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A challenging time for Labor too

By Andrew MacLeod - posted Sunday, 15 September 2002

Whilst some commentators have written off the Democrats, following the divisive personality ‘train wreck’ of recent times, the Democrats trouble may also put sharper focus on the deepening divisions in the ALP.

With many in the ALP uncomfortable with the party post-Tampa, one wonders if some ALP members would jump to a reinvigorated and renewed ‘Liberal Democrat’ party if they felt it served their beliefs better?

Ask an ALP member why they joined and the majority response would include a belief in compassion, tolerance, social justice, and collective bargaining in the workforce. You may get a discussion on a belief in Social Democracy or Democratic Socialism.


You may even embark members harking back to the ideals of former leaders like Doc Evatt. Of his negotiations in the lead up to creation of the UN Doc Evatt said:

It only amounts to recognising a duty of decency towards helpless people. If the Labour Movement does not stand for that, it does not deserve to exist.

Chifley’s ‘Light on the Hill’ speech is one that inspires ALP members and beseeches them to search out and assist people in need wherever they may be found.

Paul Keating’s ‘True Believers’ speech warned of the dangers of a coalition government – particularly the lack of tolerance he thought a coalition would bring – and a withdrawal from a role of helping others on the international stage.

Now many in the ALP rank and file look back on those speeches, finding it hard to recognise today’s post-Tampa ALP. Some are questioning their belief in an ALP that failed to measure up to its own historic standards over Refugee and Asylum issues.

While they question, these members remain ‘true to the cause’ – for now. They recognise the difficult political position the party was placed in at the last election by a canny Howard. Yet their steadfastness is temporary, awaiting final policy determination from the ALP.


This is Julia Gillard’s greatest test in reshaping Labor’s Asylum Policy.

She must come up with a policy that is true to the ALP’s fundamental core beliefs of compassion, tolerance and equity. One that seeks out to assist people in need - one that falls back on Evatt’s claim that it only amounts to recognising a duty of decency towards helpless people.

For, if Gillard cannot win back party member confidence within the political realities of the time, then many members may turn back to Evatt’s other comment: If the Labour Movement does not stand for that, it does not deserve to exist – or that it does not deserve their membership.

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About the Author

Andrew MacLeod is Visiting Professor at King's College, London and Vice Chancellor's Distinguished Fellow at Deakin University.

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