Lindsay Tanner’s critique of Labor has much to recommend it, but the week saw some interesting twists on one of his themes.
While Lindsay Tanner and his publisher would be delighted with the fiery reception his barbs aimed at Labor and the deposers of Kevin Rudd received, and Tanner was altogether more light on with the solutions than with the problems, there are still some stubborn elements at the core of Tanner’s analysis that won’t go away.
Much of the “Labor has lost its way” critique (I’m putting my own hand up for blame on this) has been cast in pejorative terms, as a fault of Labor powerbrokers who have centralised control of — and demonised — genuine policy debate in the party while broader social trends hollowed it out.
Tanner’s critique goes beyond the apparatchikisation of Labor, although it’s not especially novel. Many of the sentiments have been circulating on the margins of the party and within it for a while: Labor is a victim of its historical success in establishing a basic socio-economic framework of fairness in the Australian economy. “You can only establish Medicare once, you can only do occupational super once,” he said on The Drum last night. Once Labor has succeeded in creating an Australia in which most working people have a strong chance at attaining affluence, where to for the party of the workers?
At the same time, Tanner argues, Labor has also struggled with the externally-imposed challenges of globalisation, most obviously in relation to asylum seekers. Although, interestingly, it is no longer Labor that struggles with the issues of foreign investment — that is now the cross to bear of anyone who leads the Coalition and has to deal with internationalist, business-focused Liberals and the xenophobic, populist, economic troglodytes of the Nationals.
But as if to (kind of weirdly) counterpoint Tanner’s argument about globalisation, Julia Gillard spent the week pitching Australia’s case for a UN Security Council spot (against those world powers Luxembourg and Finland — haven’t we had some ding-dong battles with them over the years, as sports commentators might observe). The Coalition sniped from the sidelines, unwilling to come out fully against a goal the Howard government had pursued, but anxious nonetheless to exploit the obvious question many voters would be asking about what a Security Council spot had to do with their travel time to work or their electricity bills.
As the world’s 12th largest economy, and one of the few developed countries currently growing amidst a global slump, it’s appropriate that we shed the little Aussie battler self-image and start believing we have something of value to offer internationally. Indeed, that might have made a good line for Labor, although the party isn’t really in the business these days of sending out good lines.
Gillard wasn’t the only Australian pitching their case at the UN. Julian Assange spoke at an event hosted by the Ecuadorian mission, one advertised by various supporters as “an address to the UN” or even “an address to the UN General Assembly”. But overstatement is a congenital problem for WikiLeaks; in his speech, which otherwise correctly attacked Barack Obama for trying to take credit for the Arab Spring, Assange twice appeared to try to take credit for the Arab Spring for WikiLeaks via the revelations contained in the diplomatic cables.
It’s the sort of overstep that never does Assange’s cause any good, providing easy opportunities for his critics who normally have to make shit up about him.
Nonetheless, Assange’s speech was a reminder that, however much it tries to blithely wriggle out of responsibility, the Australian government can’t escape the perception that it has abandoned one of its own citizens as part of the price of its vassal state relationship with Washington.
Politics will return somewhat to normal next week, before Parliament resumes — briefly — the following week. That will be freighted with more significance than before given the Commonwealth has cut Peter Slipper free in the James Ashby case and, according to media reports this morning, settled with the staffer for $50,000 and an agreement about training regarding s-xual harassment in MPs’ offices. The latter, incidentally, is a valuable thing, and should be extended to all forms of bullying and harassment, of which there is plenty in MPs’ offices across the nation.
But the effect is to leave Peter Slipper, who has hitherto fought a joint battle against Ashby with the Commonwealth, to defend the case by himself. Slipper doesn’t really have the option of settling with his accuser, not if he wants to keep to keep the Speakership through until August next year; it would be tremendously difficult for him to maintain the position unless the claims made by Ashby fail in court. Then again, Slipper steadfastly denies the claims, and may have no interest whatsoever in settling.
Of course, he might figure than with less than a year til an election in which he’ll lose his seat, bailing out now isn’t that bad an option.