With the national ALP conference looming, Tom Quinn, a politics professor at La Trobe University, takes a look at why Labor is fast becoming a shadow of the party it once was.
Rock-bottom support. Plummeting membership. A broken structure. Labor is in trouble and its very existence is at stake. But if the hacks are serious about fixing the party at its national conference this weekend, they must deal with one issue underpinning all of Labor’s woes – the collapse of the party’s traditional base.
While opinion polls this year have hammered home the dire level of support for Labor, with its primary vote often wallowing in the 20s, the party’s main concern is the plummeting number of paid-up members. Official numbers are hard to come by, but insiders report that membership is now below 20,000, the lowest level in decades and half the number the party had as recently as 2007 when Kevin Rudd was elected. The swiftness of this loss is compounded by the changing nature of Australian society, presenting the question of whether numbers can be regained quickly or indeed ever.
The first part of the piece is quite good explaining the downsizing of Labor’s base – manual laborers – coupled with the realisation that the base’s core needs such as free healthcare and education have been met thus pushing those traditional core values towards the cliff of irrelevance.
There are a few sticking points with Quinn’s argument however.
Take Labor’s current approach to asylum seekers. Its strategy is centred on ”tough on refugees” posturing and playing up the threat to national security.
Excuse me, but just how is Labor “tough” on asylum seekers? What? Tough like a shiatsu massage? Just how is closing the offshore processing centres we had that reduced illegal boat arrivals to almost zero which led to a gargantuan spike in arrivals (and deaths at sea) considered “tough”? How is quickly processing illegal arrivals and releasing them on welfare into the community “tough”?
Next, Quinn argues that mirroring the Liberal party won’t bear fruit.
Why choose Liberal-lite when you can vote for the real thing?
Memo to Tom: Kevin Rudd won the 2007 federal election for the ALP precisely by portraying himself as Howard-lite.
Labor is consistently missing the opportunity to build community support for a more progressive Australia, primarily because it no longer understands its former base.
An odd line. I would argue Labor is wallowing in the polls and losing its base precisely because it has become too progressive since winning the 2007 (and 2010) election; Greens-lite if you will.
You can see where this going, right? Just in case “politics academic” didn’t toll the warning bells…
As the impacts of climate change accelerate…
Don’tcha just love how in so many circles, the above phrase is so casually bandied about and accepted without the slightest hint of critique.
Never mind that it hasn’t warmed in about 15 years, and that on average 2011 has been colder than all the other years this century and even cooler that 1988.
Never mind parts of the world experienced their coldest winter in a decade last year.
Never mind sea level rises are actually decelerating from the normal 3mm per year we’ve seen since the end of the little ice age to a mere 1.8mm at the moment.
Never mind the intensity and frequency on average of hurricanes and the like has actually decreased over the past three decades.
Never mind the “endangered” polar bear has seen its numbers increase five-fold, from 5000 to 25,000 since the 1950s and that there are so many now, hunting season is open again.
Never mind changes in the sun’s thermal output.
Never mind the Climategate 1.0 and 2.0 emails.
Never mind reality vs innaccurate models, just repeat the man-made global warming mantra; brainwash the kids with it to the point where you can say “as the impacts of climate change accelerate”, and not an eyelid is batted.
But let’s move on to the final fisk…
Trapped between parties of fear and vision, Labor is being squeezed into irrelevance.
So the Liberals are a party of “fear” and the Greens are a party of “vision”. Have I got that right, Tom?
I guess “fear” must be scary stuff like balancing the budget and lowering taxes.
I guess “vision” must entail such luminous ideas taking away freedom of the press and scrapping Australia’s sovereignty by means of a one world undemocratic government.
Tom Quinn has worked for the Green Building Council of Australia for a number of years…