ga('send', 'pageview');
John Passant

Site menu:

March 2013
« Feb   Apr »



RSS Oz House



Subscribe to us

Get new blog posts delivered to your inbox.


Site search


Keep socialist blog En Passant going - donate now
If you want to keep a blog that makes the arguments every day against the ravages of capitalism going and keeps alive the flame of democracy and community, make a donation to help cover my costs. And of course keep reading the blog. To donate click here. Keep socialist blog En Passant going. More... (4)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
You can prove my 2 ex-comrades wrong by donating to my blog En Passant at BSB: 062914 Account: 1067 5257, the Commonwealth Bank in Tuggeranong, ACT. More... (12)

My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)



Labor’s real crisis

In a few years or sooner, it is likely that most of us will have forgotten the events of the last week writes Liam Byrne in Socialist Alternative. A political coup that never happened, a government caucus spill with only one candidate, a grinning Tony Abbott licking his lips and taunting Labor MPs with quotes from former ALP leaders. It will be difficult for most of us to distinguish these shenanigans from the years of morass, incapability and right-wing orthodoxy of the Gillard government: years of hell for refugees, years of continuing dispossession of Indigenous people, years of rising costs of living, while the super-rich mining magnates mocked the feeble attempt to tax their super-profits.

But for now the focus is on the leadership shenanigans that have dominated press coverage of the ALP since Gillard took office. The events of the last week have solidified the prevailing sentiment about this Labor government that abounds in the media. The story is already well worn. Looking down the barrel of impending electoral defeat, cabinet minister and former party leader Simon Crean decided to bring the constant leadership speculation to a head by calling for a spill of leadership positions, and for Kevin Rudd to stand against Gillard.

MPs in Rudd’s camp began circulating a petition calling for such a spill, and Gillard moved to quash the nascent challenge by acceding to the request. Gillard called the spill for 4.30pm. At 4.27pm, the Age reported that Rudd had announced he would not stand. Rudd did not want an election within the party; he wanted the leadership handed back to him by caucus.

Gillard prevailed, and the resignations began. Martin Ferguson, the greatest representative of the mining industry in government, followed Chris Bowen, the minister for immigration during much of Labor’s recent abuses of the human rights of refugees. Both supported Rudd. Amidst the speculation and the seemingly fast-paced events of the day, one element of the “debate” was obscured. What would be the difference between a Gillard and a Rudd government? Not much. With that, the saga concluded, for now, and what had begun looking like a scene from Macbeth was ultimately much ado about nothing.

What has changed?

Mainstream media coverage has already constructed a story of modern Labor. It is one concerning a government that is unable to promote its “achievements”, a party beset by scandal, a party that is divided against itself. Indeed, the current post-mortem focuses on the disaffection among a group of MPs brawling with each other over who will lead them to the electoral slaughter. The striking element of these media reports is how stuck to the present moment they are, telling a story three years in the making, since Gillard tumbled Rudd in the backrooms of Canberra with the support of right-wing factional power brokers. In truth, the crisis in Labor runs far deeper than this.

This is not the first time Labor has been divided. The party’s history contains numerous battles and showdowns, many of which have seen greater bloodletting than this challenge that never was and yet has always been. The first decade of Labor’s existence, as the separate colonial parties conglomerated into a single parliamentary force, saw numerous defections over the party’s insistence that its MPs sign a pledge binding them to vote in the manner which the party decided, a means at the time to establish control by the labour movement over those it sent to parliament. In 1916 the party expelled Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes for attempting to introduce military conscription. In 1955 the right wing of the party in Victoria was forced out, going on to form the conservative Democratic Labor Party.

The difference between these battles and that being conducted within Labor today is simple. In the past the battles within Labor concerned the politics of the party, ideology and policy. The modern ALP is fighting over no more than personalities. It is the politics of grudges, of who will gain promotion by casting their ballot the “right” way in caucus, which leader is most likely to lessen the coming electoral embarrassment. Labor’s historic battles were always a left-right contest, a genuine conflict that reflected the broader debate within the labour movement and society. The lack of a fighting left within modern Labor is itself indicative of the long-term crisis that has brought the party to its current parlous state. A crisis not three years, but rather 30, in the making.


The crisis within the party is at once Labor’s own and one shared by social democratic and labourist parties across the world. It is a crisis of neoliberalism, the right-wing economic orthodoxy that reduces everything to the status of commodity, that considers the market as the ultimate means of societal good and prizes privatisation and money-making over all else.

The result of the neoliberal generation is evident for all to see in the economic crisis ravaging Europe and the United States at the moment. Everything about neoliberalism is something that parties claiming to represent the labour movement should oppose.

But recent history has shown that when the choice is between serving the neoliberal ruling establishment and defending their working class base, social democratic parties have chosen a defence of capitalism every time. The result has been the conversion of these organisations to the new orthodoxy, in opposition and in government.

For many, Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister of Britain, symbolises this neoliberal embrace. When he was elected in 1997, many working class people hoped that Blair’s “New Labour” government would differ from the anti-worker belligerence of the Conservative Party’s long reign. Instead Blair encouraged the rampant greed of the corporate elite, continuing Conservative economic activities, stripping erstwhile supporters of their hope, dragging the country into the slaughter of the war on Iraq.

