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Jul 17, 2012

Rundle: Labor's genius war ... cunning plan or just madness?

A week in and the Labor Party’s genius war against the Greens has gone exactly as could be predicted, i.e. it’s a total shambles and something of an own goal.


A week in and the Labor Party’s genius war against the Greens has gone exactly as could be predicted — that is, it’s a total shambles and something of an own goal.

No sooner had the attack been launched last week by Sam Dastyari — “the Greens are our enemies” — and Paul Howes — “the Greens are an enemy of democracy” — with a pile on from others such as Greg Combet — “the Greens don’t share our values”.

So far, so good, but as your correspondent pointed out last week, it was a confected enemy, not a real one. However much they wanted to define the Greens as a total enemy, the shared underlying values of progressive parties would not allow such a definition to be totalised. Sooner or later someone had to crack.

Bob Carr was first. Though he said that Greens policies on security and the economy “weren’t in the national interest”, he nevertheless remarked that Labor could work with the Greens on environmental and social policies.

Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he, having enacted a pretty Green national parks policy as premier, and being identified with the bushwalking cult usually identified by the Right as the hallmark of the “greenshirts”.

By the weekend it was getting ridiculous. Tony Maher, president of the CFMEU, came out to say that he agreed with Howes, and Labor must “turn on the Greens”. Given that the Greens had been the only party to call for the complete abolition of the Howard government’s draconian “special powers” applied to building workers, Maher’s members, that is pretty rich.

It’s especially so when the Gillard government has preserved some of those powers, making CFMEU and other site workers second-class citizens in their own country. What a great way to stand up for your members.

There was a bit of sooking as well. Jane Garrett, state MP for Brunswick, appeared to be complaining that the Greens were running hard against Labor, in seats they had a chance of winning. The horror. They “accepted Liberal preferences”. The horror. Were they serious about replacing Labor they would run in every seat — which, erm, they do.

By then, a note of sanity. Fremantle MP Melissa Parke — who like all three WA Labor MPs, relied on Green preferences to get across the line — labelled the attack a bout of “mutually assured destruction”, which was only going to help Tony Abbott.

By the weekend’s NSW conference, the united front had fallen apart. John Faulkner told Paul Howes to “put a sock in it”, and that he’d fought more Greens than Howes had, while Doug Cameron said that “[the ALP] should not attack any party that takes progressive positions”, noting that the Greens had pretty much taken up the AMWU’s position on the IMF and the WTO word-for-word.

The result, as Faulkner said, was the spectacle of a party spending days debating a motion on preferences, “which is why the ALP is ceasing to be the preference of most Australians”.

It was also the spectacle of a party demonstrating that it had not the slightest capacity to sort out its own philosophy and values, save by defining itself against another party whose philosophy and aims are abundantly clear.

Whatever short-term gains the fatwa against the Greens may achieve in the Melbourne state byelection and beyond, the more substantial result is to further divide the ALP, both in fact, and in the eye of the electorate. The lack of skill involved in this is stunning.

At the heart of the ALP’s stuff-up is a refusal or an inability to differentiate between philosophy, values, politics and policy. The Labor Right’s attack on the Greens have been couched in terms of “values”, but they’re mostly attacks on politics — on the prioritising of one value over another.

Labor, for example, has suddenly discovered that “jobs” are a value – one that the Greens are allegedly willing to sacrifice on the altar of sustainability. That’s not true, but in any case Labor, in its Hawke-Keating bloom, was more than happy to sacrifice “jobs” to the larger purpose of restructuring the economy.

But at that point, Labor did have a genuine philosophy and value system it was putting in place — the modernisation of the economy, in such a way that would allegedly open up greater opportunity and equality.

Labor had an idea of what it wanted to do, and it was willing to alter the particular cherished policies such as full employment in pursuit of the general aim, in fulfilment of its values.

It is that utter inability to sort out the particular and the general that has led Labor into its current comical predicament. The idea that it can give itself an identity by defining itself against a party whose identity is crystal clear, is pure madness.

The attacks merely reveal that disparity, to Labor’s disadvantage. Furthermore, there is an impasse ahead — when Labor has to bite the bullet, and actually ask its followers to put the Lib/Nat coalition ahead of the Greens.

They will have to sell the idea that Scott Morrison, George Brandis and Cory Bernardi are somehow less of an enemy of the labour movement than a party that is further to the left on labour rights than Labor.

