Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Today by Paddy Manning

Labor on notice
The party conference was a love-in today, but will the peace hold?


Labor’s current standing in the opinion polls reflects an assumption that the party has learnt the lessons of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years. So it was brave of the ALP to give Kevin Rudd the floor of national conference today: a commendable effort to heal past wounds, but one that risked opening them back up. Moving that life membership be given to Labor’s last three prime ministers – Paul Keating, Rudd and Julia Gillard – Opposition leader Bill Shorten called on delegates to “make peace with our past in the same way we are united about our future”. But the absence of Gillard, in particular, only confirms the suspicion that healing remains a way off. Her contribution would be celebrated on another occasion, Shorten promised, and Gillard herself tweeted graciously: “Greatly honoured to receive lifetime membership of the ALP today, along with FPM’s Paul Keating & Kevin Rudd. Always proud to be Labor.”

When Rudd took the lectern, he struck fear into every heart by reminding Shorten that Gough Whitlam had spoken for half an hour when he was awarded life membership at the 2007 conference, and Bob Hawke had gone the full hour in 2009. “Settle back,” Rudd said, but he was joking.

Standing beside his wife, Thérèse Rein, also honoured with life membership today, it was hard not to recall the last time we saw the two at a lectern together, at the painful press conference of June 2010 that began Australia’s decade of prime ministerial knifings. Rudd paid his own respects to past Labor PMs, including the “very formidable” Julia Gillard, and to “the next Labor prime minister of Australia, Bill Shorten”. Rudd acknowledged Shorten’s strength and resilience, his “capacity to build consensus in what is often a motley crew, [and his] deep, ingrained instinct for the interests and wellbeing of working families across this nation”. Rudd followed his speech by shaking hands on stage with Shorten, deputy leader Tanya Plibersek and party president Wayne Swan. Hardened gallery veterans winced: “They hate each other.”

Australians could still decide to stick with the devil they know: a cashed-up Morrison government offering [$] electoral bribes, including deeper tax cuts than those it has announced already. The closer and more likely the election gets, the heavier the responsibility on Shorten and his colleagues becomes. A whiff of Labor leadership instability in government, or a new outbreak of the “NSW disease”, could really shatter faith in the system and propel Australia directly towards the kind of angry populism that is roiling the United States and the United Kingdom.

That was the alarm bell sounded by ACTU secretary Sally McManus this morning, who got a rousing welcome – a standing ovation before she even spoke. In the best speech of the conference, McManus warned that working people around the world were reacting against rising inequality and against governments who do nothing about it, because they do not understand, socialise with or ever even see working people. “People will not tolerate being ignored forever,” she said. “They will look for ways of making themselves heard, and frustration and anger will find an outlet. It already is. This is not the direction the trade union movement wants to see our country go … Why did we used to be described as ‘laid back’? Because fairness made us both confident and comfortable. Inequality. Greed. Unfairness. Misdirected blame. This all holds us back as a country. But we in the union movement believe in the fair go and we will not let the consequences of inequality hold us back any longer.” McManus positioned the union movement as the early warning system against a Trumpist tsunami overwhelming Australia.

The conference then got into the fine print of the controversial industrial relations chapter of the party’s platform, after shadow workplace minister Brendan O’Connor flagged that an incoming Labor government would “improve” industry-wide or multi-employer bargaining, and “where enterprise bargaining has failed, multi-employer bargaining should be another option”. That gesture comes on top of announcements, flagged [$] in the AFR this morning, that an incoming Labor government would strengthen the Fair Work Commission’s powers to order pay increases for workers in female-dominated industries.

The Guardian reported this morning on the latest Essential poll, which shows that most voters believe Labor will win the federal election, with just 21 per cent of Australians believing Morrison can recover. The takeout from the 2018 national conference for the increasingly likely Shorten government is that there will be no excuses – zero tolerance – for a second’s focus on anything but the lives of the Australians who put them there.

Closing the industrial chapter, Shorten sounded like he got it. He declared that while he would not seek to implement a re-run of the Hawke–Keating accord, if elected PM he would approach wages policy in the same spirit of consensus, bringing together unions and employers, and that “we will start that process from the very first week after the election”.

since this morning

The Independent Commission Against Corruption has raided the NSW Labor Party headquarters in Sydney as part of an ongoing investigation.

Disgraced Victorian Nationals MP Andrew Broad will not contest [$] the next election after becoming embroiled in a dating website scandal that has also further damaged the Nationals brand and the standing of Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack.

A federal Labor government will pursue the recognition of Palestine, a treaty banning nuclear weapons and an increase to foreign aid – but final decisions will be left for cabinet under an agreement struck between the party’s factions.

Sydney prosecutor Margaret Cunneen, who was pursued by the NSW ICAC over allegations that she perverted the course of justice, will have input into the design of the Coalition’s proposed Commonwealth Integrity Commission, The Guardian reports.

in case you missed it

The banking sector, plagued by scandals raised during the recent royal commission, is likely be spared [$] tough constraints on its ability to lend as part of a Morrison government response, which aims to protect the housing market from further deterioration.

Universities have been hit with a second round of mid-year funding cuts in as many years, after the Coalition moved to slash $328.5 million of research funding in Monday’s economic update.

The Age reports that the federal government has backed down on its refusal to offer Victoria a short-term school-funding deal, defusing a potentially destructive stand-off as it attempts to clear the decks ahead of the election.

by Kim Mahood
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by Craig Mathieson
Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful ‘Roma’
This Academy Award–nominated film elevates the domestic to the monumental

Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning is contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly and has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including a recently updated unauthorised biography of Malcolm Turnbull, Born To Rule?


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