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Faulkner’s Seinfeld moment — it’s all about nothing

Good god there must be some snappy way to open a piece on John Faulkner’s Wran oration, something piquant expressing the paradox about the way in which the most admirable figure in the Labor party has delivered a set of solutions which simply recapitulate and deepen the problem. But I got nothing, nada, zip.

It’s just very depressing to have to echo, of all people, Mark Latham, to speak of, of all people, John Faulkner: the address Annabel Crabb describes as the “speech of his life” is, in fact, his Seinfeld moment: it is a speech about nothing.

Faulkner’s Wran oration says little more than commentary on the Labor Party has been saying for the past two decades — that it is becoming a narrow professional outlet, separated from a dwindling membership base, steered by daily public opinion and reliant on an increasingly personality-focused media.

Indeed, this recitative has now become a part of Labor tradition itself, stretching back to Gordon Childe’s How Labor Governs of 1912, his excoriating attack on Queensland’s professional machine Theodore government. Labor, in this account, is always fallen from its former view of purity and intent. Labor loves these Eeyore moments — it appeals to its mendicant Catholic Irish soul.

That notion of original sin is never very helpful in getting a clear-eyed view of what’s gone wrong, and never more so than now. For Labor genuinely is in dire straits, subject to a double whammy — having become the depoliticised machine that Childe slated early on, it has now ceased to be an effective version of it. The tragedy of modern Labor is that it does nothing well, neither holding a political-ethical line, nor delivering sure and steady governance and reform.

Disentangling that double problem is tricky, and the arguments Faulkner brings to it don’t do the trick — indeed he has no arguments about why this has occurred, merely a recitative of what has occurred. To a degree this represents one of the problems that has beset Labor: it is not that Bondi flotsam such as Karl Bitar washed up on the shore of the party, but that the people who most want to reform it lack even the ghost of a theoretical framework to reflect on how modern society and parties work.

Faulkner, like many of the activists Labor attracted in the 1970s and ’80s, were those who always cleaved to the anti-theoretical side of life. Emerging from the social movements of the day, they were never attracted to the Marxist tradition — and the declining theoereticism and sectarianism of that period propelled them further away, not merely to being anti-big-T-theory, but to anti-systemic thinking. To linger on anything other than practical reform was held to be self-indulgent.

Perhaps I exaggerate and someone will dig up various writings by Faulkner and others in that spirit — but let’s stipulate for the record that there is nothing of that sort in the Wran oration. Faulkner cannot even understand his own causes, and older models of Labor, except in that dissected, atomised way. Here for example is Faulkner on what Labor used to stand for, and actively debate:

Opinions, however, varied on what should take priority in that struggle, and what policies and legislation would best achieve it. Ending Australia’s involvement in Vietnam, defending unions and unionists in the workplace, fighting apartheid in South Africa, free tertiary education and health care, decriminalising homos-xuality, better sewerage for the suburbs, workplace equality for women, preserving Australia’s environmental heritage, modernising Australia’s censorship laws, preventing nuclear proliferation — the list of Labor’s concerns was a long one.”

It should be obvious to anyone that practically all these issues are isolated social movements (albeit with some kick-on), which have little to do with what should be Labor’s core mission — advancing the notion of a good society based on universal human flourishing, collectively and individually, achieved largely, but not exclusively, by redistributing economic power to create something approaching genuine democracy. State socialism, and then social democracy, were two ways of trying to do that, but they should not be confused with ends in themselves.

Faulkner can only figure that core aim as a defensive one — defending unions in the workplace — and their practical applications, free education and healthcare.

What he figures as vigorous debate between the factions, about these issues, wasn’t per se about these issues — it was about two differing conceptions of the political role held by two factions, the Catholic Right and the Socialist Left, who would otherwise have been different parties.

The Catholic Right had a conception of labourism that was conservative not emancipatory: based on Rerum Novarum, it asserted that Labor’s role was to limit the nihilistic process of capitalism in the name of an ordered society, extending positive freedom — freedom from hunger, freedom from penury — to the working class. The Socialist Left — stretching back to the decision of the Victorian Socialist Party to join with Labor in the 1910s (bringing a young John Curtin with them) — had an entirely different conception of the political, even if this came and went.

They were not communists, but they shared a conception of political possibility with the communists to a greater degree than current political history is willing to admit (both Chifley and Curtin, for example, were interested in, if barely informed of, the Italian Communist Party’s gradual creation of an alternative model to Stalinism, which would eventually become eurocommunism).

The main game was not per se Vietnam or apartheid — it was what Tony Benn once succinctly summarised as the purpose of genuinely progressive Labour parties: to create permanent irreversible change in the periods when it was in power, even if that meant spending a lot of time out of it.

Indeed, by the time of the period Faulkner is talking about, the late ’70s and into the ’80s, when he remembers bitter factional disputes, that debate was already over. In the mid ’70s, the whole spectrum had been radical and transformative — the Whitlam government was pursuing the idea of buying up the entire resource base of Australia, and pursuing the Swedish “Meidner” plan of buying up the private sector through the stockmarket to socialise it. Bob Hawke’s ACTU was pursing the model of creating a producer-consumer circuit via worker-owners such as Bourke’s department store, and the Solo petrol station chain. An impossibly radical plan today, at that point it was being attacked from the left as lacing people into consumption.