Perhaps it is all part of a cunning plan, in the knowledge that the preference swaps won’t greatly change. Or maybe the likes of Howes — whose guests at his glittering 30th birthday included such luminaries as Janet Albrechtsen and Michael Kroger — have lost the ability to tell who their real enemies are.


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36 thoughts on “Rundle: Labor’s genius war … cunning plan or just madness?

  1. Nudiefish

    The last paragraph pretty much sums up the whole pitiful mess beautifully.

  2. paddy

    Fine work with the scalpel today GR.

  3. Gavin Moodie

    I may not remember it very well, but I thought the Coalition governed with the support of the DLP which it tolerated rather than attacked. Why can’t Labor adopt a similar attitude to the Greens?

  4. jeff holland

    Yes Baldrick, I have a ‘cunning plan’.

    Perhaps Rowan Atkinson should do another series of Blackadder set in the Labor halls of power. Plenty of easy comedic material.

  5. Jan Forrester

    Nice summary GR. Yep, ALP bruvvers have truly convinced me this week that they will bury Julie as unceremoniously as possible, the gulf between ALP left and right will get bigger – both would rather talk to aliens than pragmatically consolidate, they will continue to yelp like helpless dogs against the leader rather than doing the work in their electorates. Even the thoughtful Combet weighed in. This is happening whilst the Libs have internal problems but the ALP’s genius is to push their own destruction into the spotlight. If you are going to bury the steely Julia then forget Rudd, give the next generation a chance and in that area Bowen, Combet and Plibersek get my gong. Its not about the ALP in the end, its about democracy in Oz.
    I really feel for John Faulkner, implacable honesty in the face of self-serving warlord politics. He was what my father called real in the ALP. And I miss Paul Keating and what he stood for more than ever. The next election is really over – this week.

  6. pritu

    Well put. I once was a card-carrying ALP member. The more I hear from the NSW Right the less I want to have anything to do with that party. Any progressive thinking remaining in the ALP must surely be wondering what’s happened to their party. Why don’t they just pack up and join the Coalition. We’d then have the chance to form another real left party. Perhaps the Greens will be that party.

  7. DF

    Politics certainly brings together some interesting, ahem, bedfellows. Last I heard, Mr Combet and Ms Parke were each other’s current main squeeze, yet he is needlessly weighing in against her (other) preferences. As with Chris Uhlmann and Gai Brodtmann, I suppose we can guess who sleeps on which side of the bed.

    In the interests of transparency, the NSW ALP should be renamed “Jack Lang TAFE” since its primary function appears to be providing apprenticeships in “Career Self-Interest 101” for insatiably ambitious young mediocrities with unwarranted delusions of adequacy about their career prospects?

  8. Nightingale John

    Has anyone else noticed the likeness that Mr Dastiari has to Mr Bean? Any othe likenesses?

  9. JamesH

    The last paragraph assumes that Paul Howes is not setting himself up for a comfortable transition from left to right later in life, aka the Windschuttle Shuffle.

    PS DF: Jack Lang would have tossed the current lot off Sydney Harbour Bridge (which he was responsible for building). Lang stood up against the austerity-pushing toe-cutters of his day in a way that it seems labor is incapable of now.

  10. Tom Greenwell

    Something that hasn’t been remarked on a great deal is the way the ALP-Greens spat has coincided with the advent of a carbon price. It’s sad in a number of ways. 1) The oxygen has been completely sucked out of any last-ditch attempts to effectively articulate the case for a carbon price. 2) When ALP right apparatchiks attack the Greens, their values and their supposed antipathy to jobs, the first thing anyone slightly inclined to listen to them is going to think of is… the carbon price. So, worse than sucking the oxygen out of an attempt to regain support for action against climate change, the ALP right has effectively advanced the opposite position. 3) The Labor Government has, despite itself, introduced a carbon price! This having been done, fluoro-collar voters who don’t like Labor’s proximity to the Greens are hardly going to be placated by a bit of “we really hate the Greens” rhetoric. Message to the geniuses: it’s really hard to be won over by a party disowning itself.

  11. DF


    Fair call – I wasn’t being derogatory about Lang. My intention was to contrast the way all that he stood for has been tossed off the Bridge, by the current mob’s attempts at glory by association when in fact it is their association with the party that is gutting it. Something like the US policy in Vietnam of destroying villages in order to save them.

  12. Gratton Wilson

    The ALP should not take the Greens for granted, puting them last gets them idiots like Steve Fielding. They know that Greens have principles and will vote on them but people like Family First are loose cannons.

  13. DF

    I wonder if any of this mess can be attributed to a leader who started out on the left and moved so far to the right that she blocks same-sex marriage, a leader who counselled her predecessor to ditch an ETS policy she then agreed to pursue to reach an arrangement with a natural political ally now being eschewed by those she purports to lead.
    Seems to me that for most politicians the most recent contact they had with a principal was at high school, the distinction with principles having never been learned.

  14. Edward James

    @ PRITU JAMESH Labor has become so politically inbred all that remains is for voters to do what Labor refuses to do for itself. Get rid of the Labor parties internal problems by putting labor and any Labor supporters last on the ballot paper ! Bring on the NSW local elections on the 8 of September!

  15. CML

    You are all wrong about the Labor party. I have supported them for
    over 50 years, but never as a member. At present, I agree with very
    little the ALP is doing, but it is only the conservatives amongst us who
    actually want to get rid of the Labor party.
    I would like to see some of the suggestions of John Faulkner and others
    introduced, particularly those which give some voting rights to
    members. If/when that happens, I would be happy to join the Labor
    party and begin the work of changing the organisation from within.
    The Greens will never be a large majority party – a party who forms
    government – in my lifetime (I admit that is probably not a long time!)
    They certainly need to become more pragmatic and learn to compromise.
    And to drop some of their more loopy ideas! Maybe that will happen
    automatically over time – you know, when some of their present
    parliamentarians grow-up – or they choose better candidates in the
    future. Dogmatism for its own sake is just plain silly, and achieves nothing.
    In fact, worse than nothing. I blame the Greens for what will be a disaster
    at the next election, when we will all have the rAbbott and his cohorts to
    suffer. Work Choices Mark 2, anyone!

  16. drovers cat

    Anything Paul Howes says or does is suss, so your last par is no
    surprise. I had the mispleasure of reading his book in which he
    recycles as novel why someone’s nicknamed Dog a la Kennett-Costello
    from 20 years earlier. What a dill – he’s the whole package on what’s
    wrong with the ALP on two legs.
    I get closer to the Greens each day …

  17. Paul

    I agree with the sentiments above.
    I stopped voting for the Greens because of the CPRS, after 20 years and lots of donations.Then they elected Milne as leader, I believe she sees almost no difference between Labor and the Libs, because both hold significant different beliefs from her. Then came the refugee vote and they really lost me.
    A week later and the wackers from the ALP right showed they are as divorced from reality as the most extreme Greens. I simply couldn’t believe so called successful people can express opinions without any intervention from basic mental activity, they made Palmer and Joyce’s contributions to the national dialogue look intelligent.
    The real problem though is not the fruitcakes who spoke up but that Gillard chose not to smash them over the head with a big piece of steel.
    Which, sadly, leaves me nowhere to go politically.
    Both the Greens and many in Labor appear to think that Abbott would be a better PM than Gillard and are working to give him a majority in both houses.
    Bottom line is we get the politicians we deserve, and on that basis what a hole Oz is at present.

  18. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    CML, specify a Green loopy idea. Just one.

  19. CML

    @ HCM – You want the biggest one? They are ALWAYS right!
    Ben Chifley used to say something like: Listen to the other man’s point
    of view – you may be 95% right, but he may have the other 5%.
    To not accept that principle is just plain LOOPY!!!

  20. Andybob

    A plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel….

  21. Gavin Moodie

    Hi Hugh

    I nominate the Greens’ longstanding policy to abolish HECS and return to not charging students fees for attending higher education. I don’t know whether this meets the technical criterion for loopiness, but I suggest it is poor equity policy, poor finance policy and unrealistic politics. I have raised this with the party and its representatives more than once, but have failed to convince my various interlocutors.

  22. michael r james

    Gavin Moodie at 7.23 pm

    You can certainly argue about educational funding systems but I do not accept that it is fair to call it loopy. Quite a few OECD countries run essentially free education up to basic university graduation, eg. France. So, merit is the only limit to admittance and in fact poorer families will receive grants to aid the student if admitted. And admission to the grand ecoles is entirely on merit (which is not to say family background does not have an effect since economic social level will influence family’s push on their children and also ability to fund private tuition to help get in). I am not going to argue that France’s is the greatest educational system but no one can argue that France is not an extremely successful sophisticated diverse economy. (It is acknowledged that the standard state universities leave a fair bit to be desired and that it at least is limited by funding which could be partly addressed by fees/student loans.)

