The election campaign has seen the emergence of a stock ALP press release which runs approximately thus:
"We are currently riding very high in the polls and fully expect to win government on the 24th, even though we will continue to blather on about how we are the underdogs in a tough battle, and all that malarkey.
"But if you think we are going risk our lead by engaging in serious discussion about critical issues then you’ve got rocks in your head.
"We basically agree with the government’s policy on [insert issue here] but we are unable to confirm our position until we have run some focus groups to determine which way the wind is blowing.
"Our brains-trust has told us that we must not attempt ‘product differentiation’ on issues other than Work Choices, or the war in Iraq. We are not to make even a squeak about the democratic socialisation of the means of production and distribution, or it will be straight to bed with no pudding.”
Well they aren’t the exact words, but they pretty much capture the flavour of the current offerings from Labor. There are some who would be so bold as to suggest that there is a more than a hint of political cynicism about this tactic.
When the federal government announced the intervention in the NT, the Labor Party responded with its standard me-too press release. Here in the Territory, federal Labor pollies Warren Snowdon and Trish Crossin made some noises, but the big guns down south remained silent as the permit system was emasculated, townships were compulsory acquired, and the Racial Discrimination Act was sidelined.
Thou shalt not be wedged has become the first Campaign Commandment. With the true believers already rusted onto the cart, there's no electoral mileage in waffling on about social justice. It just frightens the horses. The ALP already has the preferences of those to the left of centre, and wants to court the votes of the demographic known politely as the 'aspirational voters' – which is a much nicer term than the 'we want a plasma-screen telly voters'.
The economy is going gangbusters and the budget surpluses are so high that the sun only shines on the treasury building for an hour a day. Surely it must be time here in the land of the ‘good old Aussie fair go’ to pay some serious attention to those at the bottom of the barrel. Time, for example, to 'Close the Gap' in Indigenous health, housing, education and employment.
Australian politicians are good at staking out the moral high ground, as long as there’s no political cost. If it's necessary to criticise a far-flung fiefdom for human rights violations, then our proud and upright moral guardians will be into it like a rat up a drainpipe. The heavy-hitters will step up to the plate, pin their ears back, and give the bad guys four shades of larry-dooly.
But politics has to be about doing the hard things too. Kevin Rudd’s recent moral cowardice in carpeting foreign affairs spokesperson, Robert McClellan, for speaking in opposition to the death penalty will stick in the craw of ALP voters who expect party policy to be followed. Rudd, terrified of being wedged by the Prime Minister as ‘soft on terrorism’, was quick to trade first principles for first preferences.
And in this cowardly climate it is those without power and influence who will suffer most. Once again the blackfellas are going to cop it in the neck. If politicians can’t make clear, unequivocal statements about the aching need for Indigenous justice in this country then voters are entitled to make judgements about them. Pollies who don’t believe in anything don’t deserve to be elected.
The cause of this ugliness is the lack of political cost to the ALP for its chicken-hearted me-tooism. What we need are some 'wedgies' - a ginger group of sworn ALP voters prepared to make it known that if the Labor leadership plays too fast and loose with party policy then they are prepared to 'cross the floor' and cast a punishment vote for the other mob. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.
I propose a 'wedgie-register', where voters of integrity can put perfidious politicians on notice that their weak-kneed toadying will cost them votes. A few hundred registered wedgies in half a dozen marginal seats will see the party strategists - those same geniuses who decided that Beazer could make a 'small target' – quickly change their tune.
But to be a wedgie, you can’t just screw up your ballot paper or scrawl pithy Pythonisms like "the PM is a donkey-bottom biter" on the voting slip. You have to actually grasp the nettle and vote for the other guy.
Or at least tell people you’re going to.
First published in the National Indigenous Times on 1 November, 2007.
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