Replacing the ALP

A new group has surfaced, arguing that it’s time to replace the Australian Labor Party.  They are not (yet) a political party, but want a debate about forming a new progressive party.  I think the proposal has merit.

I have argued over a long period that the ALP is an obstacle to the policies that are essential if Australia is to survive the coming decades as a reasonable place for our children – politically, socially and environmentally.  It has jettisoned its reason for being, and simply pursues power.  It claims, feebly, to care about little people, but having been seduced by neoliberalism it continuously subverts that goal.  It is reduced to applying bandaids to the wounds its neoliberal policies inflict.  Here are a couple of my recent articles on the topic:

Sick Labor, March 17, 2011; The Australian Labor Party is Dead, May 3, 2010.

Julia Gillard’s recent Whitlam Oration spells out Labor’s sellout.  Labor’s ambition is to be Howard Lite.  Several commentators have noted the things left out of Gillard’s speech:  Brian Toohey, John Quiggin, and Amy Mullins, among others, some more of them mentioned by Quiggin.  Quiggin is particularly devastating:

“It is a speech that could have been given, with absolute sincerity, by John Howard on behalf of the Liberal Party and marks – in both large and small ways – Gillard’s acceptance and celebration of the values and beliefs of the Liberal Party as espoused by its leaders from Menzies onwards.”.

A major concern about the proposed party among progressives will be its competition with the Greens.  I think this is a small concern compared with the benefits.  We have preferential voting, and the parties would logically exchange preferences, more readily than Labor and the Greens.  The parliamentary Greens are a fairly tough lot, despite Labor sniping about “basket weavers”, and they can probably stand the heat, and benefit from it.

Another question is why have a new party, if they would be much like the Greens.  The answer is in the perception of many that the Greens are indeed basket weavers, or extremists.  As pointed out by Peter Lewis of Essential polls, Greens and Labor voters already share many attitudes, but a Network Ten poll shows 52% of people think the Greens are extreme, versus 30% who do not.

My own feeling is that the Greens spend a lot of political capital on issues that are important (gay marriage, euthenasia, even Tassie forests) but not crucial, like reducing our carbon emissions and general assault on the environment, and reining in the financial sector and corporate welfare dependents and looters.

So have a look at ReplacingTheALP.  I would not necessarily join such a party, but I think it would be very healthy for our democracy, and our future.

 

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20 thoughts on “Replacing the ALP

  1. Ronald Bastian

    Geoff,

    The current Labor Party constantly appears to be wandering around like nomads trying to find out what has gone wrong and wondering..”why don’t they (the party faithful) love us anymore?”.
    You are perfectly right in the criticism that they have either forgotten or have purposely “dumped” their core values and support for the people that believed in them since it’s inception.
    I heard today that Pauline Hanson may gain a seat in the NSW Parliament after final votes are counted and preferences promulgated. Does her popularity signal a desire for another party to be raised to challenge the current parties, both Liberal Coalition, Labor and the Greens?..If so, then this may be a golden opportunity for a moderate thinking group of people that can preach the “middle-ground” and not be as confusing as the Greens have become which have become seriously “side-tracked” with drug legalisation platforms, and that is certainly not a vote winner. Yes Geoff, I, like you would not necessariuly vote for any “New Party”, mainly because we haven’t had a chance to examine the package they might offer, but I will say that, given the right leaders and some “old-labor” policies that reflect back to the genesis of the Labors heart and soul issues, then, I am onboard and I won’t be alone. I firmly believe that the majority of decent and caring Australians want it and need it…So many of us are “Bleeding” politically.

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  2. Doug Evans

    Geoff
    Absolutely agree with what you say with the possible exception of your description of what the Greens spend their political capital on. Its not completely clear to me from your wording but if you are suggesting that they spend too much effort on important but not crucial initiatives (like same sex marriage) to the detriment of their focus on crucial issues (like climate change) then I think you are mistaken.

