The Politics    Thursday, October 10, 2019

Labor pains

By Russell Marks

Labor pains

© Lukas Coch / AAP Image

Climate confusion continues in the ALP

What if? Loaded with wistful regret and dashed dreams, it’s a question that can’t be pushed entirely aside as the hard-headed analyses trickle into Jay Weatherill and Craig Emerson’s review of federal Labor’s shock election loss in May.

After all, it’s a question that still occupies half the nation. Had Labor triumphed and kept to even a portion of its platform, Australia’s future would look rather different. Aboriginal people in the north could have contemplated the end of demeaning work-for-the-dole tasks, like collecting litter. There’d be some prospect of affordable dental treatment. The future would be slightly less unequal, as the new government began to claw back redistributions favouring the wealthy. And Australia might have eventually been something other than the crony-capitalist global climate pariah it is now.

Or so we’re told. The reality is that Labor’s confusion over climate policy and specific polluting projects did not begin as the promised swings failed to materialise during the evening of May 18. For the whole campaign Labor was notoriously “on the fence” regarding the Adani coalmine, a project that any party committed to emissions-reduction goals would immediately reject.

Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles is set to deliver a speech this evening that is unlikely to clear anything up. The senior member of Victoria’s Right faction will reportedly tell the John Curtin Research Centre that his party lost voters by offering blue-collar workers “handouts rather than hope” when it “agonised over every word during press conferences on what at its heart was the business case of a private mining venture”. The contradictions inherent in Marles’s analysis reflect Victorian Labor’s secret submission to Weatherill and Emerson’s inquiry, which apparently advocated for greater policy devolution to state branches. Just what this would have meant for the party’s position on Adani is unclear, especially given Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s rush to approve the mine following the federal election loss.

With its historical, ideological and organisational roots in the labour movement, Labor will always be vulnerable to the accusation that it isn’t prioritising jobs enough. And mining jobs, even when comparatively few, are apparently worth more than tourism industry, renewable energy and even pastoral jobs, no doubt owing to the respective union coverage rates of those industries and to views held within the most powerful unions, namely the Australian Workers’ Union and the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union. Although there remains spirited disagreement within them, the unions of our time are a long way from delivering any green bans.

It’s difficult to find any sustained analysis of class, capital and the state in Australia’s unions, or in the parliamentary party with which most of them remain affiliated. Labor’s democratic-socialist objective remains in its constitution, but in practice informs little of its social analysis and few of its policies.

As a result, Labor is perennially unable to articulate to itself – let alone to unions, or to voters – why aligning itself entirely with the interests of a major coalmine in the vicinity of the Great Barrier Reef operated by a multinational with a disturbing labour rights record might not be such a great idea. Opposition agriculture and resources spokesperson Joel Fitzgibbon wants his party to stop fighting these battles at all, advocating yesterday for Labor to admit defeat and simply adopt the Coalition’s emissions targets.

As the Climate Accountability Institute this week names the 20 fossil-fuel companies that together are responsible for a full third of global carbon emissions, and Greg Jericho reminds us that nobody under the age of 34 has ever experienced a month of below-average temperatures, the question to ask is whether Labor can ever be part of the solution to this most wicked and most catastrophic of all problems.

Listen to The Politics Podcast, with Rachel Withers

“There are many issues that are being pursued by this government and the approach that we bend over backwards to accommodate them is not appropriate in this environment.”

Senator Kim Carr, of Labor’s Left faction, resists the urge by his party’s Right to support Morrison government policies, such as a new free-trade agreement with Indonesia and mandatory sentencing.

“The police need to take civil action against these individuals, they need to recover the full cost of the police response to these individuals, and they need to enforce this by the courts.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton doubles down on calls for punitive action against climate-change protesters.

The Monthly Awards 2019
Each year, The Monthly assembles a panel of critics and artists to decide The Monthly Awards. This episode showcases the winners.


The number of pet insurance policies reviewed and not recommended by Choice for its 14th annual Shonky awards. And the number that are worth taking out? Nought.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison shows few signs of reconsidering his tight foreign-policy relationship with US president Donald Trump anytime soon, even as US troops withdraw from northern Syria to make way for invading Turkish forces.

The list

“With a furore raging over the propensity of violent comics to corrupt children, creator of the Lone Avenger Len Lawson reassured readers that his work ‘always featured stories of the Crime-does-not-pay kind’. Yet, within a year, Action Comic had indeed been censored, less because of its contents than as a response to Lawson’s own extraordinary depravity.”

“As the conversation between Western psychiatric professionals and Anangu traditional healers evolved, it became apparent that there was little common language with which to talk about mental-health issues. Interpreters had been employed all along, but as the questions became more specific the interpreters struggled to find the words to frame them or the answers when they came. In 2012, a small grant was sourced to run a project that focused on words for various states of mind, and Uti Kulintjaku was born.

“Prime ministers do their best to hide it, but the fact is governing involves mostly flying by the seat of your pants. And this is particularly true for the Morrison administration, now into its sixth month after its surprise election win. It is scrambling to persuade the nation it really knows what it is on about and how it will achieve it. The drought and a stubbornly sluggish economy aren’t helping. Nor is Morrison’s new best mate, Donald Trump.”

Russell Marks

Russell Marks is a lawyer and an adjunct research fellow at La Trobe University. He is the author of Crime and Punishment: Offenders and Victims in a Broken Justice System (Black Inc., 2015). 

The Politics

Image of Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Making his Mark

The dropping of Bernard Collaery’s prosecution is one of the simplest yet most meaningful actions this government has taken

Image of former energy minister Angus Taylor, February 17, 2022. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Fools’ equivalence

The Coalition’s criticism of Albanese’s official travel is a sign of just how galling this Opposition is going to be

Image of former defence minister Linda Reynolds during Question Time in the Senate, June 17, 2021. Image © Mick Tsikas / AAP Images

Women’s Lib(eral Party)

Linda Reynolds’ newfound enthusiasm for quotas ignores the many reasons women are turning away from her party

Image of Minister for Emergency Management Murray Watt in Brisbane, June 8, 2022. Image © Jono Searle / AAP Images

In deep water

As climate-fuelled flooding hits Australia again, the Greens are being urged to fall into line on an insufficient 2030 target

From the front page

Image of Fonofono o le nuanua: Patches of the rainbow (After Gauguin), 2020. Image courtesy of Yuki Kihara and Milford Galleries, Aotearoa New Zealand

The dream machine: The 59th Venice Biennale

Curator Cecilia Alemani’s long overdue Biennale overwhelmingly features female artists and champions indigenous voices and other minorities

Photo of the hands of an elderly woman. Image © Yui Mok/PA Wire

Age is just a number

The slow decline of Australia’s aged-care system into a bureaucratic nightmare

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

What the oil and gas industry tells itself

A week after the devastating floods, the fossil-fuel industry described the scarcity of new projects today as “frightening”

Image of Anthony Albanese

How to be a prime minister

The task ahead for Anthony Albanese in restoring the idea that governments should seek to make the country better