Some Gillard apologists and wishful thinkers have suggested that the December ALP National Conference showed there “was life left in the old beast”. This is apparently because the Conference votes were not known in advance to the same exactitude as was normal under the Rudd era. This is the low standard by which the ALP is judged by some in today’s world.
However to have this view would mean “you were conned”, as the Sydney Morning Herald bluntly put it. “Yes there were some set piece (debates), but their outcome had been predetermined along factional lines…with the Right prevailing with somewhere between 206 and 208 of the 400 conference votes.”
Only two shifts could be seen as vaguely progressive. The Conference was televised but this was because the earlier Green Party equivalent outrageously wasn’t and this was too much of a free kick for the ALP to pass by. The other shift was the party voting in favour of changing their policy on gay marriage. This was a direct result of outside pressure from both street protests and the fact that polls have consistently shown 60-70% support for equal marriage rights.
This change in ALP policy will mean very little as the Conference also voted to protect Gillard’s prestige by supporting a conscience vote in the parliament. This will mean that enough right-wing ALP MPs will vote against any changes, along with the Coalition, which will ensure there is no change to the law. Gillard relies heavily on support from the right-wing unions, including the shop workers union (SDA), and this requires her to have a reactionary position on this question.
If anything these so called ‘progressive’ shifts show that the best way to pressure the ALP is from the outside and not inside the party.
Inside the party, membership has collapsed from around 50,000 in 2002 to 35,000 today. This official figure is probably exaggerated. In any event, the rank and file and the local branches have absolutely no say in policy. The only reason to join a party – to influence policy and to affect social change – is non-existent in today’s ALP.
In reality the majority of debates at the ALP Conference led to further swings to the Right and towards capitalism – exactly at a time when this system is being challenged all over the world.
Uranium will now be sold to India, despite the fact that country hasn’t signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. So much for the ALP standing up for ‘law and order’ – remember this the next time an ALP politician lectures workers not to defy anti-strike laws. The policy change is ultimately explained by the regional power dynamic of the US, India, Japan and Australia coming together to limit Chinese expansionism.
The Conference also voted to support offshore processing of asylum seekers arriving by boat. The ‘Left’ put up only a half-hearted opposition. They had to as ALP Federal government policy has for years been in contradiction to stated party policy. Now that policy has shifted to the Right the ‘Left’ are satisfied.
The Age reported: “A senior Labor left figure said the previous objection to offshore processing within the party room was that it breached the party platform. Now that the party platform explicitly supported offshore processing, it was no longer a conflict”. This is the logic of a cowardly bureaucrat and has more in common with Yes Minister or a Kafka novel than a serious tendency in politics.
The position of the Socialist Party towards the ALP has been vindicated by the events at their December National Conference. This is a party that can not be reformed from within. While the organisation can be pressured from the outside the facts are that this party no longer represents the interests of ordinary people in any way shape or form.
This is a party that has been successfully infiltrated by the capitalist class. Its policies are in accordance with their interests and to ensure this does not change any vestiges of real democracy have been removed. Flowing from this there has been an emptying out of the party’s once working class membership.
This leaves ordinary Australians politically unrepresented at the moment. To fill this void we need a new mass, democratic workers’ party. As the world capitalist crisis continues to deepen more and more people will see the need to be politically active to build an organisation along these lines.