    The Greens have far and away the most complete set of climate change policies and are the only Australian political party whose policies more or less line up with what the climate scientists say is necessary. I note Professor Michael Grubb’s comment reported today by Giles Parkinson on Climate Spectator. “Anyone who thinks that you can address climate change with a carbon price alone has not read or understood enough about economics,” he says. “And anyone who thinks that it can be addressed without a carbon price has not read any economics.” Unlike the two major political groupings the Greens policies reflect the commitment to a carbon price and the awareness that this alone will not suffice.

    It is only through their efforts that a price on carbon is again on the government’s agenda. Prior to the election Gillard had shelved that policy initiative marked ‘to be re-visited sometime (perhaps)’. So (if I understand you correctly) I think you are wrong in your judgment of the importance of climate change policy to the Greens and in your assessment of the effort they are putting into the pursuit of their policies.

    In respect of their economic policies I am less sure, don’t know enough about them. However I notice that in his piece for the Fairfax Press on whether the Party is over for Labor Michael Pearce suggested that one current shortcoming of the Greens is their policies place them outside the accepted economic paradigm. Given that this paradigm (neo-liberal economism) delivered us the Global Financial Crisis and assorted other disasters this strikes me as a positive rather than a negative. Anyway this is not an argument for not having a new left of centre political party.

    It is however a moot point whether such a new party would preference the Greens as you suggested elsewhere, or Labor assuming it continues.

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  3. Geoff Davies Post author

    Doug-
    Actually I’m a great admirer of Christine Milne, the Greens spokesperson for global warming, and I agree with all the credit you give them.

    I was too terse. I think the Green’s are too socially “out there” for many people, so their focus on drugs, gay marriage etc. labels them as “extremist”. In that way they spend a lot of their political capital. Much as I agree with them on the social issues, there are critical issues that are getting less attention because of such “distractions”.

    I saw Pearce’s piece. I found it astounding that he can think there’s no economic debate any more. Monumental denial about the financial crisis. But of course he’s not alone.

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  4. Ronald Bastian

    Doug,

    My earlier criticism of the Greens was simply attempting to highlight the perception that their policies appear to be painted with an ever-widening “broad-brush”. I have read a growing number of criticisms that they, like Labor have tended to “drift” somewhat from what earlier Green supporters believed they stood for. Neither party appears to be able to support their respective leaders on every core policy and the recent NSW election showed that, which forced Bob Brown to take a stand against his NSW branch members on ABC program 7.30 when they publicly announced something that was not supported by the National body. The Greens can easily shoot themselves in the foot if they attempt to broaden their views too much. They were looking great until the last election and even Pauline Hanson took their primary votes from them, however, this evenings news is that Pauline Hanson did not win where she captured a considerable amount of “primaries” as the expected “preferences” were not passed on to her, …..So, is this a warning that there is a an opportunity for an “alternative” party to slip under the guard of the Greens and Hansonites and take the prize?…..Only time will tell.

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  5. Adit

    While that may be the perception of the Greens in the public, I disagree with the notion that they can’t be this third major party we speak of. They do simply need to focus on the primary issues that concern the electorate. The Greens have sound policies when it comes to the economy. They should make people aware of it. I’d much rather disaffected Labor voters rally behind The Greens than spend years waiting for another party to become a viable alternative.

    But it’s true, the Greens need to make their credentials known. , Climate change, Tax reform, Immigration, Employment, Education, Health –> On all the big ticket items they have sound policies, I’d like to see them refined, add some more rigour to their analyses and prescriptions, and who knows they could grow to be a true force. At the moment there is very much the perception it is a party for environmentalists, students, gays. It’s very much a party for everybody. They should make it known.

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  6. Geoff Davies Post author

    Adit, my view is not that we need a “third” party, but that the old parties need to go, and be replaced. So for me it’s not about Greens vs. new party, it’s about regaining a sensible choice.

