Oh lucky man? Albo out to break the Labor hoodoo
Some bastards are luckier than other bastards. Anthony Albanese is finding out whether the new Labor Prime Minister’s curse will hold, he writes Markus Sawyer.
The anvil wavering over Wile E. Coyote or Elmer Fudd is one of the many endearing features of the Warner Bros cartoon. The anvil appears to be hanging by a cord over the new Albanian government. The energy crisis in the eastern federal states is only the beginning.
Take the war in Ukraine and the associated disruption to food supply chains. The outbreak of inflation has not been experienced at this level for four decades. The housing shortage. Shortage of intensive care workers. And the looming climate apocalypse.
Labor is back in power. It’s a rare gift. The ALP has held the reins of government for less than a third of Australia’s history. And the party seems doomed to take the voters’ call as trouble brews.
Andrew Fisher won days after World War I hostilities broke out in 1914. Jim Scullin’s team took office in October 1929, the month that the collapse of Wall Street triggered the Great Depression. John Curtin took over in 1941 as Japan prepared to expand the war in the Pacific. Gough Whitlam’s ambitious program was derailed when the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973 triggered rampant inflation and unemployment in the western world.
Bob Hawke was luckier and came to power in 1983 when a long drought hit. The Berlin Wall fell during his tenure. The Cold War subsided (temporarily, unfortunately). But Hawke had a tin bum, to quote Paul Keating, which apparently means he was a lucky bastard, Keating was less fortunate.
Bad luck returned for the next Labor government: Kevin Rudd was hit by the global financial crisis in 2008.
Anthony Albanese will need a turnaround but the omens are not good. Even Albanese’s promise of “an end to climate wars” seems a bit optimistic. And this time it could be Labor who will be seen as the party towing the chain.
Goal: Whose goal?
The Albanian government was elected with a clear majority and belated sympathy. But it was the first election in 120 years of federation in which the opposition came to power with fewer primary votes than the government it was supplanting.
And as predicted by MWM, excitement was gathering around the Climate Independents (“Teals”) and the Greens.
Labor has reiterated its pledge to maintain its 43 per cent emissions reduction commitment by 2030. There is already talk of Labor abandoning and moving towards the goals advocated by the Teals (60%) or the Greens (75%).
Labor is caught between its promises – belief in the electorate – and demands for expediency. The argument is that you won with a small aim, but you don’t need to worry about that because, well, you do you won. Winners do whatever they want.
It’s an odd argument to emerge from an election campaign in which the word “integrity” was so prominent, but it’s the pressure exerted on a government with such a fragile mandate.
It will be fascinating to watch as the media-savvy Greens and Blue-Greens condemn Labor for breaking all promises after hyping the breach of trust in the bipartisan system, the truth in political advertising and the whole ‘integrity’ bit.
A dance partner for Labor
Still, it makes sense for Labor to move closer to the Greens, as argued with MWM. The reason is simple: affinity.
It’s time. Time for Labor and the Greens to say yes to love
The Greens are partly a product of the Labor Party. Not quite – there are many strands – but on economic policy the Greens share the ambitions of the old socialist left wing of the ALP. Bringing this strand back into center-left ALP would be no cakewalk, but it remains a long-term necessity.
And considering that Labor needs the 12 Green Party votes in the Senate to pass legislation opposed by the coalition, it might make more sense to deal with the Green Party in the House.
There’s another argument: that Labor is marginalizing the Greens by caring for the Teals. The case is based on the idea of the wedge. By showing voters that Labor is listening to the concerns of the wealthy, those seats will not return to the Liberals. It’s a case of an unholy alliance between the organized labor party and the people who invented the unpaid intern.
The deal with Teals is intended to give voters in the inner suburbs a realization that they don’t have to vote Green to get the policies they want on climate and progressive economic causes. Choose Labor instead and you get the same thing. Unfortunately, that performance didn’t work in Melbourne. Green Party leader Adam Bandt has held the former Labor stronghold for five elections under both Labor and coalition governments. It didn’t work for Labor in Griffith. Terri Butler, who would have been Labor Party Environment Secretary, was defeated by a Green who was strong on local issues, particularly aircraft noise. Of the four seats held by the Greens, two are ‘natural Labour’ seats and the other two have had Labor MPs (admittedly Ryan only briefly). But the six Teal seats were never Labour, with three occasionally independent.
A threat to worker unity
The external crises mentioned above have sometimes shattered workers’ unity. It happened about conscription in World War I, economic policies during the Great Depression, and about communist influence on the unions in the 1950s.
In 1916 and 1917, Fisher’s successor, Billy Hughes, attempted to enforce conscription, dissolving the ALP in the process. Disagreements over how to deal with debt to Britain during the Depression divided Labour. And a third split took place in the 1950s, this time in opposition, over Communist infiltration of the party. The latter split (nicknamed The Split) cost Labor the Catholic vote and kept it out of office for 20 years. Labor has since kept its divisions indoors, although it could be argued that the toxic rivalry between Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard cost the party a third term.
Never underestimate Labor’s ability to fall apart of its own volition. In the meantime, there is an energy crisis to resolve.
Mark Sawyer is a journalist with Michael West Media. He has extensive print and digital media experience in Sydney, Melbourne and rural Australia.