Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Jock or Janus? The time has come for Labor to turn back and face the future

By Roland Stephens - posted Saturday, 15 June 2002

One of David Williamson's classic character creations is Jock in "The Club" (1977). "The Club" is a dissection of the internal politics of a fictitious AFL club and Jock a crusty ex-player who divides his time between engaging in internecine warfare with the coach and talking up the good ol' days in comparison to the miserable present and hopeless future.

An active member of any organisation instantly recognises Jock. The ALP has more than its fair share of Jocks, whose doleful cries that the Party is abandoning its traditions have been heard for over 100 years.

Once more there are calls within the Party for reform. Once more the apostles of atrophy defend their vested interests from these calls behind an ill-informed or cynical appeal to tradition. They argue only to the rhythm of forebears turning in their graves. Before we listen to these Jocks we should look back at the unhappy history of those who see the past as inherently more virtuous than the present and hopeful than the future.


The early years

The first "Jock" of note was Vere Gordon Childe. Childe was an Oxford educated pacifist and archaeologist who worked with the ALP in its early years. In 1923 he wrote a bitter treatise, How Labour Governs, A Study of Workers Representation in Australia, in which he decried the Party for degenerating into a "vast machine for capturing political power". It escaped him that this was precisely the reason the Party was established.

Childe preferred a mythologised past to a complex present. He envisaged the founders as an "inspired band of socialists" when they were actually a rough blend of trade unionists and single taxers, free traders and protectionists, workers and small businessmen, optimists and malcontents. Childe's delusion inevitably clashed with the reality of the machine set up by these people, resulting in his sour tome.

Other Jocks denounced developmental strategies pursued by Watson and Fischer, such as establishment of the Commonwealth Bank and the Australian Navy. Scullin’s Depression government wore the ire of Jocks for supporting "sound finance", lowering budget deficits and cutting labour costs. Frank Anstey was a prominent Jock who characterised the adoption of "sound money" as the transformation of Labor from the worker's party to a cats paw for international finance – London Jews in particular. If you take out the explicit anti-Semitism he could have been an anti-globalisation protester.

Accusations of betrayal have generally arisen from a misunderstanding of early Labor history. The Party was established to give those without capital a voice in existing power structures. Labor was an indigenous creation, forged from Australian experience rather than European ideology. It is still at its best when rooted in contemporary reality.

Chifley and Curtin

These two very complex men are done the great disservice of being regularly wheeled out like religious relics every time a Jock wants to make a point about tradition.

It is forgotten that both were criticised by Jocks of their time for the very necessary introduction of conscription, use of the military to replace striking communists, inclusion of Australia in the IMF and the GATT and adoption of the then Keynesian economic orthodoxy in preference to the installation of a command economy.


Whitlam, Hawke and Keating

Williamson's Jock gazes up to the pictures of past Club greats on the walls and describes them variously as "great names from a great club" and "hacks and dead-beats". Similarly, the gap between the Whitlam and Hawke-Keating governments was short enough for some Jocks, who spitefully resented Whitlam's initial success, to turn around and use him as a vitrified icon with which to belt Hawke and Keating about the head.

The reasons for the denigration of Hawke and Keating by the Jocks are well known – privatisations, deregulation of the labour and financial sectors, tariff reduction, welfare reform, friendliness with the USA and so on. Yet the closer you compare them with the saints of the idealised past the more the similarities eclipse the differences.

Nowhere is this more evident that in the musings of Graham Maddox, especially his The Hawke Government and the Labor Tradition (1989). He complains of Hawke’s pro-Americanism. Yet what of Curtin’s forging of the American alliance and close working relationship with staunch Republican MacArthur? He lauds Whitlam’s centralisation and then attacks the excessive use of legalism by Hawke. What about the role of constitutional legal argument in extending the reach of the Commonwealth? He criticises Hawke's sale of uranium to the French. Didn't Jim Cairnes push for a similar sale to the Shar of Iran? He rebukes Hawke over his lack of consideration for democracy in East Timor and Fiji. What of Whitlam’s recognition of Communist China and acquiesce to the annexation of East Timor? Maddox upholds the Whitlam Government as the most authentically Labor of all and yet labels its last budget as the beginnings of economic rationalism, which to him is the essence of tradition betrayed.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Roland Stephens is a Sydney-based lawyer.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by Roland Stephens
Related Links
Australian Labor Party
Photo of Roland Stephens
Article Tools
Comment Comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy