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Why a Rudd-led Labor has surrendered to big business

By Marko Beljac - posted Friday, 16 January 2009

Mark Latham no longer leads the parliamentary Labor Party and nor is he a member of parliament yet, unlike some others who have risen to prominence courtesy of the New South Wales Branch of the ALP, he continues to stay out of the affluent inner suburbs of Sydney by choice. This tells us not only something about Latham, but it also provides us a clue as to why he lost the 2004 election and why a Rudd-led Labor has surrendered to big business.

To be sure Mark Latham throughout his career promoted "economic rationalist" (neoliberal) policies. Robert Manne pointed out upon his election as Labor leader that Mark Latham was perhaps the most right wing leader that Labor ever had, up until then of course. The policies that Latham took to the 2004 election hardly betrayed the sinister influences of a hidden Bolshevik policy making cell in the Opposition Leader's office. However, it would be wrong to asses Latham just on the policies that he took to the election or the neoliberal reconstruction of social democracy that was one of his trademarks.

It was, perhaps, John Howard himself who summed this up best when he called the 2004 election. He asked the people of Australia who they could trust to manage the economy, keep the budget in surplus, keep inflation under control and maintain downward pressure on interest rates. The theme of "trust" was the dominant one adopted by the Coalition in 2004.


John Howard was right to assert that trust was at the heart of the 2004 election. However, it was not trust in the way in which he publicly spoke of it. It was not a question of the broader electorate not trusting Latham, rather, it was corporate Australia that did not trust Mark Latham. If corporate Australia does not trust a Labor leader, as history amply demonstrates, then the media that it controls will prevent that leader from attaining office.

The popular media perception, one that is rarely challenged these days, is that Latham was a half-crazed maniac who did not have the stature to be the nation's leader. So it is that we observe that the phrase "the Latham debacle" has been firmly established as a part of Australian political phraseology. To be sure Latham was a colourful character, but none of his antics came within cooee of the drunken buffoonery of Bob Hawke in the 1970s, yet this did not prevent the corporate media from providing the decisive level of support needed for "the Hawke ascendancy".

The Federal Parliamentary Labor Party was the one institution that resisted the Hawke ascendancy right to the end only finally succumbing at the last possible moment, that is, at the same time that Malcolm Fraser called the 1983 election. The corporate media made Bob Hawke and then it destroyed him.

It would be wrong to suppose that Hawke had a "special relationship" with the Australian people. You can judge the state of the special relationship in the absence of corporate media support by the fact that nobody now cares much for Bob Hawke. Out of office he is of no further use to the rich.

During the internal review of Labor's organisation, that Hawke conducted with Neville Wran, an attempt was made to revive "the silver budgie" in the media but it fell completely flat, as do similar pathetic calls to "bring him back" after Paul Keating makes a public appearance.

The resistance of the Labor caucus to the Hawke tilt was an act of defiance against a corporate class, then promoting the Hawke bandwagon, that had done so much to destroy the Whitlam Government.


It is easy to forget now but the election of Mark Latham to the leadership of the Labor Party was an act of rebellion by the federal caucus, precisely on a par with the party's resistance to the Hawke ascendancy. That was the first mark against Mark Latham. In fact in his case this act of resistance was worse because the rich had supposed that the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party was no longer capable of such acts of defiance.

Once again, the ALP had to be taught the facts of life by the big end of town and its loyal servants.

Though his policies were motivated by conventional economic orthodoxy Latham nonetheless also displayed too many signs of being a working class warrior that did not think much of big business. The corporate boardroom undoubtedly picked up on this. The dominant image of Latham as a "maverick" really means that Latham, unlike Rudd and Keating, was unable, to his credit, to transcend his class background. Because of this the "ruling class", as he called it, could not and would not trust him.

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About the Author

Mark Beljac teaches at Swinburne University of Technology, is a board member of the New International Bookshop, and is involved with the Industrial Workers of the World, National Tertiary Education Union, National Union of Workers (community) and Friends of the Earth.

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