With the collapse of the left very rapidly in the 1970s, an entirely different idea of Labor’s path to redistributing power took over, one conceptualised within the “social market” neoliberalism of Hawke-Keating. Ostensibly more radical it was limited in aim — conforming society to market-generated ideas of human being and the good life. Labor became an agent of means, not ends.

Not only did left and right collapse into each other within the Labor party, but Labor essentially conformed itself to the explicit agenda of the non-Labor forces, who saw no contradiction between the market and the good life. But to acknowledge this is to acknowledge a collapse within Labor that cannot be reversed by the mean contained within its own structures — administrative reform, reconnecting with the activists, etc.

Were the Labor Party to have a genuine idea of a better way of living, it would be able to reach effortlessly to reconnect with people who were once its constituents, but who can no longer be described as a unified working class (a point I’ll return to on Monday). They don’t want state socialism or even social democracy, but they would go for permanent irreversible change in the fabric of their lives — like using the power of the state to create affordable housing by fixed rate state mortgages, compelled land release, large-scale urban replanning and the like.

Labor should use this and public bond issues to guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000. If it partnered that with extended paid parental leave, mandated flexible working hours, and real action on climate change, it would be in power for ever.

In that situation, it wouldn’t matter a damn about the decay of Labor cadres, the profusion of maggots at the top, focus group obsession, etc. A philosophy of life that flows to policy is what Labor needs. The rest is noise — and sadly Faulkner’s Wran oration adds to it.

  • 1
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    The problem for any political party in Australia, or anywhere, at the moment is that the necessary actions to deal with global warming and ecological collapse do not coincide with the interests of enough constituencies within society to build a coalition that gains 51% of the vote.

  • 2
    Timmy O'Toole
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    Yet to read Faulkner’s speech… it’s sitting on my desk!

    I think Rundle has captured a few interesting points on the role of the ALP and social movements (especially in the 70s).

    And I agree with his conclusion- Labor needs a broader philosophy (“of life” or otherwise) than it currently has.

    I foresee Rundle’s analysis potentially going down the “the ALP has too many contradictory groups attached to it (yesteryear it was the Catholics & socialists; now it is inner city intellectuals v suburban workers) and therefore it must synthesise or fail”. This says more about Rundle’s tendencies to assume that politics is driven by fairly homgenous groups with shared interests that bady together to achieve social change as a collective. The fact is no political party is like this, socialist or conservative, and even though there are undeniable tensions in Labor’s base it won’t be resolved through some impossibe over all synthesis between them. Just enough commonality of values and leadership to appeal to both whilst not offending both.

    I really feel that the difference between the two ALP bases is overstated and that middle ground can be met- namely by appealing to the suburbs economically and the inner cities through social programs. The environmental policies should fit in between both groups (you will never appease hard core environmentalists; they will always demand more and we should avoid their extremes- as I think @calyptorhynchus implicitly suggests). Easier said than done, but more than anything the government is simply too socially conservative at the moment. Changing that, with some overarching story about why, would be a useful start.

  • 3
    Rufus Marsh
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I think y0u ought to have those tests GR. At your age you know…..

    Vere Gordon Childe writing about Queensland in 1911 in “How Labor Governs”?????

    In 1918 he taught briefly in Maryborough, Queensland, where P.R. Stephensen was a pupil, and in 1919-21 was private secretary to the NSW Labor politician John Storey; he returned to England as a research officer in the NSW agent-general’s office, but was dismissed in 1922 after a change of government. The following year How Labor Governs, a pessimistic view of the difficulties faced by working-class politicians working within a parliamentary system, was published

    Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/vere-gordon-childe#ixzz1OqP7Gaom

    and at http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/politics/childe/how-labor-governs/ch03.htm

    I found this

    How Labour Governs. Vere Gordon Childe 1923

    Chapter III. The Control of the Politicians by the Movement
    which does mention Queensland but….

  • 4
    Rufus Marsh
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Sorry: 1912 not 1911

  • 5
    Captain Planet
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Come off it, Guy.

    It should be obvious to anyone that practically all these issues are isolated social movements (albeit with some kick-on), which have little to do with what should be Labor’s core mission — advancing the notion of a good society based on universal human flourishing, collectively and individually, achieved largely, but not exclusively, by redistributing economic power to create something approaching genuine democracy.

    I would take exactly the opposite position.

    Let us revisit some of the things Faulkner listed, which you insist “should be obvious to anyone” have little to do with what you pompously and long - windedly insist “should be labor’s core mission”:-

    defending unions and unionists in the workplace, fighting apartheid in South Africa, free tertiary education and health care,… workplace equality for women

    It should be obvious to anyone, that these things have EVERYTHING to do with “advancing the notion of a good society based on universal human flourishing, collectively and individually, achieved largely, but not exclusively, by redistributing economic power to create something approaching genuine democracy.”

    It should be obvious to anyone, that any contrary contention is simply missing the point by a mile.

  • 6
    Captain Planet
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    create affordable housing by fixed rate state mortgages, compelled land release, large-scale urban replanning and the like. Labor should use this and public bond issues to guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000. If it partnered that with extended paid parental leave, mandated flexible working hours, and real action on climate change, it would be in power for ever.

