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Voters rule. OK?

By Jennifer Wilson - posted Wednesday, 25 August 2010

In the August edition of The Monthly there’s an article (subscription required) by Mark Aarons that anyone interested in how the ALP functions should read. The piece is titled “The Hollowmen”, which is perhaps a reference to the T.S. Eliot poem of that name:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw.

And to the ABC comedy series set in the offices of a fictional political advisory unit personally set up by the Prime Minister to help him get re-elected.


In his article Aarons analyses the role played in both state and federal ALP politics by the Right factional heavyweights and right wing unions, where, Aarons claims, the real power resides. It is a chilling analysis. What the reader can take from the piece is that a vote for the ALP at state or federal level is a vote for “faceless men” and unelected unionists, and will remain so until a Labor leader has the courage and the numbers to address “the urgent need for internal party reform”.

The “faceless men” are not so faceless - think Mark Arbib, Bill Shorten, Karl Bitar, and Paul Howse, among others. These men have, to paraphrase Aarons, turned deal-making, fund-raising and polling, all necessary trappings for any political party, into the raison d’être of the ALP. The “central plank of practical politics - a means of connecting with the lives of real people” has become secondary to grabbing and retaining power at any cost and in any fashion.

Since it’s become clear that the ALP suffered massive losses, party spokespersons have gone to great lengths to repeatedly assert that if they hadn’t got rid of Rudd, they’d be in an even worse position than they currently are. Of course they have to say that, because they must attempt to salvage some credibility in the face of the resounding battering they got from the electorate. As nobody can prove their hypothesis one way or the other, the only interesting thing about it is that it signifies the depth of shock and dismay currently distracting Labor from facing the political reality served up to it by the voters. They’re desperately casting about to find someone to blame.

While the ALP has been happy enough to let Rudd take the rap for dropping the ETS (and he was the leader, so that’s a fair cop), nobody rushed to offer anything that came near to replacing it, so we can safely assume that it wasn’t all Rudd’s idea and responsibility to leave us stranded without a climate change strategy.

In fact, the ETS back flip was allegedly orchestrated by Arbib, and fully supported by Gillard. It makes sense that Rudd would have to be persuaded to back down, given his personal investment and belief in climate change action, and his immense effort in Copenhagen.

There’s little doubt that the ALP’s fortunes took a dramatic turn for the worse after this back flip, and that Rudd bore the brunt of voters’ feelings of betrayal.


After his team had persuaded him to self-destruct on this issue, they then blamed him for the resulting drop in the polls and chopped off his head.

No doubt there’s more than one reason for their losses -the stupidity and incompetence they demonstrated when someone we thought was Julia Gillard unexpectedly “took control” of the government, only to surprise us again when two weeks later the “real” Julia announced her nativity; the mining tax, the BER, the pink batts, the clumsy and inept handling of asylum seekers by both Rudd and Gillard. Not to mention a generalised sense of voter distrust of a bunch of multiple personalities who were prepared go back on their promises and then overthrow our PM for good measure.

Bill Shorten protests that the malicious leaks early in the campaign did them in. As I recall, the allegations made in those leaks were never satisfactorily denied by Gillard, leaving voters with the impression that she probably had objected to parental leave scheme, and she probably had objected to an increase in pensions. These leaks told us quite a lot about Gillard the politician, much more than did the Women’s Weekly, and the increasingly bizarre appearances of Julia of the second coming. The leaks told us the kind of things we needed to know about the new PM, and voters responded antagonistically to the information.

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About the Author

Dr Jennifer Wilson worked with adult survivors of child abuse for 20 years. On leaving clinical practice she returned to academia, where she taught critical theory and creative writing, and pursued her interest in human rights, popular cultural representations of death and dying, and forgiveness. Dr Wilson has presented papers on human rights and other issues at Oxford, Barcelona, and East London Universities, as well as at several international human rights conferences. Her academic work has been published in national and international journals. Her fiction has also appeared in several anthologies. She is currently working on a secular exploration of forgiveness, and a collection of essays. She blogs at

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