NATIONAL AFFAIRS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Labor needs new direction as well as new leader
, January 29, 2005
The sudden but inevitable resignation of Mark Latham as Labor leader poses much deeper problems for the ALP than merely finding an electorally-appealing alternative to John Howard as Prime Minister. If that is all that the Labor Party does, it will be shuffling deck-chairs on the Titanic.
Labor's defeat in last October's election owed something to Mark Latham's arrogance and wilfulness - encapsulated in his deal with the Greens over Tasmanian forests to secure Green preferences, the imposition of rock star and extreme environmentalist Peter Garrett into a safe ALP seat in NSW over the heads of rank-and-file members, and his blatant anti-Americanism.Labor history
But we should not forget that Labor had previously been defeated comfortably when none of these issues were present. On two occasions, it lost when Kim Beazley - now touted as Latham's successor - was running the party.
The problem which Labor faces is that in many areas, its policies are not very different from those of the Coalition, and where there are significant differences, for example in social policy, it is actually worse.
It remains excessively influenced by radical feminist organisations such as Emily's List; its environmental policies are effectively determined by the Greens; and it is committed to implementing gay rights and pro-abortion policies. It is also beholden to left-wing teacher unions which have undermined parental confidence in the quality of public education.
The Shadow Minister for the Environment is Anthony Albanese, a leader of the left from NSW. Among prospective Labor leaders, Julia Gillard - a former student radical and Labor lawyer - is identified with these positions.
Despite the best efforts of Mr Beazley and Kevin Rudd, who are strong supporters of the American alliance, Labor remains tainted by left-wing anti-Americanism - a legacy of the Soviet era - reflected in the derogatory comments made by Mark Latham about US President George W. Bush, the US presence in Iraq and other issues, on which he was never contradicted by his colleagues.
Martin Ferguson, the left-wing former ACTU President, as Labor's Shadow Minister for Primary Industry, is hardly likely to inspire confidence among Australians in rural areas.
On economic policy, Labor's leadership team - which includes Kim Beazley, Simon Crean (Shadow Minister for Trade) and Stephen Smith (Shadow Ministry for Industry) - is committed to the economic rationalist agenda of the present Government, the Federal Treasury and the Department of Trade, despite the fact that this has contributed to the steady decline of rural industries, the virtual collapse of manufacturing in Australia, and Australia's spiralling foreign debt.
The consequences - seen in the existence of an underclass of people who suffer chronic unemployment and under-employment, low incomes and welfare dependency - has caused Federal Government welfare expenditure to rise inexorably to the highest levels ever recorded.
Labor's policies have alienated important sections of its traditional working-class and middle-class base.
When Labor left office in 1996, the foreign debt had soared to nearly $200 billion, under the influence of free-trade policies which are practised by no other countries around the world.
Since then, the foreign debt has doubled to about $400 billion: but on this issue, Labor has been almost completely silent - despite the fact that the victims of the policies of economic rationalism have been traditional Labor supporters.
Until Labor rethinks its position on economic, social, family and foreign policy, it will remain irrelevant to the solution of the nation's most pressing long-term problems.