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June 30, 2005

political truth telling

In launching Bernie Lagan's Loner: Inside A Labor Tragedy yesterday John Faulkner made some truthful comments about the culture of the ALP, its demons and the party's ability to face them.


On what he calls the gladiatorial NSW culture Faulkner says:

In NSW, a combative organisational culture has at times turned toxic. When maintaining factional power is put ahead of civility, decency, honesty, humanity or even legality, then bullying and thuggery become lazy substitutes for debate. Behaviour unacceptable outside NSW Labor is all too often rewarded within it....As an active member of the NSW Labor tribe, I know how hard it can be to draw a clear distinction between the ritualised conflict of Party forums and the real world.

And, by putting Mark Latham's leadership into the right political context, Faulkner critcizes those in the ALP and the press who lay the blame for the ALP's 2004 defeat at the door of a flawed Mark Latham alone:
Both Mark Latham and the Party he led were hurt by our own culture. And both the Party and the Leader were hurt by Labor's desire for a messiah to save us - to save us from ourselves as much as from outside forces. This is a burden that proved too great for Mark, as it would perhaps have proved too great for anyone...Mark was a bold politician, passionate about the future Australia he imagined. Part of his tragedy is that he became leader of the Labor Party at a time when his boldness and his passion were not enough.

It requires political courage to say this when many in the ALP (such as Bill Shorten, the Australian Workers Union chief,) are determined to make Latham equivalent to a poison, in order to avoid confronting the demons of their political culture.

Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at June 30, 2005 08:15 AM

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"When maintaining factional power is put ahead of civility, decency, honesty, humanity or even legality, then bullying and thuggery become lazy substitutes for debate. Behaviour unacceptable outside NSW Labor is all too often rewarded within it..."

I have no idea what goes on inside party rooms but statements like that are scary. Gutsy move by Faulkner.

Posted by: saint at June 30, 2005 10:05 AM

The problem is that Latham has framed his criticisms shallowly. They can be more aptly described as abusive than constructive.

As a result Labor can probably avoid answering them in any concerted manner. If Latham had been more circumspect he might have contributed something to debate that could be used to spark reform within the party.

The all-guns-blazing "there is no hope for Labor" approach that he has taken is not going to help the party that he served for so long.

Posted by: Guy at June 30, 2005 10:25 AM

I concur. Many of Latham's comments were over the top and so can be easily deflected by the opposing factions in the ALP who have no time for him, Simon Crean or the left.

However Latham was also truth speaking. That is unusual in politics with all the spin, fogging and media management.

Some of Lathamm's remarks:
*The current ALP is a very conservative institution, run by conservative machine men from all factions.

*The ALP has become a machine political party, with each little union and each state and territory having its own little powerbrokers and machine representatives in federal caucus.

Seems pretty truthful to me. Does it to you? It implies that the ALP has lost contact with its membership, is all about power not the light on the hill, and has no commitment to democracy.

As for the excessive bit. Latham is not seeking to persuade his opponents. He was kicked hard by his colleagues when he was sick and he was blamed for the election loss. I reckon he is entitled to strike back hard now that he has left.

That is the way of the ALP's NSW culture is it not? It is all about taking the blowtorch to the belly.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at June 30, 2005 01:19 PM

For an insight into the political culture of the ALP's NSW Right try this account over at Cut-Price Commenteriat. We should remember that Latham was, and remains, a product of this anti-democratic political culture that produces a lot of damaged people.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at June 30, 2005 01:35 PM

One thing is to criticise the Party. Another is to give the conservatives and their cheer squad in the media a free kick.

The ALP has huge problems but how helpful is throwing spiteful stones at it. Latham says that the ALP is 'beyond reform' etc. But Latham has been in the party system for most of his life....hello!! did he just find out? And if Beazley was such a loss, why did he invite him from the back bench?

I've been to meetings where John Button and John Cain speak with painful strains about the situation of the Party. But the difference is that they are thinking about what to do about it. Not writing distructive spiteful books and spitting dummies

Posted by: Guido at June 30, 2005 03:01 PM

I understand your sentiments about the consequences of Latham's dummie spits and I am sympathetic.

I would have thought that the failure to act on the reforms to mandatory detention by Martin Ferguson, and the poor work done on economics and the Budget by Wayne Swan, has given the conservatives many a freekick and lots of ammunition.

I'm supporting Latham---for all his character flaws---on this because he was treated so badly by the Right. They put the boot in when he was sick and they blamed him for the loss of the 2004 election.

I don't recall John Button and John Cain being treated the way Latham has been treated. They guy has to be cut some slack.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at June 30, 2005 08:51 PM

Mr Sauer-Thompson, I humbly acknowledge your link. We are not worthy.
I tend to agree that there's no hope for Labor. It's a conservative me-tooist Party that doesn't offer much more than squat for most of its members, supporters and electors. But then again it's my Party, and I'll argue until I'm sick that just because it's a Party beyond reform, doesn't mean that it's not a better alternative to the Evil Empire over there on the Government benches.
"Damaged people"? Oh, if I could introduce you all to a few of the people I've met in NSW Young Labor.

Posted by: liam hogan at June 30, 2005 09:03 PM

you run a fine blog. It is an honour to link to you.

If I could I would join the ALP.

I would argue that though the senior leadership is run by a conservative faction (eg., Stephen Smith, Wayne Swan, Stephen Conroy) it does have a left faction who are committed to the ALP because of its traditional ethos of social justice, concern for looking after the poor and vulnerable, and commitment to human rights.

I've seen of the young comrades strutting their stuff around the corridors of federal parliament. They strike me as factional warriors who see power as an end in itself.

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at June 30, 2005 10:07 PM

It was Laurie Ferguson who failed to act on mandatory detention, not Martin. It might as well have been Martin for all the impact Laurie had.

Posted by: rossco at July 1, 2005 04:56 PM

Thanks for the correction.

Yes Laurie Ferguson did not perform that well did he. It was the cleverly devised liberal rebellion led by the Member for Kooyong, Petro Georgiou, plus Judi Moylan MP (Pearce) and Bruce Baird MP (Cook) that had the impact.

It was them---plus Russell Broadbent and Senator Marise Payne---who demanded a release from the Baxter detention centre of all long-term and unsuccessful asylum seekers. They also demanded the granting of permanency for all of the 7- 8000 Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) holders living in the Australian community.

It was not Ferguson. I'm not even sure whther he highlighted the gap between DIMIA denying refugees status to asylum seekers and then these same asylum seekers being granted refugee status after their appeal to the the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT). See here. Maybe he did, but I nver heard anything about a finger being pointed at DIMA.

So why is Laurie Ferguson still in the shadow Ministry, when he should be on the back bench?

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at July 1, 2005 06:30 PM

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