The ALP’s decision to never again allow refugees who come by boat to settle in Australia will irrevocably change the party.
There is no turning back from such a shockingly cruel decision and no turning back from a policy that has out-righted the right. The limp acceptance of the ‘PNG Solution’ by members of the caucus is a sign that the desire to hold on to their seats outweighs whatever their political beliefs used to be.
Of course, this creeping erosion of Labor Party values is nothing new. The decision to abandon single parents in desperate need of financial assistance and move them onto Newstart could never be seen as upholding Labor Party values. Abandoning a group of people consisting of mainly single mothers does not fit with the ‘enduring values’ the Party proudly spruiks in its National Platform when it comes to gender equality, nor social justice.
Neither does sacking 800 public servants in Canberra in order to fund the switch to an ETS fit with the Labor value of protecting the rights of workers. And in a world where employees work longer and longer hours and increased casualisation means a loss of entitlements and job security, Rudd has declared that he will aim to boost productivity by 2% and will dispense with what he labels ‘class warfare’. It’s funny that it’s always called ‘class warfare’ when working class people ask for a fair deal, and ‘maintaining a good relationship’ when big business demands cuts to wages and conditions.
Rudd’s rhetoric on the economy sounds far more like the Liberal Party than the ALP. His eye is firmly on the business community and he consistently distances him from the union movement and workers’ rights–yet another National Platform Value that has been abandoned.
The PNG Solution is the death knell for whatever was left of the ALP.
Papua New Guinea is one of the biggest recipients of Australian aid. It is rife with instability, violence, killer diseases such as tuberculosis and extreme poverty. Stories are already coming out of PNG about shanty towns that are to be razed to make way for refugee processing centres. Thousands of local families will be left homeless. Normally, an aid budget is used to provide relief to the country in question.
We are going to use it to aid ourselves, on their soil. The ALP should scrub out the claim that they are the party of equality and social justice from every piece of propaganda they have ever produced.
The strategy is clear: if Rudd moves to the right, it flatfoots Tony Abbott and leaves him nowhere to go. And it is working. Abbott is flummoxed.
Over the weekend, his ministers wildly contradicted each other. Hockey claimed the PNG Solution may be adopted by the Liberals if they win Government and not long after that, Abbott held a press conference stating the policy was unworkable, with, oddly, Hockey standing beside him and nodding along. They don’t know what they’re doing and their catch up game is hopeless.
But actually becoming the Liberal Party instead of offering an alternative is a bizarre and short-lived solution on behalf of the ALP. What happens next time around? If the ALP gets in this election, how far further right will that push Abbott? And if the Liberals get in, what will the ALP be left with?
Ruddism hardly seems like a political model that can stand the test of time.
Long time Labor voters are lost. Many of my friends have voted Labor their entire lives. I was on the phone to one of them today. She was in tears, saying, ‘Who do I vote for now? I’ve lost my party’. Other friends are equally bereft. Many can’t stomach the Greens, seeing them as either disorganised or so ideologically rigid that realistic policies are not possible. And obviously, if they are horrified that the ALP has lurched to the right, they’re not going to go vote Liberal.
Perhaps we will see a lot more donkey votes this year, and a lot more votes for independents and smaller parties. Who knows? At this point in time, many stalwart Labor voters are simply too stunned to know what to do.
Rudd is either banking on those to the left of the party reluctantly voting for him anyway, or that the gains that will be made by those who like the idea of ’stopping the boats’ will outstrip the losses from those abandoning the party in disgust.
Again, who knows? I’m just as lost as everyone else.
Either way, the grindingly depressing problem still persists: what is the ALP without its traditional values? What does it stand for apart from re-election and self-preservation? How do voters interact with their local members, who now have the uncomfortable job of explaining why they so easily walked away from everything they stood for?
The party that believed in social justice, that put community ahead of self interest, that stood for the rights of workers, that was proud of its trade union history and connections, that believed in the respect and dignity of all people is gone.
It’s just gone.
In an environment where human rights advocacy, complexity of thought, gender equality, non-discrimination of minority groups and gentleness are increasingly mocked and derided, not doubt many will gloat at the demise of Australia’s oldest political party. Not me.
It does nothing for democracy when voters do not have a real choice and it does nothing for this nation when it so comfortably and easily throws away its compassion. That the ALP has sold its soul for the sake of staying in power should worry all of us.
It is an immensely sad day for those that call themselves the True Believers.
There’s nothing left to believe in.
*Cover image, PM, Paul Keating and Carmen Lawrence MP.
MORE ARTICLES BY CORINNE GRANT
*Corinne Grant is a stand-up comedian, MC, presenter, writer and broadcaster and has performed both nationally and internationally. In addition to her years on Rove Live and The Glasshouse, she has appeared on everything from Spicks and Specks to Dancing With The Stars to Good News Week. She has co-hosted successful national radio shows, performed countless solo live shows and appeared everywhere from the Sydney Opera House to the Kalgoorlie Arts Centre. Corinne’s first book, Lessons In Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder (Allen and Unwin) was released in September 2010 and went into reprint just months after its release. You can follow her on Twitter @corinne_grant.