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Doomed eye cabin boys

Date

Editor-at-large, The Canberra Times

View more articles from Jack Waterford

Holding the Greens responsible for Labor's ills is a lousy distraction from a frank inquest into voter repudiation

Illustration by Matt Adams.

Illustration by Matt Adams.

There has to be a strategy in telling about 1.7 million Australians, predisposed to vote for the Greens, that they are fools and idiots, loopy, extremists, deluded, idealists rather than realists, and dangerous to the modern polity, to sensible economics to industry and jobs.

That's not simply abusing a party, but those who vote for it. A good many of whom are defectors that Labor wants to come home. Perhaps, given the rhetoric, for a jolly good smacking for being so naughty as to desert Labor in the first place.

Is abuse and punishment a variation of Raft of the Medusa, with Labor thinking that it might better survive its thirsty voyage better by eating the Green cabin boys rather than the first class passengers? An easier type of war than confronting the actual enemy? Or perhaps a factional war game in internecine bastardry, treachery and accidental seppuku?

Even a total collapse of the Greens - which is hardly going to happen - and a complete return of the prodigals to the Labor fold can make no difference to Labor's prospects. Labor's problem is not desertion to its left, but to the coalition. If the polls are any guide, more than a million of the 3.8 million voters (of about 12.7 formal voters) who gave Labor their first preference in 2010 have lost the faith and switched their loyalty to the coalition.

Without that lost million, Labor is toast - it faces a landslide of Queensland or NSW proportions. It will be lucky to have 30 seats in the House of Representatives. Even if that million came back - but only that million - Labor might not be returned to government. Last time that total gave it only 72 seats of 150.

Are the Labor tacticians bagging the Greens - and Greens supporters - because it thinks the million defectors - or more - have abandoned it because they think that it has swung too far to the left, or become some sort of tail wagged by the Green dog? Hardly? Labor's problem is not being thought to be standing on the left, but not being seen to stand anywhere on anything.

Is it, as some have suggested, Labor's revenge because the Greens have refused to be pragmatic over refugee policy, compounding with coalition intransigence to make parliament, and necessarily the Gillard government, look impotent and weak ? Or is it, as coalition leader Tony Abbott suggests a confected squall, designed to create a false appearance of serious ideological differences between Labor and the Greens - the combination that Abbott suggests, somewhat wrongly, makes up the capacity to govern? [It is true that Labor needs the support of the Greens to get legislation through the Senate, and that Labor has a deal with the Greens about Supply and motions of confidence. But Labor's capacity to govern is rooted in a working majority in the House of Representatives, and the sole Greens member does not, of himself, hold any sort of guillotine over Labor].

Is it, in short, just a put up job, designed to con the public into thinking, wrongly, that the parties are independent of each other? Great theories, but with no evidence whatever.

Another, intrinsically more plausible, theory sees it as a tactical plot by the NSW Right wing Labor machine, designed both to give it some flexibility on the floor of the NSW Labor conference at the weekend, and, perhaps, to give Labor machine men some room to manoeuvre in negotiating preference deals at forthcoming elections and by-elections. And perhaps an alibi, with defeat blamed not on those who failed, but on people so pure that they were unable to compromise.

By rights, one might not expect that Sam Dastyari, in charge of the Sussex Street machine, or the machine itself to be dominating the agenda of this conference. Or to be getting such a charmed run (as one always does) from the Murdoch Press in making the conference issue seem to be the supposed wickedness and folly of the Greens. Are the public, or the Labor faithful, so dumb as to be distracted by such theatre from the basic problem of the ineptness and incompetence and contagion of the Sussex Street machine?