    I think there will always (or for some time) be a reactionary right party, so let the Libs be that and let them sink to being a reactionary minority. If a new progressive party can replace Labor in time then good, but short of that they might get Labor finally to get their house in order – re-empower their membership and remember their purpose. I won’t be holding my breath on that, so I suspect there might be a long contest, with Labor being the main right-wing party and the three or four competing for less than 50% each.

    I also agree the Greens ought to make their policies known and move on from the tree-hugger image.

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  7. duggy47

    Don’t disagree with any of the above. Have a couple of comments about:
    1. ‘making policies known’:
    As with the other parties the policies are all on their website and spoken about at election time. Perhaps they need to somehow spread the word more effectively but how? Whenever a Green appears on TV or radio the breadth of the policies is emphasized but people don’t seem to absorb the message for some reason.
    2. ‘moving on from tree hugger image’
    very much a function of dealing effectively with point 1 but inextricably linked to the constant attacks from the hostile News Limited media whose primary motivation (if I remember correctly) is connected to commercial self interest. Moving on from tree hugger image will be difficult while News Limited keeps up its relentless and disingenuous attacks.

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  8. Geoff Davies Post author

    duggy-
    Bob Brown sponsored a bill to remove the power of a minister to override the ACT’s laws (and give it to parliament). This is widely portrayed as a back-door to gay marriage and euthanasia bill – even though it would not affect the Parliament’s existing override of the latter.

    So if Bob is going to do these things, you’ve got to expect the reactionaries to react. If the Greens want to be seen as mainstream, they need to focus their main actions on critical topics.

    That is what I meant by spending their political capital. And I say this as an ACT resident appropriately outraged that the Feds reserve to themselves the right to override our civil rights. What President Sukarno (remember him anyone? A victim of one of the bloodiest coups ever) used to call “guided democracy”.

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  9. Ronald Bastian

    General comment on “all posts” to date:
    After reading the above “posts” (again), what is appearing to be a “common-thread” of concern is that, while Duggy correctly points out that all political parties insert their current policies on their respective web sites, who, apart from a very tiny minority of voters are likely to locate it, scan through it, and make a decision on who to vote for based on what they have read ?? Not every “voter” has a PC, especially the elderly etc.
    C’mon Duggy, just think about the “doorstopper” questions by the media. Whenever a high-profile politician is ambushed by the press they only give short-sharp answers to the media and only in response to a “particular” question. The same goes for the TV interviews, the interviewer “puts” the question to the politician that the interviewer “chooses” to have answered and waits for a reply, but if the politician “attempts” to introduce anything else by way of “policy”, the interviewer interjects and says “Sorry, we are out of time”. That, fellow bloggers is how the Australian public receive policy via the electronic media and as far as the “print media” is concerned, it depends on the political “leanings” of the media owners and their jounalists whose views and positions are well known and “spin” the facts to suit themselves.
    We must at all times, consider that political commentary and it’s realtionship with the media is “open warfare”, this is not a game played out in the Courts where there are “rules” of engagement or a responsibilty to “stick to the truth”…The bottom line is..We are suffering from the absence of an honest, intelligent spokesperson ,who can demand a “powerful presence”, an “orator” that has the ability to pull a Nation together for the common good. Perhaps a “Churchillesque” leader or the likes of many American Presidents who are considered the “Nations Fathers” mainly due to their ability to “Inspire” the masses.
    Rudd started off brilliantly but then allowed himself to “trip” somewhere along the way…….Perhaps we should just forget about trying to save “democracy”, after all, it has been “fiddled-with” so many times by a number of politicians( and their parties), it is fast becoming a “political whore”. How do we create a new “name and meaning” to replace what the original name stood for ??

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  10. Geoff Davies Post author

    A fair summary Ronald.

    I think the answer is always in personal integrity. The present structures tend to block anyone with integrity. They chew them up and spit them out, or reduce them to moral zombies. That’s why we need to get rid of the major parties. New parties will not be so dominated by power structures maintained by those who just want power. New parties create the opportunity to reclaim our democracy.

