The Mad Monk claims that the Tories want to embrace direct action — as a means of responding to an environmental crisis he doesn’t believe in. John Faulkner invokes direct democracy as a necessary response to a Labor Party in crisis — but only as a sop to members who are fleeing in large numbers (The Wran speech: the full transcript, June 9, 2011).
A review of the ALP’s performance in the 2010 federal election — conducted by Faulkner, Steve Bracks and Bob Carr — made various recommendations. An editorial in The Sydney Morning Herald laments the fact that these recommendations — like those of previous reviews charting the party’s internal decline — will likely be ignored. The response of factional bosses seems to confirm this: in fairness to Mark Arbib and Kim Carr, they have a point when they dismiss proposals which will erode their dominance. After all, while all ALP members are equal some — including these bright sparks — are more equal than others.
The average age of ALP members is 50, and the average age of Liberals, at least in Victoria, is more than 60. And, as we report on the Focus page today, the haemorrhage of members has become dire in the Victorian ALP. Of the 13,000 party members last year, 2100 – 16 per cent – did not renew this year. The number whose membership is the result of branch stacking is unknown, but some estimates place it as high as one-third of the total. It is hardly a picture of a party in good health, and astonishing for a party that holds office nationally and, until recently, governed in all states as well.
Yeah well: maybe. But it’s certainly possible for political parties to be both empty of active members and to successfully capture government, The Corrupt Knight’s assemblage of various chancers being a case in point. Further, the ALP will always likely dominate the trade union movement, and in general union leadership is a strictly ‘no ticket, no start’ proposition.
Otherwise, Nick Dyrenfurth and Frank Bongiorno reckon that the Australian Labor Party remains work in progress (The Australian, June 11, 2011):
When the Australian two-party system emerged in 1909, Labor was the party of Australian nationalism; strong on defence and nation-building yet loyal to the British Empire. In 1910 it became the first labour or social democratic party in the world to form a majority government. But World War I proved a rugged testing ground for Labor’s philosophy and machinery, and the party split over conscription for overseas service.
Noticeable by its absence in this account is the commitment which Labor shared with its ‘conservative’ counterparts: the White Australia policy. Joolya shares in this historical amnesia:
The signature values of nations are often defined by the circumstances of their birth.
This is as true for Australia as for other countries.
And for us there’s one value above all others that we identify with as truly our own.
It’s the value that emerged out of the circumstances of Federation, which coincided with the industrial turbulence of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
That value is fairness. Or as we like to put it: ‘the fair go’.
Which is all rather odd, especially given that — as angry White men across the country know — one of the first Acts of Federal Parliament was the Immigration Restriction Act. This Act (together with the Pacific Island Labourers Act 1901) formed the legal cornerstone of the White Australia policy; the Conciliation and Arbitration Act — which in Labor Party mythology has ensured a ‘fair go’ for ‘working families’ for the bulk of the country’s history — was only assented to by Edward VII in 1904. Further, while 100 years ago the Gub’mint couldn’t get rid of the Pacific Islanders quick enough, they now wanna import them — albeit if only for a coupla years…
One of the other problems with Dyrenfurth and Bongiorno’s account is the way in which it credits internal party reform for the (party’s) successes of the late 1960s and mid-1970s, while simultaneously ignoring the fact it was during this period that vital ‘new’ social movements emerged, ones from which the ALP was better able to attract votes, and which transformed Australian society and politics in important, if not necessarily fundamental, ways: a narrative in which, inter alia, ‘working class progressives’, in particular, are written out of history.