    So, Guy, it is plain that you believe that YOUR pet direct actions arising from isolated social movements, are the true and correct path for the labor party - not those silly and irrelevant direct actions arising from OTHER isolated social movements, which they HAVE been pursuing.

    If only Labor would listen to you, they would be “in power for ever”.

    Never mind the appalling amount of bankruptcies which would immediately ensue if “everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000”, as the resultant house price crash ruins 80% of Australian families financially.

    Never mind that you cannot even build a 2 bedroom flat in any major capital city in Australia for $150,000, let alone buy the land, pay your taxes, put in services, floor and window dressings and paint the place.

    The standard measure of housing price affordability is the median multiple - how many multiples of the average annual income are required to purchase the average dwelling.

    Affordable” housing worldwide is considered to be housing at around 3.5 times the median multiple. In Australia this would equate to about $245,000, and as a long term goal (adjusted for long term price movements of course) this is an admirable target. A target of $150,000 in the short term is impossible, naive, and a downright threat to the nation’s economy.

    Guy, you are like that dinner guest who knows the only correct answer to everything, and never ceases droning on about it to anyone he can corner.

    A philosophy of life that flows to policy is what Labor needs.

    Yes, unless I missread it, that’s exactly what Senator Faulkner said.

    This piece amounts to saying “What he said was crap. Now I’m going to say the same thing, only I will be right, because he got it wrong.”

  • 7
    Jillian Blackall
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Labor should guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000.” Subprime lending anyone?

  • 8
    Rufus Marsh
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    I am going to finish this enjoyable read but must nit-pick on the way because “mendicant Catholic Irish soul” provokes it. My multi-great grandfather’s Irish Catholic soul was no doubt tempted to penitence but couldn’t quite get over the fortunate change of climate that his bad behaviour had blessed him with. But “mendicant” no way.

  • 9
    Stephen Feneley
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    The big problem with Guy is that he’s never been impressed by any contemporary Australian thought unless it’s been uttered by him. Also irritating is Guy’s penchant for theory and his contempt for anyone who doesn’t use theory as the starting point for shaping ideas about how life should be. Oh, I can feel one of his patronising assaults on autodidacts coming on. Faulkner’s list of the issues that drew people to Labor and progressive politics in general would resonate for a lot of people whose views were shaped by a whole range of things - their immediate experience, the books they read, their history and the events occurring in the world around them, and not just by the theory they swallowed hole in the academy.

  • 10
    Frank Campbell
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    Labour must indeed be history if Rundle’s Instant Soup is the elixir of political life: urban planning with a dash of “climate change”:

    using the power of the state to create affordable housing by fixed rate state mortgages, compelled land release, large-scale urban replanning and the like.

    Labor should use this and public bond issues to guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000. If it partnered that with extended paid parental leave, mandated flexible working hours, and real action on climate change, it would be in power for ever.”

    It’s enough to drive anyone to Stockholm.

    Now we know what the future is: urban planning for the lower middle class plus a damn good thrashing for Carbon (note the capital, as befits the Devil).

    Rundle- the weekend policy surfer.

    Faulkner, like Wran, Latham and all the other richly superannuated jetsam, mistake symptoms for causes. We all know that. Even they know that. They can’t dig deeper because they know there’s a void beneath.

    Funny thing is, only the other day Rundle squeakily proclaimed (on Q+A) that the Greens were the answer to the angst.
    But the Greens are the Plymouth Brethren of climate millenarianism…trapped on 10% and reduced to poaching alienated Labour voters. Flogging class-biased low-postcode “climate” revolution doesn’t have the Harold Camping glow it once had… Labour is dying by its own hand, trapped in a maze of idiotic “Carbon” policies which will leave climate unaffected. I’m sure you all know that. But tribal affliation is compulsory.

    It’s time to let go. Only then will there be any point discussing ideology or policy.

    [Moderator: this comment has been edited. Please refrain from personal jibes against commenters and authors of post. Feel free to disagree with them, but insults aren’t necessary.]

  • 11
    Rufus Marsh
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    @ Stephen Feneley

    Oh, I can feel one of his patronising assaults on autodidacts coming on”

    Oh, goodee, can you prompt an all out assault by Guy on Phillip Adams/ Referee Christopher Hitchens. A good warmup-bout would be Hawke v. Keating though RJH’s demotic descent might disqualify him.

  • 12
    Frank Campbell
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Stephen Feneley: “Also irritating is Guy’s penchant for theory and his contempt for anyone who doesn’t use theory as the starting point for shaping ideas about how life should be.”

    You’re taking Rundle at face value. There is no “theory”. That was the point of my post @ 4. 20pm.
    Rundle’s piece today is typical- random gobbets of policy in a broth of deracinated theory.

    But I take your point about Gurundle’s “contempt” for anyone daring to oppose him.

  • 13
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    A young boy’s erotic journey from Curtin to Keating.

