Queensland Labor knew it was going to be a massacre. Months before the election a factional insider told me, “Chrys, we’ll be lucky if we end up with a cricket team in parliament.” His prediction was eerily accurate.
Inside the Labor branches many have been agitating for change but the old guard obstinately resists. In the lead-up to the election, a Young Labor member confided that a loss for Labor wouldn’t be all bad – it would speed the extinction of the dinosaurs who are holding the party back.
“There are lots of young people coming through who want Labor to move in a different direction; to move back to the left, stop pandering to the religious lobby and stand up for progressive policies and secular values; but there’s a lot of resistance, ” he said.
Labor’s propensity to pander to the religious right is symptomatic of its growing identity crisis. Increasingly, voters can’t identify what a Labor government stands for. While there are a myriad of decisions that might influence voters, a set of clear-cut, non-negotiable core values convey strength, confidence and conviction. Labor went into the Queensland election conveying nothing but mixed-messages and a willingness to sell out to the highest bidder.
In the wake of Queensland Labor’s crushing defeat, the Australian Christian Lobby is crowing that it helped bring Labor to its knees. Anna Bligh and her treasurer, Andrew Fraser, refused to participate in the ACL’s pre-election leaders’ forum – presumably alienating them from Queensland’s ‘Christian constituency’. As barely 20 members of Australia’s ‘Christian constituency’ bothered to attend the ACL-organised, ‘meet your candidate’ event in the key seat of Ashgrove, I strongly suspect they don’t have the political influence they claim.
A more likely cause for defeat is that the vast majority of Queenslanders simply voted for some vague notion of ‘change’, and Labor made it easy for them.
“Labor/Liberal – not much difference, but maybe Newman will do a better job than Bligh.”
It’s much easier for voters to make the decision to switch ‘trains’ if they’re chugging along in the same direction. Of course, if the train you’re on is heading for a precipice, it’s more tempting to risk the leap to a locomotive heading the opposite way. Under the theocratic rule of the LNP, I can see Queensland bearing down on that precipice at an alarming rate.
So, looking ahead, the choice for Labor is whether to ‘mirror’ their opposition or provide a clear alternative. Bligh’s Labor chose the former strategy – culminating in Saturday’s calamitous result.
Disenfranchised, Labor ‘true believers’ are disembarking the Labor train in disillusioned droves and voting for the Greens and Independents – or perhaps even Katter’s party instead.
In its death throes, Queensland Labor did venture timidly towards the left; but it was too little too late. The Civil Unions bill was a great achievement, but also served to show just how many Labor MPs represent their religion rather than their electorates. Bligh’s last minute refusal to indulge the Australian Christian Lobby was impressive; but it was a token gesture.
For example, throughout her incumbency, Bligh persistently refused to consider a small legislative reform, which would guarantee secular education in Queensland, bringing the state into line with most of the developed world. A letter from Bligh’s Education Minister to the Australian Secular Lobby stated categorically that the Bligh government had no intention of restoring the word ‘secular’ (expunged in 1910) to the Queensland Education Act. If a Labor government doesn’t stand for secular public education, what does it stand for?
Chrys Stevenson is a writer and historian. A founding member of Atheist Nexus and the Sunshine Coast Atheists, Chrys is also a member of the Australian Skeptics. Chrys writes the atheist/sceptical blog Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear and contributed a chapter on the history of atheism in Australia to the recently released The Australian Book of Atheism edited by Warren Bonett.