    So, bottom line, no. Please nominate another candidate for loopiness.

  23. michael r james

    Groan, moderated: second attempt: (sorry for reduced legibility)

    Gavin Moodie at 7.23 pm

    You can certai nly argue about educati onal fundi ng systems but I do not accept that it is fair to call it loopy. Qui te a few OECD countri es run essenti ally free educati on up to basic uni versi ty graduati on, eg. France. So, meri t is the only li mi t to admi ttance and in fact poorer fami li es wi ll recei ve grants to aid the student i admi tted. And admi ssi on to the grand ecoles is enti rely on merit (which is not to say fami ly background does not have an effect si nce economi c soci al level wi ll i nfluence fami ly’s push on their chi ldren and also abi li ty to fund pri vate tui ti on to help get in). I am not going to argue that France’s is the greatest educational system but no one can argue that France is not an extremely successful sophi sti cated di verse economy. (I t is acknowledged that the standard state uni versi ti es leave a fair bit to be desi red and that it at least is li mi ted by funding which could be partly addressed by fees/student loans.)

    So, bottom li ne, no. Please nomi nate another candi date for loopi ness.

  24. Gavin Moodie

    @ michael r james

    My commiserations for your being moderated.

    Low or no university fees are also charged in Germany and Scotland, both of which have very fine university systems. So if the criterion for loopiness is not adopted by any other responsible government, I agree that abolishing university fees does not qualify.

  25. michael r james

    GAVIN MOODIE at 8:13 pm

    Hmm. You’re being a bit disingenuous, non? Sincerely one cannot call a policy loopy if it clearly has an acceptable outcome where it has been tried in a contempory broadly comparable country–as you have shown.

    Are you and CML throwing in the white towel on the loopiness issue then?

  26. zut alors

    Lindsay Tanner must be immensely relieved that he left when he did.

    Nightingale John, I have noticed the likeness to Mr Bean but Dastyari’s manner also reminds me of Christopher Pyne. What a mix.

  27. Karen

    So, Howes thinks he needs to take the ALP to the Right (we’re already centre/centre Right) and then he goes on to bag the Greens, the only party that actually gives it preferences. Same with that other careerist, Dastyari. Talk about biting the hand that feeds. And then we discover that Howes invites those ‘class enemies’ Albrechtsen and her Kroger at his ‘glittering’ 30th B’day. J*s us wept.

    Well let ‘im. The ALP can go there chasing that right wing blue collar vote, as well as all those aspirationalist self -employeds who think they’re capitalists in their dream time and who, I might add, prefer the real thing, the Liberal Party. The ALP will just end up leaving its intellectual heart behind ( to the Greens), the only thing that gives it political legitimacy. Pathetic.

  28. Gavin Moodie

    @ michael r james

    I did not make myself clear. I meant that no fees does not qualify as being loopy. However, I disagree that the policy ‘has an acceptable outcome’.

  29. AR

    Dastyari’s resemblance to Mr Bean is not just physical – being such a munchkin, he should be known as Master Bean.
    Wasn’t he an alien deposited on Earth who then had to try to blend in but with so autistic a mind that he could not read social signals and never got it right?
    Perhaps this explains Dastyari’s rise without trace, no discernible achievements, to NSW party’s top job – total concentration on a goal without the slightest understanding of context or implications, the EQ of a photocopier with as much originality and the usual small man’s complex, arrogance unalloyed by awareness of ignorance.
    The Baldrick cunning plan seems to be to ensure the government’s defeat in 2013 and then, dancing their hellish roundelay in the ruins, claim that only a further shift to the Right, with iron control and obedience to the Party line to ensure that no independent thought can survive, to select candidates from the deracinated dregs.

  30. CML

    @ MICHAEL R JAMES – I’m not “throwing in the towel”. No way!
    It was you who introduced the work “policies”. I said “ideas”, but
    maybe should have linked that to the way the Greens operate. IMHO
    no one can run a successful political party without the realisation
    that people in the parliamentary system need to compromise.
    If that doesn’t happen, you have gridlock.
    Now we have seen that a number of times with the Greens: firstly, the
    original CPRS. The Senate is a house of review, not a party’s plaything.
    This legislation may not have been perfect, but it sure would have been
    better to amend it, have it introduced and operating some years ago.
    All that has been achieved with the most recent version has been the
    alienation of the majority of the electorate, the almost certain election
    of an LNP government at the next election, and a probable LNP majority
    in the Senate. That then means no CPRS (or equivalent). All because
    the Greens are always right!
    Secondly, the most recent tantrum throwing episode: on-shore
    processing at any cost. It doesn’t seem to have dawned on any of you
    so-called intellectual, smart people that to be processed on shore, you
    actually have to get here – using people smugglers and leaky boats.
    That means more people drown. How clever is that logic??? As I said,
    totally loopy!!!

