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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Reviving Labor: Rethinking Small Goverment and Internal Democracy

In the commentary that follows Tristan Ewins emphasises a disciplined united front; And a rethink on the ALP's effective policy of 'small government'. 

In the election aftermath there are many who will be overcome by despair with the prospect of Abbott-led attacks on welfare; on refugees and foreign aid; and his neglect of the environment.  There will be many who suppose Labor will be relegated to Opposition for six years at least.  And there will be many who rightly feel Labor has ‘dropped the baton’ on these issues as well.  And therefore many others on the broad Australian Left will also say we are wasting our time fighting for change within the ALP and within the Socialist Left....

From my personal perspective, the challenge is to be honest with ourselves without imploding in a series of recriminations.

I still think there is scope to achieve change within the ALP. But first we have to be honest with ourselves.  For instance - the National Disability Insurance Scheme is great. But where is the money going to come from?  (ie: about $22 billion/year)

We kid ourselves that we can maintain a frankly opportunist position on 'small government' without severe repercussions for ourselves and for the country in the end. But as I always insist: the reality is that an ag...eing population and a growing population mean we cannot maintain or improve health and aged care - or provide sufficient services and infrastructure in emerging suburbs - without increasing the tax take as a proportion of GDP. The NDIS itself will ultimately demand a significant increase in tax in order to service. And in the meantime we have cut higher education, attacked sole parents, and narrowed disability pension criteria.

These are not the answers. "Making do with less" is no longer a viable option - lest we support cuts ourselves - of ‘Abbott'esque’ proportions....

Relying on privatisation or user pays should not be seen as the answer either - As both those strategies have regressive distributional effects....

We need to ask ourselves realistically how far and how rapidly we could aspire to increase progressive taxation and social wage expenditure. I think in the vicinity of 1.5% of GDP or about $22 billion a term in the context of a $1.6 trillion economy is 'do-able' - provided we target the wealthy and return to a more highly targeted welfare state at the same time...

When disadvantaged and average working class families work out they are subsidising high income earners' paid parental leave and private health insurance rebates to the tune of many billions a year I dare say there may be a rethink on the desirability of Abbott.  And it may be possible to revisit the NBN later down the track as well – to ‘finish what we started’.  So long as we get our own house in order and provide a disciplined and united front. And while at the same time accommodating real and inclusive debate on the future direction of Labor - and of the Socialist Left...

By facing up to these issues we can reply confidently to our critics that we grasp the problems facing our nation and our party.

So how do we mobilise our grassroots for such an agenda? Well, including us in electing the leader is a start.  But it is barely sufficient in light of the 'elephant in the room' - which is the impotence of National Conference.  And the fact that there is no direct election of National Conference delegates... We need a credible, powerful National Conference - with a mandate to establish the Party Platform based on truly democratic procedure - and robust, inclusive, wide-ranging debate.... Hence Chris Bowen's ideas of a more inclusive Conference - while encouraging - are nowhere near enough - because the cost of 'inclusiveness' according to Bowen's plan is reducing the Conference to a 'toothless tiger'....

IN short we need to aim for a victory in 2016. While we lost the election we managed to 'save enough of the furniture' to suppose that passionate, energetic campaigning can make a real difference... Of course we were also up against the Murdoch monopoly mass media - but over the next ten years I think their grip on the Australian public sphere will weaken somewhat.... As more and more people turn to online media we need to position ourselves to take advantage of the opportunities of web-based media which begin to 'level the playing field' - as the new media is so much cheaper to maintain and publish....

But dropping 'small government' is the most fundamental precondition - without which we will not have grasped the historic moment - the challenges we are facing if we are at all serious when we talk of Social Democracy...


  1. The party also needs to openly and forcefully reject the asylum policy that was imposed by the caucus when Rudd returned to the leadership.

    This will be difficult because the caucus spent much of the past 2 months defending a policy that most party members regarded as pandering to racism.

    Those who played the race card, such as Bob Carr, should be censured for their disgraceful behaviour. But of course that won't happen.

    In pursuit of votes the caucus, including the so-called left (Albanese, Cameron et al) revealed themselves to be without political spine or principle.

    They are members of the 'Socialist Left'. What substantive meaning do these words have inside the ALP? It strikes me they are merely empty symbols - behind which members and MPs hide, and use to delude themselves that there is some sort of coherent left-wing politics present within the ALP. But there is not.

    The caucus get away with this disgraceful behaviour because, to be blunt, the membership have become accustomed to being treated like sh*t. And they act accordingly: subordinate, silent, quiescent and slave-like. Pathetic.

    Even in the British Labour Party, if an MP or senior party figure publically stated that it was 'madness' for the membership to be involved in selecting the party leader, the membership would revolt. Within days they would be forced to apologise or resign.

    Not inside the ALP however. Safe in the knowledge that the membership have been socialised into behaving like depoliticised sheep, figures like Conroy can openly argue against party democracy without any fear of the party holding him to account.

    After all, unity is important. Which in practice means that the caucus do and say what they want, while the members are expected to be silent and subordinate. The attitude of people like Conroy is: politics is for MPs and senators, the job of party members is to raise money and knock on doors when we tell them to.

    Saying the ALP is all we have is just not good enough.

    In the movie Bullworth, the Democratic Congressman played by Warren Beatty addresses an audience of poor black voters. He says that his party likes to pretend it listens to its members and supporters - but in practice it will never change. Because, he says, who else are you going to vote for? No one.

    Tristan, you and other sincere progressives inside the ALP are being taken for mugs.


  2. Our Labor Party compromise too much. The differences of Labor and liberals are getting smaller and smaller. I am currently trying to form a new party to unit left wing people online. Mainly targeting Social Democrats and Dengist. Anyone interested?