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Why I walked away from the ALP's front bench

By Carmen Lawrence - posted Thursday, 12 December 2002

The policy on asylum seekers adopted by the federal Labor Party caucus on 5 December was a trigger for my decision to resign from the shadow cabinet and shadow ministry, but it is not the only reason.

The truth is that I have found myself increasingly out of step with the majority of my shadow cabinet colleagues. That may be me and not them. I don't find my own views and values reflected in a lot of decisions that are made by that shadow cabinet.

Now I have reached the point where I don't believe I can continue to support and defend a range of policies, as well as the general disposition and direction of that shadow cabinet.


I am talking about the current position on asylum seekers, the lack of clarity, in my view, on the position on Iraq, or previous decisions such as the complete agreement initially with the private health insurance rebate - although I still have some hopes in that direction - funding for wealthy schools and so on.

My first experience on returning to the shadow cabinet more than a year ago, nearly two years ago now, was that it had become incredibly conservative, timid even, and I hoped that after the election that would change.

I am prepared to concede that maybe I am the one that is out of step. But I am not able to continue to support and defend policies that in my view are devised with one eye on the polls and another on media impact.

Moreover, it is not fair on my shadow-cabinet colleagues to seek to be an exception to the rule that you don't speak out and that you don't dissent. I have simply found that tension too great as I have, on some cases, spoken out. I can no longer do that.

I have spoken strongly against us supporting a war on Iraq, against attacking Iraq, because that is really what is at issue.

I don't believe we are speaking sufficiently clearly against the possibility that we would sign up with George Bush in some form of unilateral action against Iraq.


In my experience in recent times, it is not uncommon in the shadow cabinet for issues to be discussed first of all with an eye on what the public reaction is likely to be rather than whether it is inherently good policy.

I believe we need to be telling Australians a story about the sort of country we want this to be, what we hope for them, how their lives can be improved.

Certainly, we have to listen to the community and be aware of their needs and interests, but we cannot continually be responding to what is the short-term view of the section of the community who are most audible.

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This article was first published in The Age on 6 December 2002.

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About the Author

Hon. Dr Carmen Lawrence is federal member for Fremantle (ALP) and a former Premier of Western Australia. She was elected as National President of the ALP in 2003. She is a Parliamentary member of National Forum.

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