  • 14
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    At least Rundle is approaching core business, having swatted away the flies of celebrity and trampled on the rights of cattle. Cate Blanchett is not only a very fine actress but also a powerful spokesperson and activist for the environment. The STC follows a green agenda and this alone gives its directors a capacity to speak very publicly for environmental causes. And I write as someone who came to the Labor Party in the early 70s with a theoretical position informed, shaped, some might say over-determined, by Marxism. There were others like me, although most had joined in the 1960s and Rundle is right to point to an increasing decline in theory.

    When John Faulkner and I, amongst others, established the Macquarie University ALP Club in 1973 we were very clear that it would play a radical role on campus. And this it did. It was not subservient to the dictates of the Party machine but responded positively not only to all those social movements Rundle now is somewhat dismissive of but also to a broader social agenda that sought to create a more egalitarian society. John was never informed in any theoretical sense. He had a rapier-sharp wit and a gut instinct for fairness, justice and ultimately equality. Gut instinct alone, however, cannot help create a party with a coherent platform and vision. One is more likely to succumb, as John did eventually, to the vicissitudes of party pragmatism. And part of the reason for that is that he was not connected closely to the social movements that made the new left what it was. Instead, he was supportive in a distant way. He became much more a party operative rather than someone keen to occupy Rhodesian consulates, stand up for the Palestinians or campaign actively for Aboriginal rights.

    So Rundle is right about the importance of policy but that is why, as an earlier commentator noted, he is wrong about the social movements. It just depends upon what social movements he is talking about. Might I point out to this supporter of refugees over cattle (as if the obverse position really exists) that refugee action does not necessarily produce a good society. Opponents of Palestinian justice, like the Jewish Board of Deputies, are very much for refugees. So, too, the Catholic School lobby whose policy of exclusivity starts at the front door of its schools.

    The problem with the ALP is not just one of focus groups, managerialism gone mad or a lack of party democracy. It is a problem of vision and soul and policy. When, as Minister of Defence, John Faulkner pinned an honorary order of Australia medal on General David Petraeus for his stunning work in Iraq that signalled a deep malaise in the Party and in individuals who once identified with the left. The malaise continues as not a squeak can be heard from the Party (or Faulkner) about the Afghan quagmire.

    I would like to think things might have been different had I loaned my works by Lenin, Luxemburg and Lukacs to John. It is, however, more likely they would have been different had he sat with me in the Rhodesian consulate or campaigned in supermarkets against South African produce or supported the Tent Embassy in Canberra. Studies in America have shown that those activists who fought with the civil rights movement down south were far more likely to stay with the left. Their commitment was forged on the battleground not through musty texts. I must stress, in conclusion, that I am very fond of my musty texts.

  • 15
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Guy Rundle wrote:

    like using the power of the state to create affordable housing by fixed rate state mortgages, compelled land release, large-scale urban replanning and the like.

    Labor should use this and public bond issues to guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000. If it partnered that with extended paid parental leave, mandated flexible working hours, and real action on climate change, it would be in power for ever…

    … because everyone else with half-a-brain would’ve left the bankrupted country full of (literally, due to all the land you’d have to “release”) lazy non-working (that is employed, but working “flexibly”) people that would result?

    I think you’ve got the wrong party mate. The one you want is the Greens. They’ve got all the half-baked fuzzy-wuzzy ideas.

  • 16
    Jillian Blackall
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    The Greens would not be as crazy as that.

  • 17
    Wesley Pryor
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    By way of a glass-tapping change of subject at this fast imploding dinner party, it is just frightening and deeply sad that the mere notion of a $150k place to live is so utterly laughable. In fact, it is so patently bonkers, it may even stick to the perpetual and voluminous lingusitic KY Jelly Rundle blesses us with each midday. ‘This is going to hurt and it’s probably wrong, but this cooling word-gel will help.’

  • 18
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps the 150k house is like the parting of the red sea,it’s more about the notion than the actuality.

  • 19
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    It strikes me that Faulkner is simply continuing the fine tradition of trying to solve the ALP’s political crisis through organisational means. He’s ahead of Tanner in that at least he is much more willing to locate the problem within the political class rather than subcontract it in part to that nefarious MSM, but neither seem willing to come to terms with the fact that the Hawke-Keating years were an unalloyed disaster for the party’s traditional social base inside the organised working class (but an unalloyed victory for the capitalist class). Therein lies Labor’s impasse.

    The trouble with seeing, as Guy seems to, the problem at the level of the ALP having the wrong kind of reformist ideas or values is that it assumes a qualitatively better variant could have won the day. Yet neoliberalism is not just an Australian phenomenon, rather it is one that has infected pretty much every reformist/social democratic/labourist party on the planet. The reason has more to do with the decline in profit and growth rates since the end of the post-WWII boom, and the demand from capital that these be restored by increasing the rate of exploitation. Labor-type parties adapted to this by sometimes going along with or sometimes (as in Australia) spearheading the attempt to fix capitalism by hitting workers.

    Yet at the end of over 30 years of attacks by various means (wage freezes, privatisations, incomes policies, industry restructuring, outright wage cuts, productivity trade-offs, job cuts, market mechanisms, etc, etc), things are clearly not back to the stability and prosperity of the long boom. Neoliberalism may have made a small minority exceedingly rich, but it has not solved the long-term structural problems of capital accumulation in this country, or indeed most other places.