Dastyari, at the top of the NSW machine, and his mentors, particularly Mark Arbib and Karl Bitar, are the geniuses whose political management of NSW caused a utter collapse of Labor support in the state. The scale of voter rejection went far beyond a commonsense judgment that Labor, after more than a decade in government, had run out of ideas and needed the purification of a period in opposition. It involved a verdict on a style of cronyism, corruption, insider deals, and the abandonment of party democracy for rules by professional suits. It involved rejection of the secret deals by factions - including of the deals and operators who saw Kevin Rudd replaced in Canberra - and of the rorting of unions and abuse of union power by leading party figures. It involved the contempt shown to voters by players such as Bob Carr, who moved from the premiership to work for a merchant bank and developer, and Bitar and Arbib, now lobbyists for James Packer and the gambling industry.

What happened in NSW has been repeated in Queensland. Few doubt that voters are preparing the same treatment for a Gillard-led Labor Party - widely perceived as being in thrall to just the sort of factions players voters so emphatically rejected. Gillard has more problems in being perceived (rightly) as a creature of the Labor Right, than of being thought (wrongly) a catspaw of the Greens.

A fake crusade against the Greens has some promise of providing the appearance of ''outcomes'' at the NSW conference. Some - such as the appearance of party democracy in a few carefully chosen plebiscites and party primaries - will be said to be ''reforms.'' What will not be addressed are continuing cancers of the type seen in the Health Services Union, the power and reach of the AWU, Bill Shorten, Bill Ludwig and Paul Howes, and whether Labor should get itself a whole new team of organisers and a new type of organisation.

Labor is fundamentally different from the Greens. It does need to differentiate itself from them. It also needs to compete with them - about ideas and ideals, about policies, and, (because this is fundamental to Labor's view of itself) about power and holding on to it.

Labor's problem, so far as its left is concerned, is that it has let most of the argument go by default. This was not only by being ''pragmatic'' on what many in the party have seen as moral issues, including refugee and indigenous policies, and respect for human rights, but by progressively shutting out any sort of debate in the party. In the process. Labor seems to have lost not only much of its moral appeal, particularly to younger voters, and much of that emotional and social appeal which, over more than a century, saw thousands of men and women meet, plan and organise great campaigns, as well as tedious jobs outside polling booths. They won't come back for mere abuse, or threats of retribution - from suits whose political lifespan seems certain to be shorter than Green Senators. Would anyone follow Dastyari anywhere? Or Paul Howes? It's hard enough persuading anyone that Gillard is leading us going to.

Jack Waterford is The Canberra Times editor-at-large.

59 comments

  • Jack you are right that the voting public will give the labor federal government the same treatment as it has given the NSW and QLD ALP mob.However its due to labors lack of transperancy and honesty towards the australian people.The greens could'nt run a chook raffle at the local pub let alone run the australian economy,there lunatic policies can speak for themselves,The carbons tax,a green policy,the mining tax also a green enduced policy,how about the policy to close all coal fired power stations which would literally make electricity unaffordable for everyone,to ban live animal exports another policy which would shut down an industry.The so called "clean energy future" another greens policy is making life tuff for the very people labor so desperately wants in its fold,Labors secret little deals it has made with the likes of oakshot and windor who both have gone against the wish's of the very people in there own electorate who put them in power have sealed there own fate at the next election.These deals labor has made with this lot has shown it to be weak and far from having the best interest of the country at heart it has shown the only interest it has is its own self preservation and want to govern at any cost,even if it sinks this country which it is slowely doing.How much more damage can this lot do before the next election? I shudder to think.

    Commenter
    fishman
    Location
    ruse
    Date and time
    July 11, 2012, 7:57AM
    • Name one lunatic policy, come on. Just one.

      Bringing soldiers home from Afghanistan? Accepting more refugees? Liveable allowances for the unemployed? Increased social housing for the homeless?

      Dental care for everyone? Less rich people's welfare? More tax to be paid by billionaires? Saving the world heritage areas we are so intent on killing? Halting the mining of coal seam gas on farm lands? Even Bob Katter and Bill Heffernan are with them on that.

      Come on all you right wing fools, name one thing you disagree with.

