josh rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Labor’

MY PROBLEM WITH GILLARD (AND LABOR)

In Australian Politics on October 6, 2011 at 7:15 am

I recently had dinner with two really good friends. They are both federal Labor staffers, working for particularly well-known ministers. They are, it is fair to say, die-hard, to-the-death, ‘true believer’ Labor supporters – and have been since they were young enough for politics to enter their consciousness. Nothing wrong with political conviction. I wish more Australians would take an interest in politics and develop greater political awareness.

This dinner started, as it always does when we get together, with a convivial atmosphere. But before main courses were finished, it descended – as it almost always does – into a political discussion. This time, it centred around the performance of the Gillard Government, and the Rudd Government before it.

I’m on record as consistently criticising both Rudd and Gillard, albeit for different reasons. With Rudd, my problem was his propensity to micro-manage everything to such a degree that it was only a matter of time before mistakes were made, public funds were wasted and poor policy decisions were made. That, as history now records, became the reality.

I was attending a function at Parliament House (Senator Nick Sherry – who I used to work for when Labor were in opposition – was celebrating his 20th anniversary in the Senate) barely 4 or 5 metres from the Prime Minister’s office on what became Rudd’s last night as PM. I’d been at the gathering perhaps 30 minutes before Rudd came in and gave one of those silly semi-private speeches he liked to do. Afterwards, he left, returning to his office. I left shortly thereafter, as a cacophony of ministerial and staffer Blackberry’s started to beep and vibrate. So long out of the game was I, I didn’t stop to question why. Passing Rudd’s office – with Faulkner and Gillard behind me (although I didn’t know this at the time…I only realised later when footage was shown on TV) – I saw a phalanx of press gallery journalists, cameras and audio equipment at the ready. Again, I didn’t think anything of it. It was only later – about 20 minutes later – as I was in the car driving home that a text message came from a staffer – one of my friends at the dinner I mentioned earlier, exclaiming that ‘it was on’ (political parlance for a leadership spill).

My invite to Senator Nick Sherry's function at APH on Rudd's last night as PM

By a strange twist of fate, Senator Sherry’s 20th anniversary function was to also be Kevin Rudd’s last evening as PM. I, like many people I know, was outraged that Gillard had the chutzpah to take the leadership from Rudd the way she did. If there is such as thing as Australian-ness (and I doubt there is) then Gillard’s behaviour was quintessentially unAustralian. But therein lies my dilemma. I hated Rudd. He was a bad prime minister. But I also detest the idea of a sitting prime minister being replaced at the behest of his or her party and the unions which control it. It’s a dirty remnant of the Westminster system we inherited from the Mother Country, but it really should have no place in our version of democracy.

Back to my dinner with two Labor staffer friends. Our conversation, and their criticism of me, was about Gillard, not Rudd. I’m a serial Facebook poster. I update my Facebook status many times a day (and cross-post to Twitter) and frequently it is to criticise Labor. At least, as I see it, the criticism is of Labor. One of my friends at dinner suggested my commentaries (in the form of Facebook status updates) were more attacks on Gillard, specifically, than criticisms of Labor, in general. I’ve re-read my postings to Facebook and although I refute the assertion, I’m content to live with it.

The thing with Gillard, you see, is for me it is personal. Way back when I worked for Labor in opposition (when I was still a member of the Labor Party), I met Gillard on a number of occasions. I’ve conversed with her. I’ve drunk beer with her. (Okay, to be fair, only I was doing the drinking). I’ve attended office parties she has organised. We’re not bosom buddies and she wouldn’t remember me, but the point is, I liked her and I particularly liked her left-wing credentials.

But once she became PM, something happened. Something bad. The kind of nightmare it takes the country a long time to wake and recover from.

My problem with Gillard is three-fold:

1. She did a shitty thing stabbing Rudd in the back and even if she had turned out to be the greatest thing that had happened to this country (which is so far from reality it is laughable!) my view wouldn’t change. What she did was wrong. It’s that black and white for me.

2. She sold out her left-wing credentials and, miraculously, became a right-wing sensation over night. The country stood a real chance of reform under a left-wing prime minister, but instead she caved to special interest, a right-wing controlled caucus and some right-wing union thugs who need a little of their own medicine in return.

3. She lives in a mighty fine house, located in a prime Canberra suburb only a stone’s throw from Parliament House, with a staff and a driver – and it’s all paid for by my not inconsiderable tax dollars – and she does so with an unemployed bloke she’s not married to – but then she has the hide…I mean, the biggest hide of all, to tell me…ME, that my 10 year relationship is something less than hers, something not as worthy of formal recognition as hers, and…here’s what really rubs me the wrong way…something that has not been ordained by God! By God, of all made-up creatures!!!

