Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Crisis in the Labor Party

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Editorial from June-July 2003 issue of The Socialist

The war was a disaster for the Labor Party. It’s capitalist leaders with their capitalist policies (many of whom are trained in CIA-funded courses for union officials in US campuses) were pulled in the direction of the US and its allies. The remnants of a genuine left-wing current and a rank and file were pulled the other way by the massive anti-war movement.

Carmen Lawrence resignation from Labor’s front bench before the war represented the high point of Labor’s opposition to the war notwithstanding a few forlorn ALP placards on the bigger anti-war rallies. On the other extreme, ex-leader Kim Beazley was an example of forces keen to back the US, even if they had to be discreet and private in their views. Labor leader Simon Crean, torn by contradictory pressures, hid behind the United Nations, a body that has long been used by the US as a cover for its military adventures (eg Korea in the 1950s, Katanga in the 1960s, Iraq 1991, Kosovo in the 1980s etc).

His position changed almost weekly. At first, he said he’d support a war if the UN Security Council approved, and possibly support a war even if they opposed it. Then under pressure from public opinion, he hardened his position – he’d oppose a war if it didn’t have UN approval. When the war started he opposed it and called for Australian troops to be withdrawn. Days later, he changed for the fourth time, saying Australia’s troops should stay there until the war ended and he hoped the war would be won sooner rather than later. 48 hours later he changed again, calling for troops to be withdrawn!

As in fashion, so also in politics, no-one likes gray. While the Government’s position was clearly pro-war and the Greens (and Socialists) were clearly anti-war, ordinary people were unenthused by Labor’s mealy-mouthed, half-hearted comments about the conflict. The Greens have risen to 10% nationally as they continue to win support of left-leaning traditional ALP voters, especially amongst young people. Labor have failed to capitalise on the massive opposition to Howard’s obsession with backing Bush all the way – spending $700 million on our military contribution in the process. Crean is the preferred Prime Minister of less than 10% of Australian voters!

The problem for Labor’s factional power brokers is that they have no alternative to Crean. Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Kevin Rudd is jumping up in front of every possible TV screen to boost his profile and leadership ambitions. In the 1980s Paul Keating dismissed Rudd “a nuisance” and it is unlikely ordinary people would vote for this man with his know all, apple for the teacher persona. Kim Beazley is more popular amongst voters who are unaware of his fetish with the military and the US (and secret support for the war). However he has already lost two elections and he is hardly a fresh look. Mark Latham, while on the far right of Labor, is abrasive and volatile and therefore too much of a risk to take. More talented alternatives like Lindsay Tanner is not in the R(r)ight faction and in any event could lose his inner-city Melbourne seat to the Greens at the next election. If the economy slides this year into recession and the optimism of ordinary people is broken, if there is an upsurge of anger over the bleeding of Medicare or upfront fees, voters could take Labor by the scruff of its neck and propel it into power despite its own best efforts to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

At the moment, however, Howard is probably quietly confident of winning a 4th term of office. That this is even possible is a scandal and is testimony to the uselessness of Labor as an instrument for workers to improve their lot in life. The $3.8 million donated to Labor every year by the trade union movement would be better spent as seed money for a new workers’ party that would fight for free education and health for all, decent public transport, a decent wage for all and organizing people to change society. This call for a new workers’ party will, we predict, become louder in the next period.


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