    Gillard seems to see her task as driving more of that magical neoliberal “reform” so beloved of the elites and the commentariat, even though it is politically suicidal. Why is this so? The secret to understanding the ALP’s mission is its commitment to improving ordinary people’s lives, but only to the extent that is possible within the limits set by capital accumulation and the state. The ALP wants to run that state and once it is allowed to do so is forced to play by those rules. Of course that allows for variegated hegemonic styles to be employed (the neoliberalism of the Accord years is very different to the neoliberalism of Rudd or Gillard), but the fundamental class interest being served is the same.

    Unlike some, I think it is way too early to write off the ALP, however, because the party also draws strength from real social movements, and a revival of subaltern resistance can benefit the ALP despite its rotten record — especially if the party is in opposition, where it has much more room for manoeuvre than when it takes direct responsibility for the capitalist state. It is no error that Faulkner looks back to an era of multiple social movements, sometimes synergistic with each other, for ideological sustenance. But the last thing he sees as necessary is to build such movements today; his formula is for rebuilding the party largely in abstraction from them (and perhaps even from the one link to a real movement, however debased, in the form of the union bureaucracy).

    The trouble I see for the Left more generally (inside and outside the ALP) is that it has not settled accounts with the Hawke years, with many believing the scorecard was generally positive for ordinary people. It wasn’t, but until one accepts that, the crisis of laborism remains a mystery to which partial observations like Faulkner’s (or Tanner’s or Cavalier’s) are applied, but without tangible effect.

  • 20
    Jillian Blackall
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    There are very small apartments available in Sydney at that price but the idea that all first home buyers could have a property at that price, presumably a larger property than the 17 square metres that would buy in Sydney, is pretty much impossible.

  • 21
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 8:11 pm | Permalink


  • 22
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

    Captain Planet, things like defending unions can only be means to an end, Mr Rundle is right about that. Sometimes they’re not even that.

    If the ALP had adopted Simon Crean’s attempt a few years ago to break the party free of the ACTU’s stranglehold, unions might have had a reason to evolve and offer something relevant to 21st century society, like their own training institutes, their own accreditation standards, codes of practice and quality assurance programs … things which would be useful enough to employers to be worth paying a premium wage for.

    Instead unions have remained too close to the party and too close to government, and the result is similar to what’s happened to some of the American car manufacturers. They’ve been allowed to ossify into great big rentseeking corporations, still reliving their glory days of the eight hour day and the end of the Vietnam war, still holding an outdated concept of jobs as a sort of private property (ironic considering some of their views on the private property rights of their employers). The high calibre of some of the reforming minds who’ve emerged from the movement, people like Bob Hawke and Bill Kelty, just goes to show how much more the union movement could have become if it grew up and left the protection of the Party.

    But if Guy Rundle is right and John Faulkner has added little to our understanding of the ALP’s chronic decay into chronic introversion, then neither has Guy Rundle. All this meandering through the traces of ideological sub-strata achieves nothing. Neither the ALP nor the Coalition play any great role in politics today other than to engage in a Pepsi vs Coke search for marketing strategies. They both take their votes wherever they can get them, and their searches for “relevance” are no more than quests for a successful marketing strategy. We should review what George Washington said about parties:

    One of the expedients of party to acquire influence within particular districts is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heartburnings which spring from these misrepresentations; they tend to render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.

    However (they) may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

    Philosophically, both the labour movement and the liberal movement sought the same thing: advancement in society and in the standard of living. The crucial difference was that Labor saw politics as the prime mover of social progress, while Liberal saw private enterprise as the prime mover and government as potentially its biggest obstacle. In that sense, Fraser was the last liberal in Australian government (not a lefty as many people think these days), even if he missed his chance to remove the chains. Anyway, these concepts are pretty much irrelevant to the parties of today. The parties themselves have outlived their usefulness.

    Rob Oakeshott may have said the most relevant thing in modern Australian politics when he spoke of the “new paradigm”. Nerdy as it may sound, it really harkens back to an old paradigm, a vision of the cut and thrust of ideas taking place right there in the halls of public deliberation, rather than being generated in some back-room marketing office and then bloc-voted in by the dominant party as a fait accompli.

    In 2013 what we will need is a lot of independent Senators. That’s the best suggestion I can come up with. Whatever your preference for government, Labor, Coalition, or even Greens, let’s throw the parties out of the Senate and fill at least one house with people who are authorized to think for themselves.

  • 23
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Way too little, too late.
    For all of Faulkner’s ability and capacity to dissect and cut through the spin and BS that passes for current political ideas/debates/commentary (policies? -what policies!?) these days, ultimately actions always speak louder than words.

    What did the most brilliant, tenacious, clear thinking mind still left in the ALP DO when he was in a position that could have DONE something, anything? He resigned from the front bench. Then, he made a report.

    Another report to add to the piles of ignored reports. A report with Bracks and Carr, that was totally ignored by the self-deluded power-obsessed maniacs controlling the ALP machine. As if those tools would listen to a reasoned argument!

    A report that had to be leaked to the press so that anyone who actually cared enough could, in fact, read it.

    Reminds me of Team America’s satire of Hanx Blix… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSXNJMP8ir4
    Faulkner was lucky not to ended up being fed to the sharks! But as we’ve seen this week, some have tried.