So, indeed, I won’t deny or shy away from accusations that my attacks on Labor are really personal attacks on the PM. Not at all. She is a bad prime minister. She’s worse than Rudd, and until she came along I couldn’t have imagined such a scenario is possible.

I hope the day comes when my values, and Labor Party values, are once again in alignment. Maybe the Labor Party is on a course of change that is taking it away from me forever. I hope not. I hope one day that I can rejoin the Labor Party. That day will never be while Gillard is leader.

Some things I am very certain of. I will not, under any circumstances, cease my criticisms of Labor, Gillard and the government she leads when it makes decisions that warrant criticism. I’ll continue to do so, even if it costs me the friendship of my two staffer friends. I’m also certain – more certain, perhaps, than of anything else in my life – that Labor in government since 2007 has been a miserable, wretched failure and I can’t recall ever being so disillusioned, so shattered, so utterly bereft and so totally disappointed in a political party I was once a member of and spent many years working for, as I am with the Australian Labor Party.

I’m continually told to consider the alternative. I have. I do every day. Do I want Tony Abbott to be prime minister? Of course not – although I am on record as suggesting he wouldn’t be as bad as many belief he might. But the thought of a ultra-conservative Catholic running the country is not my ideal scenario for Australia. So I’m told, Labor is better than the alternative. Are they? Really? Because Abbott scares the shit out of everyone, Gillard’s incompetence is still a better solution? I don’t and won’t see it that way. I won’t vote Labor at the next election because the alternative is too horrifying. I can’t do it.

Here’s a reality check. If Tony Abbott remains leader of the Liberal Party, he will be PM. That’s the stark reality Labor has created for this country. I can’t envisage any scenario in which Labor is capable of changing that. So faced with such a dismal reality, and faced with my inability to vote for Labor, I’m left with only a few options. None are ideal.

I could vote for the Greens. I could vote for an Independent candidate. I could vote for alternate parties.candidates in the House of Representatives to the Senate. I could not vote at all – or at least, only get my name ticked off.

I will reassess my position closer to the next election, but were the election called for this coming Saturday, I would vote as follows:

Senate: Green (I live in the ACT, where we only have two senators who must seek re-election at each federal election, unlike the States, and where it is incredibly hard for a Green candidate to break the one Labor Senator, one Liberal Senator monopoly). I’m more comfortable with preferences flowing to Labor should the Green candidate not win.

House of Reps: The Latham Gambit (also known as the ‘donkey vote’).

I hope things change. I know they won’t. When Labor loses the next election, as it inevitably will, I won’t take joy from it. I won’t whoop for joy. I won’t say I told you so. Not to a single soul. But I will, quietly, lament the final passing of a political party I once loved and gave my all to (besides working for various pollies as a spin-doctor and speechwriter, I have been both president and secretary of my local Labor Party sub-branch of North Canberra) and I will feel little else than sadness that Labor failed me; failed us all.

One day, I hope my Labor friends come to see it as well.

LABOR’S LOST SOUL

In Australian Politics on August 17, 2011 at 1:00 am

I spent the winter break away from lecturing working on a couple of academic journal articles (one on Australian media representations of Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel – also presented at a conference in New Zealand – and the other on the challenges of writing post-Wall Berlin memoir) but the consequence was complete silence on my blog. I hope to rectify that now.

I’ve recently had long conversations with a few (5, in fact) former Labor staffers who worked during the Rudd/Gillard years and each has expressed deep disappointment in Labor’s performance since winning government in 2007. It shouldn’t really amaze me, but it does. I was a vocal critic of Rudd and I continue to be a vocal critic of his usurper, who is, lamentably, an even worse prime minister. One former staffer told me Gillard had lost her mojo. I suggested she never had it to begin with.

But these conversations with former staffers has led me to think a lot about the reasons I not only left the employ of the Labor Party, but resigned my membership, as well.

Following are some disparate thoughts on Labor’s abuse of the legacy of one of its greats – John Button – and how and why I came to severe my links with the Australian Labor Party.

* * * *

Nearly ten years have passed since the late John Button published his Quarterly Essay – Beyond Belief. What Future for Labor? – in which he postulated on the many failings of the Labor Party before and after its devastating 2001 election defeat. A decade later, Labor is clumsily navigating minority government and a disillusioned electorate is nearing baking point.

Button’s essay was a passionate call-to-arms directed towards a new generation of political activists; the so-called ‘New Believers’. John Button eschewed Labor’s sentimental mythologies – an attitude many more in the Labor Party could do well to emulate – but he was nonetheless energetically passionate about creating a party that the electorate could trust and its membership could believe in.