    I think if enough of us demand something better, and stop voting for the “same old”, then things can shift.

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  11. Ronald Bastian

    Geoff,
    Presuming that what you say is right (and I do), and at least one” brave new party decided to dip their proverbial toes into the murky political waters…………………..If we take into account the current stranglehold of power by the electronic and print media, as well as those creative “clever-dicks” in advertising that will sell their souls to the devil for the opportunity to “destroy” any/all said parties for the right price, then I am fearful that the “monster” that has been created (and protected) under the banner of “Freedom of speech” etc, can, in a single blow, destroy the best laid plans with the greatest of good intentions. I agree totally with your “ideals”, I believe it is certainly achievable, but, it would require an outstanding number of individuals, with great strength of mind and courage that can “sell” that message of “hope” to a mass audience…That party would require massive funding for the long-haul to even consider such a venture.

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  12. duggy47

    Er for some reason my user name has transformed from Doug Evans to Duggy 47 so until I sort this out if you want to c0mment on comments from either of the above they are both me.

    As Duggy47 I wrote:
    “Perhaps they need to somehow spread the word more effectively but how? Whenever a Green appears on TV or radio the breadth of the policies is emphasized but people don’t seem to absorb the message for some reason.”

    I am in furious agreement with Ronald about the difficulty of spreading the word via the media and the relative unlikelihood of punters actually looking up policies on the net, but don’t see any conflict with what I wrote. It seems to me that most times Greens politicians appear on TV or radio they attempt to emphasize the breadth of Greens policies. This has been a conscious policy of the party for some time to try and overcome the public perception of them as a single issue party. It does not cut through, (perhaps because of the relentless onslaught from the News Limited press) so my question remains – How do they spread the word more effectively?

    Geoff wrote:
    “So if Bob is going to do these things, you’ve got to expect the reactionaries to react. If the Greens want to be seen as mainstream, they need to focus their main actions on critical topics.”
    Of course I expect reactionaries to react to the presentation of progressive policy (I presume this is how you view the example you have chosen). I don’t really see what the example has to do with either of the points my dark side ‘duggy 47’ tried to make. But I have a thought or two on this issue.

    First given the importance of this issue to many of the voters who put Adam Bandt in Parliament perhaps it is not such a fringe issue as you suggest. It was certainly an issue Bandt placed front and centre along with climate change in his election campaign. It is arguably fairly central to their fairly tenuous hold on the lower House seat of Melbourne.

    Second, if they are to leave their ‘tree hugger’ (which I interpret to mean the public perceives them as unrealistic environmental dreamers) image behind they must advocate for a wider range of progressive policies as both Geoff and Ronald suggest but if in doing so they are wasting political capital as Geoff argues and are implacably opposed by a disingenuous reactionary media as Ronald correctly points out what is their option? They will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

    This of course is the dilemma facing any party advocating progressive policy as I believe Ronald is pointing out.

    The stranglehold of the reactionary media and conservative political powerbrokers cannot be maintained indefinitely. As the climate, resources and global economic crisis deepens their power base must crumble but I fear not quickly enough for us to avoid losing economic advantage in the short to medium term as the world increasingly scrambles towards a carbon restrained future and not quickly enough in the medium to long term for us to avoid truly disastrous climate outcomes. Try this for a bit of thought provoking climate change reading. http://climatecodered.blogspot.com/2011/04/hot-pink-climate-no-laughing-matter.html
    Mind you when things really begin to turn bad (as I believe they most certainly will) the political shift in the Australian electorate is as likely to be towards the extreme right as towards the rational left.

    In the end I can’t see any alternative for the Greens but to go on advocating honestly for the policies they believe in. They are rational and ethically based and by and large I support them.

