keating which were intended to integrate Australia more fully into the fast globalising world economy.

The manifest failures of the Coalition, such as its disinterest in environmental or Indigenous affairs, were passed over by the voters who only took account of its apparent economic management credentials.

Now inflation is stirring and interest rates are up at a time when Australians have never been more debt-leveraged, and so Howard’s primary claim to credibility is under question.

Furthermore, Howard has been completely wrong in his policies regarding the two great questions of the time, global warming and international relations. His unquestioning obedience to the radical Bush administration - whose policies on global warming, terrorism, Iraq, Iran and North Korea have been abject failures - has been a disaster for Australia.

So why isn’t Labor licking its chops at the prospect of victory in the next election?

Well, because as a serious party of reform, it is defunct. Run by soft-headed opportunists with minimal understanding of the contemporary world, it is corrupt to the core and utterly incompetent. It is led federally by a tried and true loser who belongs to another era and in the states by political hacks whose only real concern is in pleasing the usual vested interests and the media. As shown by Howard again in relation to IR, it is federal politics that matters, and here Labor is moribund.

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It is painful to watch the few good Labor people left - like Lindsay Tanner and Julia Gillard - defending a party that needs immediate transformation. Beazley’s intention to keep people of meagre talent on his front bench while Peter Garrett languishes in the background says it all. Kevin Rudd would at least not make so many mistakes, but he promises nothing genuinely new.

But Labor, we understand, will not dump Big Kim because they fear another Latham episode. The lesson the ALP should have taken from that mess was not to go back to dull conservatives like Beazley, but to get some real talent into the party - in a hurry. Latham might have screwed up, but he and Tanner were just about the only options the ALP had at that point.

Recent polling tells us that the ALP has not made ground in regard to what is, rightly, emerging as the issue of the century, global warming. This is entirely apt. Labor has been nothing more than opportunistic on the environment, only showing interest when it suited electorally.

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About the Author

Dr Peter McMahon has worked in a number of jobs including in politics at local, state and federal level. He has also taught Australian studies, politics and political economy at university level, and until recently he taught sustainable development at Murdoch University. He has been published in various newspapers, journals and magazines in Australia and has written a short history of economic development and sustainability in Western Australia. His book Global Control: Information Technology and Globalisation was published in the UK in 2002. He is now an independent researcher and writer on issues related to global change.

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