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False Labor

By Geoff Davies - posted Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Isn’t it time we declared the Labor Party officially dead?

The party has become a façade, an empty shell, a Faux-Labor Party. It lost its vision long ago. It has forgotten why it exists. It has no purpose, other than to gain power for the egos that inhabit it.

Lacking a vision, Faux-Labor is purely reactive. Lacking a vision, it cannot frame issues to its advantage. It cannot seize the initiative. Caught awkwardly in its opponents’ framing, it is forever on the back foot, only ever able to be less bad, never able to proclaim a noble goal and pursue it. Its collapse in the polls is surprising only for its speed.


It has been a long road to this sorry pass, but some key forks can be identified. For many of Labor’s former supporters, the last straw was Kim Beazley’s knee-jerk endorsement in 2001 of John Howard’s decision to cast legal asylum seekers into concentration camps. The Party exposed itself as hard-hearted and witless, preoccupied with internal power struggles, easily wedged by a canny opponent.

For a time it seemed Kevin 07 might restore some shreds of integrity and purpose to a moribund party. He wrote of his Christian dedication to the less fortunate. He proclaimed his hero to be none other than Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died for his courageous defiance of the Nazis. He projected himself as smart, steady, decent and, yes, courageous.

Now Kevin Rudd has distinguished himself in a profession notorious for hypocrisy, spinelessness and backflipping. He will condemn asylum seekers to remote desert camps. He will violate our international obligations by refusing to process many of their applications. He has dumped a string of campaign promises. His threat to tax the miners is a minor crowd-pleaser, but otherwise his latest moves on tax reform are typically timid.

Topping everything, of course, is Rudd’s dumping of action on global warming. He wasted two years creating then failing to enact a pathetically weak policy, a policy that was much more about saving Big Coal than saving the planet. He never came within coo-ee of matching his soaring rhetoric on the issue. He deserves the hammering he is receiving from his own words. So Rudd is not the saviour, not of Labor nor of Australia.

Unless Rudd’s capitulation is soon over-ruled, it will be seen as a critical failure. It will be seen as the moment when Australia dropped the ball, when we lost our best chance for an orderly transition to a smart, carbon-free economy and our grandchildren were condemned, instead, to a desperate, acrimonious, rear-guard defence of a failing lifestyle.

Labor’s hollowing-out started well before Rudd and Beazley. One might mark the day in 1983 when Treasurer Paul Keating floated the Aussie dollar and began the great deregulation of the Australian economy, so becoming the credulous champion of the neoliberal ideology. This is the ideology that funnels wealth to the rich and feckless, leaving the rest to scramble, that gambles for the quick buck and fails to invest for the long term, the ideology, in other words, that continuously undermines everything Labor stood for.


One might mark the day, earlier in 1983, when Bob Hawke and Keating backstabbed Bill Hayden and seized control of the Party. Thus began the regime of the timid, the regime of those terrified of the media powerbrokers, the magnates who brought Gough Whitlam down with their self-serving enmity, with their confected hysteria and with the help of an international oil crisis and a debt bubble not of Whitlam’s making.

Oh, you say, but Hawke and Keating laid the foundations of Australia’s remarkably prosperous and stable economy. But our so-called prosperity is precarious, paid for by the national credit card despite a mining boom and a big increase in working hours, misrepresented as “productivity gains”.

The Opposition rabbits on about public debt but, as economist Steve Keen has shown, it is dwarfed by private debt, principally household debt inflating a housing bubble. In 2007 the net increase in private borrowing amounted to 20 per cent of the GDP. Without that borrowing from the future we would have been in severe recession.

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About the Author

Dr Geoff Davies is a scientist, commentator and the author most recently of Desperately Seeking the Fair Go (July 2017).
He is a retired Senior Fellow in geophysics at the Australian National University and has authored 100 scientific papers and two scientific books.In 2005 he was awarded the inaugural Augustus Love medal for geodynamics by the European Geosciences Union, and he has been honoured as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

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