    And now, Faulkner says the same… in a speech. Meh.
    Criticise Rundle’s meandering all you want, but his final point about too much noise is correct.

  • 24
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    For once-with Crikey’s permission-I am going to re-print my comment, on the same subject, after reading Bernard Keane’s excellent article.

    ”If this is the end game, and I’ve no reason to doubt you, the ALP will have made forfeit the entire nation. For it has been under a Labor government that nearly all of our recent gains have been made. (Five of the Prime Ministers who had real vision for our country, are Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, John Curtin and Ben Chifley: the leader of the Liberal Party, Tony Abbott, daily struts his destructive stuff, pulling no punches, and using the media to destroy our Prime Minister. Does he have a philosophy, an idea for bettering this country? Not a bit of it. Thus does he illustrate the paralysing instincts of the conservative right wing; laughingly referred to-by themselves-as The Liberal Party. Indeed, it seems as if the Liberals entire rationale is to keep the ALP out of power).

    One wouldn’t wish to be rude BUT, admirable as their aims are made out to be, does anyone envision the Greens producing an innovative and charismatic leader? In their own way they are just as conservative as the Liberal Party. One lot, the Greens, wants socialism for the environment, the Liberals want socialism for the rich, and the good old NCP already has socialism for the farmers. With three Parties out of the running, the sole hope for the future, the Labor Party, is busy eviscerating itself. More importantly it is destroying the Nation.

  • 25
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    PS: Guy, “”Labor should use this and public bond issues to guarantee everyone can get a first home, close to good facilities in any major city for $150,000.”“

    Two points, A) Where would you construct these $150,000 homes? Melbourne is relentlessly spreading towards Sydney, the South Australian border, and Bass Strait.
    Unless you are considering bombing all the existing housing, where are you thinking of putting these slums?

    B) It might even be cheaper than subsiding a mountain of cheerless chook cages-it would certainly be more effective- to spend the money on infrastructure.

  • 26
    Peter Ormonde
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    This certainly was “the speech of Faulkner’s life” and he has made it often.

    Labor - as a party of social reform - has an identity crisis, and it is an age-old argument: whether to reflect social and political attitudes (from polls, focus groups and winning elections) or to seek to change those views and interests (and risk periods in the political wilderness of opposition).

    I’ve never found myself agreeing with Tony Benn before and I’m not sure I do now.

    This contradiction has been running ever since reformist policies and parties were operating, but it is now happening on very different terrain… dominated by pollsters, tweets, three second grabs and a fractured notion of class and class interests. Never have people been more willing to switch sides from ballot to ballot. The aim - the exclusive aim - of any politician is to win and hold government. Full stop. So they become followers of polls and focus groups and hawk their opinions and principles for possible votes.

    As the recent NSW polls showed, even Labor’s “core support base” will walk away if Labor in government is seen to stand for nothing other than a mob of career MPs just staying there. They will not come back quickly in my view.

    To be frank, I don’t think there is anything NSW Labor can - or more particularly, will - do to fix this state of affairs. Certainly not its current assemblage of parliamentary incumbents, or the unions (left and right) or anyone else who sees some advantage (personal) in keeping this rotten system going.

    NSW Labor has lost any claim to legitimacy for a generation, I suspect. They really should give the name back, this mob, this “unrepresentative swill”. How sad.

  • 27
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    Captain Planet
    Posted Friday, 10 June 2011 at 3:04 pm

    Totally agree.


    Venise Alstergren
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Totally agree.

    What’s happening to me?

    Maybe the apocalypse is really coming after all.

  • 28
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    No comment.

  • 29
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 6:10 pm | Permalink

    come on, have a chuckle ;)

  • 30
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

    I actually also almost totally agreed with you next post

  • 31
    Posted Saturday, 11 June 2011 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    Um…why? You accused me of every crime in the book re the rural brigade. Still, I don’t like to harbour grudges. :twisted: :)

  • 32
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    ok see you at the city v country origin. I’ll be the one with the big hat

    Back on topic. The labor party are really not alone in focus group and poll driven politics. The thing is that the coalition’s supporter base happens to form much of the opinion in those groups and polls, so for them it’s easy. Labor voters on the other are traditionally more interested in the traditional labor values. So labor is kind of screwed because they are left with 2 choices, move back to the left and lose some middle ground in the hope of gaining ground back from the greens, who really only enjoy current levels of support thanks to the disillusioned left of labor, or stay in the middle just left and sometimes sitting on the shoulders of the coalition and hope that they cane win votes away from coalition voters who are having their consciences tested by the current leadership.

  • 33
    Jillian Blackall
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    I always used to vote for the Liberals but I think at the next federal election, I may vote for the Greens. The current leadership is a disgrace.

  • 34
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    NO PARTY PREF: I apologise in advance for my next comment:-

    And I’ll be the one kicking the goals!

    Back on topic.

    I tend to think these ‘traditional values’ were the values of an older generation, and that, for want of a better analogy, forms the bottom jaw on the trap. The top jaw of the trap is the fault of the Opposition. No government can survive a vile and morally corrupt opposition party. The ideas sparked by the friction between the two frequently produced interesting results-for the Labor Party. The Liberals just sit there like obtuse lumps of wood. Waiting, always waiting for the electorate to get tired of Labor. For how else would the Liberals get in to power?