Just like Blair’s New Labour, social democratic and labourist parties gleefully carried out the class war on their own electoral base, privileging profit over social provision. It was no surprise, then, that as the years ground on, these parties were increasingly abandoned by those who had maintained them: members, supporters, voters. Few of these parties do not find themselves in crisis, one that grows worse as the inability to present a better vision of society in the age of austerity leads them to sharpen the budgetary knives in country after country.

Australian Labor has not just followed this same trajectory – it has been one of its most ardent pioneers. The “reform” governments of Hawke and then Keating from 1983 to 1996 have often been cited as examples for Gillard’s government to emulate. It is said that they were not afraid to tackle the “big” issues, to confront challenges head on, that they got things done. What they achieved, however, was in reality the neoliberal restructuring of the Australian economy. Hawke’s Accord between the government, trade unions and business was sold as a means by which the union movement would be able to better the living standards of its members without resorting to the messy industrial strife of previous years.

Hawke promised unions a place at the negotiating table, and all they had to do was quash the militancy of their members and prevent the workers movement from using its most potent weapon, strike action. The result was a reallocation of wealth from working people to the ruling elite. Those few courageous unions that refused to capitulate were brutally attacked by the Labor government. In Britain and elsewhere, the Conservative parties led the neoliberal charge, and social democracy dutifully followed. In Australia, it was Labor that implemented the new orthodoxy than the inept Liberal Party.

Since that period, Labor has been reaping what it sowed. Neoliberalism has colonised the party at every level. Free market orthodoxy reigns supreme. Federal Labor draftee Bob Carr is a direct link between these two periods. Carr – the loyal Gillard, then Rudd, then Gillard again supporter – was a great admirer of neoliberal icon US President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and brought this admiration to practical purpose as premier of NSW. He fit right in upon joining the current Labor caucus.

Left faction

The most pathetic casualty of Labor’s embrace of the new orthodoxy was the party’s left faction. Despite its rhetoric of socialism and the need to shift the party to the left, the faction marched in step with the party’s right.

Labor has always stood for capitalism and governance of the system on behalf of the capitalist class. But historically the left in the party offered an ideological alternative to the party’s right, one based upon state ownership and wealth redistribution towards the poorer sections of society. As the Hawke-Keating team won election after election, the left capitulated completely to neoliberalism, a course assisted by the perks of ministerial office. Labor was shorn of any critical ideology, and the left faction became a means of allocating ministerial positions, rather than a repository of political ideas that called into question the status quo.

The result of this process is a party that can consider no alternative to the dominant orthodoxy, a party incapable of crafting policies that would truly differentiate it from the Coalition. This is the party that was unable to win a majority federally in 2010, and has since been crushed in state elections in NSW and Queensland. Corruption scandals, leadership stoushes, the breaking of electoral promises are all connected to this long-term crisis. They are the product of a party that no longer has anything to bind it together but office seeking, personal advancement and the service of those who bring their economic power to bear.

“Class warfare”

Michael Gordon, political editor of the Age, used the recent leadership scuffle to warn Gillard against the “pursuit of us-versus-them class warfare” that she has allegedly embraced for the upcoming election. He writes that such “class warfare” is “a betrayal of the party’s values”. In this he is right, but for all the wrong reasons.

To modern Labor, class war is an anathema, because the term implies there are two combatants. Labor has no desire for the working class to be in a position to fight to advance its interests. To Labor, it is only the super-rich, the mining magnates, the corporations, that should be able to enjoy that privilege. This is the true legacy of the Gillard and Rudd years. Any pretence of defending the rights of working people rings hollow in the wake of it.

The constant refrain of the current government has been its dedication to returning to a budget surplus, an ideological program disconnected from the wishes of most people, let alone the advice of most economists. Until economic realities themselves proved this an unreachable goal in the promised time frame, Gillard and treasurer Wayne Swan clung to the pledge. In pursuit of surplus, they were willing to maintain the unemployment payment, the Newstart Allowance, at poverty levels. Even worse, they moved single parent carers, the vast majority of whom are women, from a slightly higher rate to the paltry Newstart level. The government maintained a vast swathe of the draconian industrial relations laws introduced by the Howard government.

All this is acceptable in the pursuit of “fiscal responsibility”. What the government was not willing to do, in pursuit of surplus, was to tax the mining companies in any serious way and use this mass of wealth to provide the vital services that have been rapidly declining through lack of funds. That too is the result of the orthodoxy: those with power keep the power, those with wealth are encouraged to increase their wealth, and the rest of us suffer.

It is not personalities but policies that have brought Labor to this mess. All the last week, the last 13 months, the last three years have demonstrated is the ALP’s ability to damage itself more than its opposition ever could.

The true crisis in Labor is not that leadership strife is preventing it from effectively promoting and implementing its policies. It is that these policies run directly counter to the interests of the party’s historic base: the working class, the poor, the dispossessed. Labor is proving is that it is no alternative to the ruling elite, but its willing instrument. This has always been the case. Labor MPs, like all other parliamentarians, serve power, and serve it adamantly. It is just that no one remains in the party to argue against this or to offer a vision of an alternative. This is why Labor’s membership has crumbled. This is why its electoral support is dissipating toward record lows. This is why voters find it harder and harder to distinguish between Labor and Liberal. This is the true crisis for Labor, a crisis that no simple leadership spill will solve.