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ALP: advice galore « Previous | |Next »
January 28, 2005

The awful bashing of a sick Mark Latham appears to have died down. In the end he had few friends. Presumably, everybody in the media and the ALP is feeling a whole lot better after the catharsis of their beheading a wounded Leader. Well, not all.

Things are rapidly shifting to new concerns, namely the credibility of the ALP as an alternative government concerned with Australia's future. Kevin Rudd, the former leadership contender and foreign affairs spokesman, has spoken some more home truths.

What I'd like to say to all of my colleagues in the parliamentary Labor Party is it's time we stopped talking about ourselves and it's time we started talking about Australia's future.I think it's time everyone took a very long cold shower and shut up.

The advice on how to do this is beginning to circulate. Tony Parkinson at The Age trots out his standard 'you gotta put a lid on the "blame America first" lefty faction' who are so in love with the cheap thrills of domestic point scoring. Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald reminds them of the light on the hill.

What is more interesting is the Australian Financial Review advice to Beazley Labor, as it indicates that the pressure to box the ALP into a corner is now on in earnest. Thurday's AFR editorial states:

Mr Beazley needs to do things differently this time if he is to drag Labor into the 21st century in time to make a contest of the 2007 election. And the first thing he must do is put the faction chiefs on notice that he will put the best people in the most important portfolios and shed cabinet deadwood regardless of factional nicieties.

That means dumping Macklin and Crean and putting Rudd in as Treasurer. He deserves a key domestic portfolio and needs one to establish his leadership creditionals in parallel with Julia Gillard.

What then?

The AFR is forthcoming on the advice:

With the best shadow cabinet it can muster, Labor should turn its attention to developing a policy platform that will appeal to voters as they are, not as party apparatchiks might wish them to be.

What does that mean? The AFR is quite forthright:
As Mr Rudd said last week, what Labor needs is a program of fundamental reform in areas such as education and health within a reformist policy framework that cares for the weak but also unapologetically rewards hard work. That means big changes to the tax, welfare and workplace relations systems and to the way in which the commonwealth and states fund and operate schools, hospitals and other vital infrastructure.

The AFR reckons that the ALP should support the right wing pro-business reform agenda. There is no need to devote any time to the environment.

There ends the advice. Why should the ALP become a clone of the Coalition? How is that going to ensure its re-election in 2007? Not even the ALP right would fall for that line of seduction.

The AFR is diplomatic. It does not say. What it does say is that Howard's electoral positioning may involve using the control of the Senate to aggressively advance new reforms. It acknowledges that is tricky terrain for Beazley, and it says that navigating it without dropping into cracks will take all the skill they can muster.

It is a good account of how the conservstyives will try to beat up the ALP. The pressure that is on will try to box the ALP into the corner, poke sticks at it, and then weaken it's body by making it slowly bleed. You can be sure that Howard will position things over the next 3 years so that the skin on the ALP's body cracks open, it loses its foothold, the old wounds open up and then start to fester.

So what is the alternative pathwayto the pro business conservative domestic agenda?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:58 AM | | Comments (2)


Of course the AFR echoes the opinion of pro-business commentators elsewhere (Kelly and Hywood spring to mind).

However this does not necessarily mean to become a clone of the Coalition. Tim Colebatch had a very good article on the type of economic paths Labor could go next:

"As readers of this column will know, the reality is that Australia's growth since 2001 has come overwhelmingly from borrowing money, not earning it. In the three years to June, we borrowed a net $136 billion abroad, while the trade balance has swung from a $3 billion surplus to a $24 billion deficit. The export outlook is now improving, but that gap is unlikely to close without a sharp slowdown in growth.

We don't know what pressures the economy will come under in the next three years, or at what point the financial markets will decide that Australia's growing indebtedness makes us a risk for further lending. But our debt addiction has been fuelled by easy money, and the Reserve Bank and the Government ought to make it their top priority to manage a transition to a new era in which Australia earns its place in the world rather than borrowing it.

The housing boom has ended, but the borrowing goes on. This is the central economic issue for Australia - and dismal as Labor's prospects seem, to win credibility, it needs to focus on developing policies to tackle it.

Beazley seems to have understood some of this: ""We cannot maintain the prosperity we now enjoy with the trade deficit that we have, with the collapse of investment in innovation and infrastructure as well as industry bottlenecks due to skill shortages,"

On an aside, There are interesting opinions on the leadership thing by long-standing ALP Melbourne members in Paula Rizzuto's blog.

In the media conferenceyou link to Beazley promised that under his leadership the opposition will the sharpen the distinctions between themselves and the government.

This does point to a strategic response to the AFR kind of pressure. And yes he is talking economics: 'modern dynamic economy with compassion'.

But what has happened to social justice, need or equality? Sounds pretty close to compassionate conservatism to me, rather than sharpening the distinctions.

Still, as you point out, he highlighted the long term problems of the Australian economy--something Swan, the Shadow Treasurer, has not been doing.