    Without the energy sparked off by the friction I mentioned, and combined with Labor’s one-eyed observation of its own navel; a nasty chasm has appeared, one into which Labor blithely sailed. Perceiving the electorate to be pissed off the Labor Party smartly turned right to counter the prevailing wind. Also coming from the right.

    Now, we are stuck with two right-wing parties engaged in puerile semantics and the Greens who are scurrying to fill the vacuum left by Labor.

  • 35
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink


    That interests me. Do you choose the greens because you have decided that you know believe in a far left ideology or because of environmental reasons.

    Protest vote?


    The greens will never fill the void left by labor because they’re too far left and too idealistic and will never appeal to the trade union base of labor voters because basically, they still want to have jobs and the greens will happily close an industry down altogether for their idealism.

  • 36
    Jillian Blackall
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink


    I have not gone to the far left. My motivation is that the greens take climate change seriously and the Liberals are not taking it seriously at this stage.

  • 37
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink


    That’s what I thought. There was a discussion some time back when Free Country postulated that the greens current support is fleeting because peoples motivations for voting for them often extends only as far as enacting change in climate policy and not because people are adopting a far left ideology. Now, you are only one person but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s right.

  • 38
    Jillian Blackall
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know whether I will go back to the Liberal Party any time soon though. I vote for the Sex Party when they are on the ballot paper, other than that I vote for whichever party seems the best.

  • 39
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    NO PARTY PREF: The sub-text in my comment was saying precisely that.

  • 40
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    JILLIAN: Many is the time I’ve voted for the Sex Party-especially when the Labor Party refuse to lob in a candidate because Higgins is such a blue-ribbon seat. At least the Sex Party know what they want. Not once, in my entire voting life have I ever had the chance to elect the party of my choice. But I still keep voting. I’m mad.

  • 41
    Jillian Blackall
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    Venise, I’m in Wentworth, which I guess is similar to Higgins. I used to be very much a Turnbullite but Malcolm hasn’t done much to inspire confidence recently.

  • 42
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 5:16 pm | Permalink

    So, long story short, the people in charge of the labor party better start listening to people like Faulker and Tanner before its too late. Personally I think they need to take the risk the move the f left. There has to be balance and that wont be found with the greens.

  • 43
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    JILLIAN: The problem with Malcolm Turnbull is his ambition. Yes he has the brains. However, it’s almost as if he’d had the bad luck to join the wrong party. He had been a multiple achiever yet his ambition hadn’t been truly exercised. At some stage in his life he might have wondered which party to join, and the answer would have been whichever party held out the best chance of him becoming the leader.

    He probably had a few moral principles to begin with, plus some ideas for the betterment of his country. However, greed impelled him to join the Liberals, and he nearly got it right, but with his arrogance and lies he blew it. Now he festers with sores like an old dog. If he had followed his instincts for a better Oz and joined the Labor party he would have been Prime Minister by now. I’ll bet he thinks of this every night when he turns off the light.

    I SUPPOSE Wentworth and Higgins are similar. But Peter Costello didn’t know what a real fight was until little Johnny Howard refused to pass on his mantle to him. Thus are the born to rule mob, also born to destroy.

  • 44
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 7:15 pm | Permalink


    But I still keep voting. I’m mad.”

    I didn’t last time.

    what has happened in the last election is hopefully what was needed to get the major parties to sit up and listen. Just as when one nation won a heap of seats in Queensland, the major parties teamed up mad made sure it didn’t happen again. The last thing that either labor or the coalition want is another hung parliament with a third party puppeteering the minority party in power.

    No matter what you opinion is of the carbon tax, its fairly clear that had either labor or the coalition won in their own right, it wouldn’t be on the table given that they both went to the election saying it wouldn’t happen. Gillard, through no real fault of her own was forced to break that promise because she knew she would end up with a hostile senate otherwise.

  • 45
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 10:24 pm | Permalink

    No, that is the second last thing the Coalition wants. The last thing they want is an educated and well informed electorate which would never vote for them in a fit.

    Gillard was right to break that promise. She will be marked in the history books as the person who broke the nexus and forced Australian Industry-and the rurals-to become competitive on world markets dominated by the evidence that man is fouling his own nest with his filthy fossil fuels: countries who, unlike Australia, already have Carbon Pricing fixed in place.

    I’m sure you are aware that QANTAS is having a hissy fit because France has already let them know that their skies will be off limits to an Oz company which doesn’t have to pay a carbon tax. In other words the French will hit QANTAS with their own carbon tax. The mentally constipated out there scream this is all a typical example of the deviousness of French thinking. They are wrong. It shows the lack of mental depth of the Oz electorate who think the whole thing is a game.
    Lead, of course, by their very own court jester, Tony Rabbott.

  • 46
    O. Puhleez
    Posted Sunday, 12 June 2011 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

    Rufus Marsh (Friday, 10 June 2011 at 2:34 pm): “Vere Gordon Childe writing about Queensland in 1911 in ‘How Labor Governs’?????”

