CANBERRA OBSERVED: by national correspondentNews Weekly
Floundering Labor resorts to class warfare
, October 13, 2012
If the Gillard government has its way, the 2013 federal poll will be the first “class war” election in decades as Labor pitches itself on the side of people on various government benefits and with public servants and against a supposedly privileged, wealthy but powerful minority.
Such an outcome would be a throwback to a past era in Australian politics, but a clear attempt to reinvigorate Labor’s waning and potentially dying support base by creating societal divisions largely where there are none.
The groundwork for such a campaign has been in the process of being laid for several months, starting with Treasurer Wayne Swan’s provocative essay, “The 0.01 per cent: The rising influence of vested interests in Australia”, published in the March edition of The Monthly this year.
The campaign involves artificially linking Tony Abbott to prominent wealthy Australians and, most recently, to radio talk-show host Alan Jones in a bid to show he is an out-of-touch and remote leader from the party of the “Tories”.
Swan singled out wealthy miners Gina Rinehart, Clive Palmer and, to a lesser extent, Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest for denunciation, accusing the trio of cloaking their own private interests under the guise of pursuing the national interest.
Wrote Swan: “I fear Australia’s extraordinary success has never been in more jeopardy than right now because of the rising power of vested interests. This poison has infected our politics and is seeping into our economy. Though these vested interests have not yet prevailed, every day their demands get louder.
“Politicians have a choice: between exploiting divisions by promoting fear and appealing to the sense of fairness and decency that is the foundation of our middle-class society; between standing up for workers and kneeling down at the feet of the Gina Rineharts and the Clive Palmers.”
These words were code for suggesting that Tony Abbott is the pawn of the wealthy miners rather than a leader wishing to serve all Australians.
Since that essay was written, Labor’s rhetoric and tactics have been sharpened.
Each time Mrs Rinehart has made a public statement — something she does rarely and generally with a great deal of restraint and politeness — the Labor Party has exploited her words to maximum effect.
When Mrs Rinehart warned, during a recorded speech, that miners overseas were using Africans on wages as little as $2 a day and American workers for $9 a day, Labor deliberately misinterpreted this as an attempt to put Australian workers on similar wages.
Prime Minister Gillard mischievously described Mrs Rinehart as un-Australian. “It’s not the Australian way to toss people $2 — a $2 gold coin — and then to ask them to work for a day,” Ms Gillard said in response to Mrs Rinehart’s speech.
Palmer and Rinehart are being portrayed by Labor as being so powerful that they are able to dictate to Tony Abbott his policies and direction, and run the Australian media.
The truth is much more prosaic with Clive Palmer actually frustrated at his inability to have much say at all with the Coalition either in Queensland or in Canberra, while Mrs Rinehart has been rudely rebuffed by the board of Fairfax even though she is the largest shareholder in the company.
Labor’s plan is to run the class war at the same time it promises to dramatically expand government welfare provision from free dental care to its national disability insurance scheme (NDIS) and its massive increase in school funding in order to win back the confidence of the people.
With the party moving upward in the polls, Labor believes it is on a winning formula.
However, it is worth recalling that Labor’s primary vote during its three worst defeats of the past four decades — 1975, 1977 and 1996 — tend to put the current Labor resurgence in perspective.
In the 1975 constitutional crisis election, Gough Whitlam’s Labor Party received almost 43 per cent of the vote. Two years later, the Australian electorate repeated its rejection of Whitlam with Labor going even further backwards gaining just 39.65 per cent of the vote.
Significantly, 1977 coincided with the birth of the Australian Democrats, which took just over 9 per cent of the vote on that occasion.
Twenty years later when the Australian electorate delivered its massive verdict against the unpopular Keating Government, Labor still managed to secure just under 39 per cent of the vote, with the Democrats picking up 7 per cent and the fledgling Greens securing just under 3 per cent.
The most recent Newspoll, which has given Labor such great hope, has Labor’s primary vote under Julia Gillard at only 35 per cent.
Despite the recent flurry of excitement, Labor would give anything to have a primary vote of 1975, 1977 or 1996 proportions.