  31. achimova1

    Yet again, GR hits the nail on the head! In one week, the ALP right wing heavies manage to a) nobble its leader – AGAIN – and b) exasperate a large proportion of the Labor voters by attacking the Greens, the only party that shows clarity of purpose and integrity in policy, and is vital for the re-election of some sitting Labor MPs. Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot!

    Joel Fitzgibbon’s coup de gras re Julia Gillard on Q and A was disgraceful, as are the continuous attacks on her in the gutter press.

  32. Hugh (Charlie) McColl

    CML, interesting that you see the Green’s refusal to compromise on onshore/offshore processing as somehow more “loopy” than the ALP and Coalition’s similar obstinacy. In Labor’s case there seems to be more interest in saving face than saving lives. Since you are not a Greens voter where do Labor and the Coalition fit on your loopy meter – or are they just normal Aussie parties totally loaded with principle and consistency?

  33. geomac62

    I totally agree with you in regard to the CPRS situation that happened in the senate . I will never understand why the Greens didn,t take what was on offer and press for more later on . However I think the politics of Rudd in ignoring the Greens and favouring ( wedging ? ) Turnbull contributed a lot to its defeat .
    Like Hugh I see no integrity in either major party in the processing of refugees but find no joy in the Greens refusal to allow a 1 year trial of the Malaysian policy . So the 4000 refugees that would have gained access don,t get that access but the ones able to come by boat do . There is no right or wrong or more correctly black or white answer . However until we either adhere to the UN charter or officially resign from it there will be no integrity in anyones position , Greens included . Without papers long delays in establishing genuine refugees will always be there .

  34. michael r james


    I remain unconvinced you have identified an actual “loopy” policy.

    I disagree with you about the original CPRS which was a total dog and would have locked in failure. The new ETS is much better but in fact also heavily compromised–which I think rather belies your claim that the Greens never compromise. As shown by the fact that most commentators think it will survive a LNP government (whether it will survive Abbott is another matter).

    I do agree about the asylum seekers issue, and have written to that effect on Crikey. I believe after all the agony and time and effort put in by the government, in a sincere effort to solve the problem, it was time for the Greens to bend in the Senate, not least to allow the government to govern. The 12 month Sunset clause proposed at the last minute by Wilkie (and which I believe I was the first to propose, again here in Crikey) was an entirely reasonable approach to the issue. (OTOH I suspect Gillard might have put more effort into trying to convince the Greens on this strategy instead of the Labor party’s astoundingly stupid war with them; one of my suggestions was that Labor throw in a bribe such as Gay Marriage!)

    Given the political panorama in Australia, it seems to me our only choice–if one rules out any likelihood of changing Labor–is to create new political entities. This is not impossible with the Greens who have plenty of room to grow and mature. The recent batch of elected members such as Larissa Waters, Richard di Natale, Adam Bandt and Peter Whish-Wilson, shows that it is happening. All these newbies are top professionals is an extremely healthy sign–too many lawyers for my liking but oh well, at least lawyers are trained to work towards compromise (unfortunately they are also born Sophists).

    Finally, if you give up on the Greens then we truly are f**ked.

  35. michael r james

    GEOMAC62 and CML.

    If you “never will understand” about the Greens opposition then you simply are too lazy or dumb to pay attention to what happened. Not only was the policy just atrocious, locking failure for all-time (it is naivety in extremis to bleat “press for more later on”) but the politics was more appalling. For an entire year Rudd Labor refused to engage the public to convince it of the merits of an ETS. They devised a totally cynical wedge-policy with Turnbull that was oh-so-too clever and worked better than imagined: it brought down Turnbull and thus the bipartisan policy itself. And you expect the Greens to have rescued Labor from backwash of their own devious and not-in-the-national-interest double dealings? After they refused to get into ANY negotiations at all with the Greens on the policy itself?

    Grow up or shut up.

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