As a preface, let me say that none of this is an argument that originates with me. It is a synthesis of thought that I felt compelled to write in light of the most recent federal election result With that in mind…
The Australian Labor Party will likely never win an election again. Never!
What we see in the current ALP is the same in name only as the party of Gough Whitlam and Bob Hawke. It has become an empty shell with no guiding light, a shambling corpse where some constituent limbs still twitch, given the effort extended by an individual politician or two. The party is in a similar situation to the Australian Democrats, continuing to eke out a few final years before someone merciful puts it out of its misery.
As a populace, we find ourselves having been seduced by a selfish, individualistic yuppie mentality of the pursuit of personal growth. Life for the past few generations has been good, and we have started to believe the neo-liberal myth of societal advancement through individual achievements alone – that God helps those who help themselves – and, like the bomber pilots in WWII having piloted a plane safely home, believe ourselves masters of the sky, rather than recipients of good luck.
It wasn’t the few places where we see the bullet holes that prove our resilience and capacity to succeed in the face of adversity, but the overall engineering of a framework that supports us despite some holes in the canopy. We conveniently forget that other pilots died when more critical infrastructure failed them after taking a hit; we forget that a whole industry is centered around engineering a system that gets us safely through our travails and that we were also simply the pilot of a single lucky plane.
More and more of us, including members of the ALP now follow that neo-liberal philosophy and, having seen a nation prosperous and at peace, have decided that what they thought was true for them was true for everyone. The light on the hill was seen as fundamentally irrelevant, and maybe they thought we’d all managed the climb and it wasn’t needed anymore. The ALP has become the same in most respects as the LNP and has now fallen prey to a fallacy of false equivalence: 1) they want to be a successful party; 2) the LNP is successful; 3) they must do what the LNP does.
It’s the same selfish cossetted, fallacious and blinkered bargain that most people have made: 1) I’m doing well; 2) the LNP is in power and must therefore have been responsible for my welfare; 3) I must re-elect the LNP so I can continue to prosper. Given that we are only thinking of our own welfare, why would we kick out the current mob for what is essentially seen as a light-weight version of the same? As long as the ALP continues in it’s current form it is essentially un-electable. It’s damaged goods.
As a nation – as a species – we have a dual perspective. We can focus on the individual, each person working to maximise their own personal safety and comfort, or we can act collectively and ensure that the whole is safe. The current seduction has meant that we forget that threats to other parts of the body politic are eventual threats to us. If we can treat some groups as expendable – as other – the temptation is to discard more and more as we try to flee catastrophe while saving what we imagine is the new essential us. We chop off cancerous limbs to try and save the patient while forgetting that the same diseased blood runs throughout the body.
The climate emergency has reawakened some of us, as has the dire state of health and welfare in parts of the community and as has the international refugee crisis as people flee war zones etc. Not all of us ever totally forgo compassion and some voices have not succumbed to the seduction, either by strength of will or by circumstance. There are those sitting on the borderline of wealth and poverty for whom digital technology has amplified their voices. Voices that might otherwise have gone unheard from the fringes of our white affluent middle-class cocoon.
As a society we have not made it on our own. We have not lifted ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We have benefited over several generations from social initiatives like socialised healthcare; like superannuation; like workplace laws and protections; like road and rail etc. paid for by the public purse. There is a safety net in which the disadvantaged can be caught and given succour, and all of us benefit in small and subtle ways from it. Most people, like the bomber pilots, have lives of relative safety and of some wealth and luxury, forgetting that a moment’s misfortune can take away that which separates us from the faces we conveniently forget; from the poor, the “abos”, the “reffos”, the “bludgers” and all the other groups we denigrate in order to try and pretend that they’re not as worthy as we are of living well. We are very good at being the dog in the manger.
Now we need a political force that remembers the collective nature of society, has a high regard for it and fights for it with loud and cogent arguments. We need a political force that fights for society as a whole and not just hopes that improving the lives of many individuals provides a rising tide. We need a party the is the tide. We need a party that is prepared to shout “Wake Up!” from the rooftops and provides a clear and principled alternative to the LNP. Such a party will need a new (or old and reawakened) guiding light and act on it, regardless of the opprobrium cast by petty-minded political opportunists. It involves care for refugees, for poor people, for those with complex and ongoing medical conditions. It involves treating the environment with real respect. It involves arguing passionately and sincerely for principled stands in favour of the disadvantaged and of reminding people that how you treat the least of us matters and that society as a whole benefits when we help the disadvantaged, the unlucky and the people fleeing persecution.
Yes, we have the Greens and various socialist parties but, these are still realistically fringe players in the current political scene. As AOC has shown in the USA, there is a vast underlying compassion for people and community in all parts of the country, even in the supposed Republican heartland. We need a major party to represent that in Australia and to remind “liberal” voters that they have a social conscience.
I suggest that those within the Labor party who still have that social conscience and who really believe in treating refugees with respect; who really believe in addressing environmental issues and providing a better world for the future; who really believe in reconciliation with the First Nations people immediately leave the ALP. Give up any desire for personal power, for elected office. Power cannot be the goal. Go back to the people and clearly and passionately advocate for social justice; for refugees; for the environment.
Be an independent; join the Greens or some other similar party. I don’t care. What matters is that you care for society and our place in the world and that you act on that belief. We need to put that “light on the hill” back in place and put it beyond political machinations. The goal is not to get into power first and then declare a stand. Without that stand you’re not giving us a reason to vote for you. Declare yourselves and be proud of your beliefs. Be an alternative to the small-minded self-centered “fuck you, I’ve got mine” approach of the LNP.
Alternatively, if your primary goal is to get elected, join the LNP. The pursuit of power is apparently all they’re good at, as they’ve failed the environment, the Aboriginal community, the poor, the sick, and the refugees, and society as a whole is more mean-spirited than it was a decade ago.
The ALP is dead. Admit it or die with it. The ALP is dead. Long live the successor.