      What is cr

      Commenter
      Marilyn
      Date and time
      July 11, 2012, 4:20PM
    • Marilyn. Who pays for these policies?

      Or do the left wing fools simply print more money?

      Commenter
      BBA
      Location
      Banks
      Date and time
      July 11, 2012, 6:14PM
    • We won't mention secret deals made by the coalition to reduce spending on infrastructure and increase tax breaks for the wealthy. We would never say there was a direct link between huge donations to the Liberal party by the miners and the policy to abolish the mining tax. The cuts required to fund the promises will be unknown until after the election. The deals offered by Abbott to the independents to govern at any cost were much more suspect than those made by Labor. Therefore you shouldn't vote for them.

      Commenter
      Good Logic
      Date and time
      July 12, 2012, 7:07AM
    • Marilyn, from federal government publication Asylum Facts, 'Generally speaking ‘illegal immigrants’ are people who enter a country without meeting the legal requirements for entry (without a valid visa, for example). However, under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal declaration of human rights, everyone has the right to seek asylum and the 1951 Refugee Convention prohibits states from imposing penalties on those entering ‘illegally’ who come directly from a territory where their life or freedom is threatened.

      How long has Indonesia been 'a territory where their life or freedom is threatened'?

      Commenter
      Geoff
      Date and time
      July 12, 2012, 10:32AM
  • I could handle a Coalition of Labor-Green Party's, if the Greens will join the 21st Century. Their "Policy's" include the disbandment of the 60 ship RAN and the establishment of a Coast Guard. "Look potential enemy's....we are really nice people....please don't attack us" Sheesh Check their website.
    But a true united Centre-Left Party would be great thing in this greedy, me first nation.
    And their stupidity in not giving ground on Asylum Seekers handing rAbbot his pet, redneck attracting, beating up on "policy" on these poor, desparate HUMAN BEINGS (view that poor women being shot in Afghan for allegeded adultery).....remember them Tony - they are trying to get away from that? Your preferred religion does....or used too last time I enquired. :-(

    Commenter
    Phil
    Location
    Frankston
    Date and time
    July 11, 2012, 8:14AM
    • How do the Greens get to be in the wrong for wanting to uphold the law? Do people who claim such nonsense as you do understand what was actually debated or only what the lazy media reported as some sort of stalemate that does not and never did exist except in lazy minds.

      Everyone has the right to seek asylum, take away that right like we did with the jews and we have genocides to contend with.

      And precisely how does us breaking all the laws over the arrival of just 0.0001% of the world's refugees solve a single thing?

      Commenter
      Marilyn
      Date and time
      July 11, 2012, 5:31PM
    • Uphold the law! Big statement Marilyn. Does the Hindmarsh Island secret wome's business ring a bell with you? Yeah thought it did. Stop being so one eyed and look at the issue from all perspectives.

      Here's a Green policy that I believe may have trouble with the mainstream, and also may demonstrate to the unwashed how brain dead they are. My understanding is they want to ban contact sports.

      No Aussie Rules, no Rugby Union, no Rugby League, no Soccer, no Basketball, no Judo, no Karate, no Tai Kwon Do, no Netball, no Water Polo, no Boxing, no Wrestling, no Beach Sprints at Surf Carnivals, no add your own sport here..... Not to mention no motor sports of any description.

      Maybe as an alternative, we could have Premier League Cluedo or World Championship Ludo?

      Freeze in the dark.

      Commenter
      BBA
      Location
      Banks
      Date and time
      July 11, 2012, 6:28PM
  • 1.7m voters? Didn't think Austrlaia had that many people in need of a head check.

    Commenter
    Wing Nut
    Date and time
    July 11, 2012, 9:16AM
    • from certain angles matt adams pictured brocolli looks odd, especially in the pose with julia

      Commenter
      pete
      Date and time
      July 11, 2012, 9:27AM

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