May 4th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: The limitations of American power

When will John Howard step down?

BANKING: Kiwibank takes off in New Zealand

QLD: Philippines banana imports endanger Australian industry, wildlife

Straws in the Wind: Monocultured multiculturalism / Reporting China

LAW: High Court ducks IVF issue

ALP must put forward alternative program: Doug Cameron

Refugee stance defended (letter)

Banks' deceptive conduct (letter)

Tax holidays for multinationals (letter)

MEDIA: Shoot the messenger

The promise - and pitfalls - of free trade

What Gusmao's election means for East Timor

COMMENT: Holocaust taunts misguided

BOOKS: Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, by Bernard Goldberg

Demons and Democrats: Kim Beazley's view

Books promotion page

must put forward alternative program: Doug Cameron

by Doug Cameron

News Weekly, May 4, 2002

"Modernisation" is an oft-used term that attempts to promote a sense of forward thinking or progression. Sadly, in the case of its use by Simon Crean in describing what he wants to do to the ALP the term is misused, or at least the problem with the ALP is misunderstood.

The term "modernisation" should not be co-opted by the ALP as a panacea to solve their electoral woes by way of parroting the so-called 'third way' agendas of British Labour or of the US Democrats. Nor should the ALP used the term as a smoke screen for succumbing to the attacks by the Coalition and employer groups on its relationship with the trade union movement.

Labor structure

As Ian Henderson, writing in The Sydney Institute Quarterly, recently pointed out:

"Between 1983 and 1993, federal Labor won five elections in a row - encumbered, if that is the appropriate word, with trade union links";


"The ALP is in Government in all six states and in both territories - having won elections ... with exactly the same union links as now ...".

The trade union movement with its direct links to working people provides the ALP with a conduit to reality and the leaders of the ALP should be proud of their own individual history and celebrate the strength the relationship can provide.

Nor is it the exclusive possession of a 'modern' party, or indeed the politics of the past, for a political party aspiring to government to be able to articulate a vision for voting people. Yet this is the central malaise that has and is confronting the ALP - its incapacity to articulate a vision for Australia that is meaningful and inspirational.

Over the last 20 years, the ALP seems to have been unable to think through in a coherent way what kind of party it has become, what it stands for and where it is going. Rather than "modernisation", the ALP needs to find its soul.

Perhaps now more than at any other time the Australian people need socially progressive leadership from the ALP.

In the face of compelling evidence that the crisis in public health and education, research and development, and salinity and environment degradation can only be resolved by the application of tens of billions of dollars of public funds, the ALP mirrors the Coalition in discussing balanced budgets and tax cuts.

The ALP fails to distinguish itself from the Coalition in the minds of Australians when it comes to providing answers or leadership on issues surrounding the impact of globilisation, free trade, privatisation and deregulation.

Working people are worried about their ability to provide for their families. Job security has disappeared and both of the major parties have shown little resolve to intervene to protect jobs and industry or to promote growth in alternative and accessible industries.

Recent ABS statistics reveal that 87 per cent of new jobs created between 1998 and 2001 pay less than average weekly earnings.

Even more stark is the research by the Centre for Strategic Economic Studies which reveals that almost 90 per cent of the jobs created in Australia in the decade to August 2000 were paying less than $26,000 a year. Over the same period employment in the salary range of $36,400 - $52,000 declined by 162,000.

This is an indictment of the Howard Government and its failure to act to protect industries and develop industry policy that assists in the creation of meaningful job opportunities as well as funding for training and apprenticeships.

Australians are disengaging from their communities, from politics and from that Australian ideal of mateship and concern for each other. They are doing so because they feel vulnerable and isolated as a consequence of the neo-liberal policies pursued by both parties that have systematically withdrawn government help and intervention in their lives.

Against this backdrop, the ALP have a real opportunity to stand for a vision of a just society that seeks inclusion not division. One in which the Labor Party in Government intervenes to protect Australian jobs and to develop Australian industry, promotes fair trade and fair employment practices, shows compassion for the disadvantaged and dispossessed and puts society before market prerogatives.

A vision of nation building and opportunity needs to be adopted and considered policy articulated that gives hope back to Australian workers and communities.

The ALP needs to relocate its soul, not be intimidated by the Howard agenda of wedge politics and to provide leadership and inspiration.

If that is what Simon Crean means by "modernisation" then the AMWU is all for it.

  • Doug Cameron is National Secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. This comment first appeared in The Australian and is reproduced here with the author's permission

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