Button’s essay was as much a handbook for reform as it was a mea culpa to an electorate it had failed. A decade ago it took someone of John Button’s stature to remind us that the ALP was the historical party of progressive reform. He warned it faced a perilous future if it ignored that mandate.

I joined the Labor Party because I was fed up with the socially regressive policies of John Howard and his party of nation-wreckers. I gave everything I had to Labor. I was my sub-branch secretary and later its president. I worked as a media adviser and speechwriter to various Labor luminaries, wannabes and no-hopers. I worked as hard as anyone to try and get Labor elected at the 2004 election – the last I worked on before I left Labor.

But then something happened to Labor that left me with no other choice than to resign my party membership: Kevin07 came to help. Except he didn’t help. He made things worse. Admittedly, Labor’s troubles began much earlier than Rudd’s arrival on the scene, but for me he was the straw that well-and-truly broke the camel’s back. After all, the signs that the progressive party – the party of economic reform – was slowly morphing into Australia’s alternate conservative party really began after Labor lost the 1996 election.

Paul Keating once said of Kevin Rudd that he was “Labor, but not tribal Labor.” Not that I wish in any way to be compared to Rudd, but I could relate. Like him, I was “in the ALP, but not of it.” I was not closely associated with Labor institutions and I shunned links to factions and trade unions. Some mint argue that was my – and Rudd’s – downfall.

The Labor Party loves to remind anyone in ear-shot that it was Hawke and Keating – two Labor giants – who modernised the Australian economy by tackling reforms like reducing tariffs, floating the dollar, privatising the banking sector, selling government assets and introducing compulsory superannuation, to name a few – and no valid argument can be mounted in opposition. Labor spent the 12 years of Howard’s rule desperate to return to government. When it finally took control of the treasury coffers, it squandered the opportunity. Labor no longer knew how to lead and it hasn’t learnt how to on the job.

The hopes and dreams of so many Australians, whether Labor Party members or average taxpayers concerned about the future, were dashed the moment it became obvious Labor had no reform agenda to speak of. The Rudd and Gillard Governments’ legacy will be one of two major new taxes – one on carbon emissions, the other on the mining industry – and a re-regulation of the labour market. It will also be remembered for its incredible waste of taxpayer money on ridiculous schemes like a Julia Gillard Memorial Hall for every school and the monumental debacle that was home insulation.

Broadcaster Phillip Adams very publicly resigned his Labor Party membership in June 2010. Defending his decision in The Australian, Adams wrote: “For over a month my membership renewal has been languishing on my desk. Paying to remain in the NSW branch seemed problematic. The assassination of Rudd makes a final decision all too easy. After 50 years of membership, through thick and thin ā€“ mainly thin ā€“ Iā€™m resigning.” My own final straw moment with Labor began much earlier than Adams. On election night 2007 I cried tears of joy. I was uncomfortable with Rudd as prime minister, but more uncomfortable with John Howard for another 3 years. Six months into his term I resigned my membership in protest at Rudd’s social conservatism and his threat to over-turn, just like his predecessor, legislation introduced by the democratically elected ACT government. But ultimately, Phillip Adams and I chose to walk away from a party that was no longer aligned with our own views and aspirations.

I emailed my resignation letter to a number of sitting MPs and Senators, as well as the Branch Secretary. The party, predictably, responded with a pro forma letter. One Senator replied to my email suggesting my characterisation of the party was false. Nobody urged me to reconsider leaving.

In 2001 John Button wrote: “Labor’s soul-searching is destined to take time. One former federal minister, Duncan Kerr, said the party had lost its soul altogether.” A decade on, what has changed? Labor has won government, but it remains without a soul. Labor has failed to heed Button’s message, preferring instead to piss all over his legacy.

I hope one day I can return to the Labor Party. I really do. But that won’t happen until Labor has successfully come out the other side of an aggressive program of re-building and reforming. To begin with:

~ Remove the N40 rule which allows the executive to by-pass the rank-and-file membership during preselections;

~ Give the membership a voice in all aspects of the party;

~ The separation of party and unions, removing the requirement to be a union member in order to join the party;

~ Quash the influence of intellectually terrorists, such as Paul Howes, whose job is to run a union, not to remove sitting prime ministers.

I won’t hold my breath. But when Labor loses the next election – and it will – and Tony Abbott is prime minister, it won’t be because the country wanted to return the Coalition to government. It will be because Labor failed – failed its membership and failed the electorate.

The last work should go to John Button. It still rings true, a decade after he wrote it: “It was Labor’s year of grave misjudgments, of failure to project any alternative vision which could capture the imagination of voters, a year in which the morale among the rank-and-file progressively declined.”