    Actually, Childe is relevant to today, because the problem Guy Rundle writes about here is largely the same one Childe wrote about then. The ALP membership at large would organise and work to get the party’s candidates elected against historically well-resourced and quite determined conservative opponents. Then post-electoral battles had to be fought between the membership and the politicians when in government to get the policies as determined by the party’s own internal democracy put into effect.

    The politicians eventually won that battle. It did not take all that much skill, and nothing you could call principle was involved. The sociologist Dean Jaensch wrote a fine book about it entitled ‘The Hawke-Keating Hijack’. Under the succession of leaders after Whitlam there began the leaching process of the party membership, and particularly under Keating the party became Tweedledee to the Liberals’ Tweedledum; a Laborial melange and as internally lifeless as a discarded oyster shell.

    All Faulkner described was the terminal condition. Rudd and Gillard have shown how erratic ALP leaders can be once cut loose from the control and influence of the people who put them into parliament in the first place.

    The ALP is now on course for a pretty massive defeat at the next federal election, and the country for a couple of terms of government led by Abbott, to take us to 2018. By that time God only knows how many climate tipping points may have been crossed, and how wide the wealth divide would have become in Australia.

  • 47
    Posted Monday, 13 June 2011 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Well Venise although I agree with many of your points, I am not that one eyed about politics (as my name suggests) The Labor, Liberal and National parties are as bad as each other and even the so called “noble greens” are not above half truths and rubbery figures when it suits them.

    I still don’t understand why you hate “the rurals” so much. I think it’s a bit unfair to show such general disdain for people that are just trying to get by like everyone else, just outside the city.

    People in Australia have different voting intentions, and that doesn’t make them good or evil, smart or stupid based on that choice, just different points of view. If we were all a little more open minded, we would be a lot better off.

    Respectfully speaking that is.

  • 48
    Rufus Marsh
    Posted Monday, 13 June 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    To Dr_Tad (whose comment seems to have been omitted on this page though posted as an email - not the only one I think) and others who yearn for the old dispensation of the Labor Party seeking to look after a or the working class I invite attention to radical changes which have already occurred and suggest problems with equating the aims of his Labor Party to anything like justice.

    Now that the prosperity of the vast majority of us is supported by the capitalistic success of a very small fraction of the economy, mostly based on our minerals and our primary production (again) there is a tendency in Australia to follow the disastrous path of countries like Greece by allowing the public sector to grow so that ever more people, even if not formally employed by Crown or quango but as part e.g. of public private partnerships, are looking to the state for their incomes. In America already, once thriving states like California have just about succumbed, financially, to “producer capture” by public sector unions (aided by voluntary voting when they have the best chance of getting out the vote). Set aside a number of great servants of the public who love their jobs and don’t demand to be overrewarded, the public sector is ideal for the lazy middle class who, organised and with enough votes, can look after themselves very nicely through something like the modern Labor Party. The old union founded Labor Party wasn’t a party for the poor or under class but now it is quite apparent that the Labor Party is no more concerned with the bottom of the socio-economic heap than the conservatives. Old age pensioners are equally cosseted by both major parties but the unemployed and other outsiders are not part of the Labor Party’s primary constituency either in policy or by aim.

    You may not like freewheeling capitalism which has brought China close to wealth, produced a huge Indian middle class and, in the shape of Australia’s “neo-liberal” renaissance since 1982, made Australians much better off, but you won’t like it if the Labor Party follows the logical path of stitching up the votes of all the dependants on other taxpayers’ largesse.

    Robert Michels “Iron Law of Oligarchy” (see his “Political Parties” first published 1911) makes it convincingly clear that the natural inequality of man will manifest itself in the tough, able and ambitious getting together to try and run any system which includes the descendants of those individuals who split up about 70,000 years ago and started exploring the wider world beyone Africa. That’s why the Adam Smith version has so much to be said for it. Who is more useful, the person who makes a fortune by inventing a better mousetrap or the one with the skills to organise for him/her and mates to be voted into comfort and status for life?

  • 49
    Posted Monday, 13 June 2011 at 8:34 pm | Permalink

    NO PARTY PREF: I don’t hate the rurals as individuals, not at all. It’s just collectively they come across as negative, conservative clods. I’m sure you remember the scenes of them burning the MDB report. They s^h^it in their nests then scream for the government of the day to fix it.

    A thing of far greater importance which concerns me is the current state of politics:-

    It is nice sitting around criticising existing political parties for deeds done in the past. But where are the pollies that realise the world is changing at a speed no other party has ever experienced. Turn on Parliament and watch an Australian version of Shakespeare, with the acting every bit up to standard. We’ve read the play and seen it all before. And, as the rest of the world speeds up with the force of a stone out of a slingshot our MPs are locked into some weird sort of shadow play.

    I never thought I’d say this, but temporarily I agree with Far Country. Let’s get rid of political parties altogether, govern by council, and change the Prime Minister/President every three years. It’s how Brasil does it, and it works for them.

  • 50
    Posted Tuesday, 14 June 2011 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    re the burning of the mdb report. You’ll most likely find that that was the irrigators along the river system. The outlying dryland farmers and graziers generally support reductions in irrigations becasue farmers know that at the heart of their business is the health of the land. My wife’s uncle and aunty live on the Birrie / Culgoa river in western NSW (the deep west) and routinely complain about irrigators ruining the rivers.