The prime minister’s orchestrated slapdown in yesterday’s Caucus meeting of Senator Doug Cameron and other MPs who fail to keep their views sufficiently in-house reflects one of the very syndromes which John Faulkner complained about last week: the Labor leadership’s conviction that the sole role of MPs outside Caucus is to stick to the government’s official talking points and never stray into actual debate or discussion.

It was also, indirectly, an attack on Faulkner himself. After all, Faulkner had last week done exactly what Cameron had done — offer his views on Labor’s problems in a public forum.

Inconveniently, however, no sooner had the prime ministerial rebuke been uttered and dissected by the media than NSW Labor’s Sam Dastyari had an op-ed piece on the Faulkner-Bracks-Carr reforms, backing them.

All of this has emerged from the 2010 election, widely regarded as the nadir of federal politics for a generation and a particular demonstration of all that is wrong with modern Labor. Peter Reith, who is driving similar “centrifugal” reforms within the Liberal Party, is right to observe that while the reforms are similar, Labor is in a much worse state than the Liberals, even if the conservative side of politics boasts an even older party membership.

The media naturally has an inbuilt bias on such matters — we prefer politicians to speak out, to argue, to quarrel with their own colleagues, and report it with delight. But Labor will not be served by a “business as usual” approach on party reform or an insistence that MPs should all sing from the same song-sheet on every issue. A more vocal, active Caucus is not going to do this government any more harm than it is doing to itself anyway, and might not merely improve policy but demonstrate to voters that members across the party actually believe in something more than staying in power.

Peter Fray

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