“We cannot shy away from the so-called ‘culture wars’ out of fear of
being wedged by right-wing caricatures of Labor values”, Julia Gillard told a NSW Fabian Society forum last night.

Sorry, Julia, but as Neville Wran once said: “If the bastards wanted
spirituality, they’d join the f*cking Hare Krishnas!” He had a good
record of success – and even knew when to leave the stage. Bruce Hawker
had it right in the Oz on Monday commenting on the Tasmanian and South Australian election results:

Families are under too much personal financial pressure to
risk change unless it comes with a virtual guarantee that the
alternative government will not exacerbate their problems.

The state premiers know this, so they constantly make virtues of their
longevity, experience and fiscal rectitude. Their hands are scarred,
callused and safe and the electorate finds this comforting.

The obvious problem for the federal Opposition is that they can’t point to these qualities…

It was not surprising to see Rann use the States’ High Court challenge
to the federal workplace laws as a strong reason to vote Labor in the
South Australian elections.

He knows, like the other state and territory leaders, just how worrying
these changes are to Australian families when they pause in their busy
lives to reflect on their implications.

Federal Labor would do well to keep close tabs on what their state colleagues are doing and saying.

Times are tough. And the Government has some delicate balancing to do, as Louise Dodson observed in Saturday’s SMH:

There are plenty of areas where the Howard Government is
vulnerable. Yet many of these issues have not troubled the Government
as they may once have done, partly because during its 10 years in
office the Government has carefully finetuned its policies to the needs
of contemporary Australian families.

Hence welfare payments to support children have been extended from
low-income to middle- and in some cases even high-income families.

Child care is more subsidised than ever and Medicare has been extended.

Lattes are discretional spending. Think Nescafe. Better still, think
International Roast. The Government is undertaking a delicate balancing
act – but even sure hands get shaky as they age.

And draw some comfort from Tim Colebatch’s comments
from a fortnight ago: “Some of the frustration and ridicule Labor is
suffering is misplaced. It has lost three elections because economic
times have been good, and because the resources in the hands of
governments grossly outweigh those of oppositions.”

Saying that helps fix one perception problem – that it’s entirely Labor’s own fault that it’s in opposition.

Peter Fray

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