Australian politics, rarely edifying, has surely reached its nadir in 2018, a year in which a coup attempt by strongman Peter Dutton shut down the parliament and took the country to the edge of its worst constitutional crisis since 1975. On top of the cumulative impact of a decade of prime ministerial knifings, this year has been jaundiced by scandal from beginning to end, from Barnaby Joyce to Emma Husar to Andrew Broad, via the “shock and Orr” of the banking royal commission, Justin Milne v Michelle Guthrie, #reefgate, Witness K and the gall of Michaelia Cash – and that’s just off the top of my head. Absent without leave is a federal government policy agenda that seriously addresses the very real problems this country faces: rising inequality, galloping climate change, fraying alliances. If the polls are right, the Labor Party is set to win in a landslide next year. Labor may almost win by default – every other major political party is utterly consumed by infighting. Funnily enough, the few punters I speak to at the Unity Hall Hotel in Sydney’s Balmain, birthplace of Labor in New South Wales, are still wary of the party.
If there was one message out of the ALP’s national conference this week, it was that the party is united and stands ready to govern. Incoming president and former treasurer Wayne Swan ran proceedings with brutal efficiency. “All those in favour?” he’d ask, then declare things “carried” without bothering to ask if anyone was opposed. On the rare occasion he did ask, even when plenty of voices were raised against, he’d declare things carried anyway and ignore calls for a “count”. Only one amendment went to an actual vote – over whether Australia should adopt a human rights charter – and it was lost on the floor by just three votes, 172 to 175. But the impromptu count was pretty agricultural, with people coming and going and tellers criss-crossing the floor amid cries of “lock the doors!” The conference was tightly controlled, in short, with the powerbrokers upstairs and the delegates and observers downstairs.
The policy platform that has emerged from the conference, however, is weighty. To the credit of Opposition leader Bill Shorten and his party, Labor has dropped the “small target” strategy that both John Howard, with his headland speeches, and Kevin Rudd, with his fiscal conservatism, used to win government from Opposition. In 2013, Tony Abbott won a rolled-gold mandate to axe the taxes, stop the boats and end the debt and deficit. Like Abbott, Shorten has had the guts to define his agenda: close tax loopholes and offer personal tax cuts; reinvest in public education and health; restore workers’ rights and penalty rates; establish an ICAC; actually have energy and climate and environment policies; the list goes on. The party squibbed it on Newstart, Adani and asylum seekers, but the jury will be out if or until Shorten forms government. Progressive voters have basically been on the back foot since 1996, suffering a seemingly endless series of disappointments and outrages, the sole reprieve being the five minutes of policy sunshine between the election of Rudd and the start of the financial crisis. That’ll mark 23 years of greed and warring, denial and disruption. Perhaps next year the clouds will part and let a little policy sunshine back in.
Mind you, even the golden era of Hawke and Keating was riven by leadershite. Does Labor know anything else? The best speech of the conference came not from anyone in parliament but from ACTU secretary Sally McManus, who had not won everything she wanted from industrial relations spokesperson Brendan O’Connor, but who put the party’s assembled MPs and apparatchiks on notice, popping their Canberra bubble: you are not the political class; you are meant to be of and for the working class. “We all believe in a fair go for working people because we ARE working people,” she said. “Our mates are working people. The Labor Party is the party of working people. Here in this room there are people from jobs across our country and so many trade unionists who represent working people every single day.” By focusing laser-like on the needs of working people, McManus argues, the Labor movement can be the bulwark against the angry right-wing populism that is racking the United States and the United Kingdom.
Working people are scant at the rather gentrified Unity Hall on the Friday before Christmas, however. Two-thirds of the people I meet voted for Malcolm Turnbull in 2016, and they’re not happy he’s gone. At a table of builders in high-vis – having beers, burgers and chips for lunch – I speak to Gareth from Forestville. “I liked Malcolm, I did, I thought Malcolm should’ve stayed … I dunno why they changed.” He doesn’t want Labor to get in, but he has a dilemma, because he lives in Warringah. “He’s going again is he? I’m not a big fan of Tony’s now, I was never a fan of Tony, he should never have been there. I think to run the country you need to be a businessman. Turnbull’s a businessman, and Tony’s not.” Gareth, a Brit who has been here for 20 years, is still pining for Howard. “I like Liberal, I’m still hanging on to the John Howard days. I think that was the best time … It just seemed very stable. You didn’t get all this carry-on that you get today.”
The Unity Hall, by the way, is not heritage listed and is controlled by John Singleton, Geoff Dixon and Mark Carnegie’s big pub fund. Future uncertain.
Have a good holiday break. The Monthly Today will return on January 29.
since this morning
The Australian reports [$] that Australia will use carried-over emissions credits in a controversial move allowing Scott Morrison to justify his claim that the 2030 Paris climate emissions target will be met “in a canter”, while The
Age reports Australia will miss by a “massive margin”.
The Guardian reports that the federal Labor MP Emma Husar has had an early victory in her defamation case against BuzzFeed, with a judge ruling that an article published by the news website in July was capable of conveying that she was a “slut”.
Also in The Guardian, Gareth Hutchens writes that the Morrison government’s $10 billion pre-election budget “war chest” is the biggest in 15 years, two and a half times larger than the Howard government’s surprise cash splash on pensioners and retirees during the 2007 election campaign.
in case you missed it
The Age reveals that Liberal power broker Marcus Bastiaan ran persistent campaigns agitating against senior federal and state MPs, including Jane Hume, James Paterson and Tim Wilson, whose seats he had promised to factional supporters.
A key confidant of Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered Sutherland Shire councillor Kent Johns a $350,000 party job in an attempt to head off a preselection showdown with sitting Liberal MP Craig Kelly, according to The Age.
TheSydney Morning Herald reports that former independent MP Rob Oakeshott is set to contest the NSW north coast seat of Cowper at next year’s federal election.
According to the AFR [$], “Coal is set to overtake iron ore as Australia’s largest export earner this financial year and help boost the local economy, just as the progressive side of politics tries to shut down coal as a dependable energy source.”
The Australian reports [$] that GetUp has received a $495,000 donation from the Sunrise Project to help make climate change a hot-button issue in next year’s federal election.
Australian Border Force staff have experienced “alarming levels of sexual harassment and bullying”, discrimination, increasing militarisation, and a culture of nepotism and favouritism, according to an internal review obtained by The Guardian.
Paddy Manning is a contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly. He is a writer and journalist who has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is also the author of three books, including Boganaire: The rise and fall of Nathan Tinkler.
Australian politics, rarely edifying, has surely reached its nadir in 2018, a year in which a coup attempt by strongman Peter Dutton shut down the parliament and took the country to the edge of its worst constitutional crisis since 1975. On top of the cumulative impact of a decade of prime ministerial knifings, this year has been jaundiced by scandal from beginning to end, from Barnaby Joyce to Emma Husar to Andrew Broad, via the “shock and Orr” of the banking royal commission, Justin Milne v Michelle Guthrie, #reefgate, Witness K and the gall of Michaelia Cash – and that’s just off the top of my head. Absent without leave is a federal government policy agenda that seriously addresses the very real problems this country faces: rising inequality, galloping climate change, fraying alliances. If the polls are right, the Labor Party is set to win in a landslide next year. Labor may...