    If this year’s Labor conference produces a split and progressive elements decide to found a new party (because of their historical roots) I remain unconvinced that despite their progressive intent they would not end up as a preference siphon to the ALP

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  13. Doug Evans

    I hope this has corrected the name change issue.
    Ronald I totally agree with your observations of the debacle over the Israel boycott policy promoted by the NSW State branch despite it having been voted down at the Greens’ National conference. With the emergence of the strident Lee Rhiannon we see the emergence in Parliament of factionalism within the Greens. Elsewhere I wrote about factionalism:
    “Factionalism implies never accepting that the discussion (argument) is lost. It places the position of the faction above the position of the party and validates attempts to destroy differing (but congruent) position by fair means or foul.
    To the extent that such battles remain internal they impede decision making and subsequent action. To the extent that they become public they aid the cause of political/ideological opponents.
    The possibility of wielding power is at least as attractive as the altruistic desire to make the world a better place as a motivator for becoming politically involved. So factionalism is probably inevitable in politicical parties of all types and sizes.”
    Lee Rhiannon is exactly the right type of angry idiot to fragment and destroy the gains made by the Greens. She and her stubborn public insistence on a position that is not party policy, perfectly illustrates of Geoff’s point about the mindless dissipation of political capital. Here we can again see Richo’s ‘whatever it takes’ harnessed to a carriage and headed down a different road but just as destructive as it has been with the ALP..

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  14. Geoff Davies Post author

    Doug and Ronald,
    I certainly share your frustration with the right-wing commercial media (all of them, no exception, the Oz is just the worst). That’s why this blog exists, and why I am working on a book.

    Yes, the Israel boycott illustrates my point.

    My comments come from my larger perspective, which is this:
    Global warming threatens to bring down our fragile industrial civilisation. It is an existential threat and must be our first priority.
    A central aspect of addressing global warming is to address the economic system that created it: consumer capitalism. This must also be a top priority.

    If I were the Greens, or another progressive party, my message would be:
    Our policies will reduce greenhouse emissions and create jobs.
    Our policies will ensure a prosperous future for ourselves and our children.
    Our policies will restore the environment as they improve our quality of life.
    Our policies will slow the treadmill and leave people with more time with families and communities.
    We will not forget compassion as we deal firmly with challenges from within and without.
    Our policies will ensure Australians are in control of Australia.

    I think Christine Milne understands a lot of this, but the rest of the party is not “on song”.

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  15. Ronald Bastian

    Yes, I have just read the submission from Darcy Byrne at the link provided by Geoff….And yes it does strengthen the argument that all political parties need to be hyper-careful of the propensity of their representatives to “wander-off” the chosen track. In an earlier blog (April 16th) I said: ” but, it would require an outstanding number of individuals, with great strength of mind and courage that can “sell” that message of “hope” to a mass audience…That party would require massive funding for the long-haul to even consider such a venture.” ….What I should have added is. “They need to walk shoulder-to-shoulder in precisely the “same direction”. I believe that the Greens have a basic belief in doing “good-things” for Australia but can be overly-pressured by their own “extremist groups” who constantly tug and pull at their policies leaving behind a much-weakened set of agendas and policy credentials.
    So, for me, this is “enough” about my perception of the woes of the Greens, or for that matter, all the other parties as Geoff and others have clearly demonstrated so it’s time to either swallow the cabbage or spit it out.
    The question for me now is: Do we wait (hopefully) and see who pops up their head so that we can check them out before making any further post mortems on the current bunch of unruly miscreants. Or, do we continue to live in hope that the “Gaia hypothesis” works for political parties as well and that they will all become “self-healing” given time ??……

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  16. Ronald Bastian

    Geoff and others-

    I am including in this post a link to a radio interview by ABC’s Deborah Cameron with John Menadue following the last federal election….If you have not heard it I suggest you turn on your sound and just listen to what he has to say as it clearly “sums-up” what myself and others have been saying about the abysmal role the media played during that time. http://blogs.abc.net.au/files/john-menadue-interview.mp3

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