26 November 2015
by Syd Hickman

The ALP disaster goes unnoticed

With many serious matters to consider, and some amusing sideshows, the failure of the Opposition has been ignored by the media.

Terrorism and our new PM's first meetings with foreign leaders have deserved attention.

Tony Abbott has been the best of the sideshows. He appears to believe he is now in his Churchillian 'wilderness years', waiting to be recalled to duty when the danger he has foreseen becomes obvious to all. Stand by for big cigars and watercolour painting. Perhaps he will buy a bulldog.

But the fact that Abbott and his dwindling fan club keep making Turnbull look wonderful just increases the need for the ALP to return the public's focus to the real world.

The complete failure to do this is becoming a national problem.

While, as I have argued previously, a government with a strong parliamentary position is what we need right now, it is not good for a collapse of the opposition to remove all pressure to perform from the government. The situation is bad enough now with leading ALP players sitting back waiting for the inevitable election defeat and hoping to be the 'leader' who will pick up the pieces and win the next one.

But after a crushing defeat leaves fewer than expected pieces to pick up, the opposition will be barely noticeable. That would certainly generate government hubris, and if anything happened to Turnbull the situation would become dire. For Turnbull to keep his weirder troops in line as he pursues sane policies he also needs an opposition pushing him to do more.

There is a clear role for the ALP to play in the rapidly changing world but it refuses to adopt it. After years of rule by economists we have a large 'precariat', or group of people living precarious lives with no job security or financial reserves. The union movement has ceased to exist as a sensible force representing the interests of most low paid workers, let alone the middle class. And that leaves the political representation of such people more important than ever.

Wages pressure and strike action are no longer problems for the majority of Australian business. The real problem is the increased share of wealth flowing to the already wealthy, in subsidies for their health care, education, retirement incomes and business ventures. Roughly fifty per cent of Australian voters get nothing from any of these schemes that redirect spending power to the wrong places. But the ALP refuses to advocate cuts to such outlays for fear of having a fight with anyone. A lot of the ALP players are also beneficiaries of all this government largesse.

Like the entire world Australia is going through huge transitions in energy use, economic structures, demographic changes, environmental priorities and so on. The ALP responds with tokenism rather than any clear leadership. The people are way ahead of the politicians on a lot of these issues so the ALP needs to chase them and try to get in front if it is to have any meaning or existence in ten years time.

The lack of any substantial membership base is becoming a real weakness. The funding situation looks bad, with unions in trouble and business losing interest as the prospect of an ALP government in the next decade disappears. Some state branches are very weak and getting weaker. In WA the extreme left unions dominate the Party, as seen in recent preselection nonsense, because they have money and all other forces are struggling.

After two decades of fretting about membership and union domination, and reports written by 'wise elders', nothing of significance has been achieved. The problem is a lack of leadership. The Party needs a new political direction, new structures and new power relationships. Someone must stand up and convincingly redefine why the ALP exists now and why it should still be here in twenty years time. That would mean overturning the rather primitive religious and economic beliefs of some key powerbrokers so don't hold your breath waiting.

Failing that momentous event the current shemozzle will roll on and final collapse will be only an election or two away.

It is a popular idea right across Australia to remain calm in the face of adversity and wait for things to return to normal. But the whole point of this period of history is that we are in a rapid transition to new realities. There will be no return to old ideas of normal.

Many voters know that. Turnbull has tapped into this idea in a moderate way. The Greens are working on a new strategy built entirely on transition and it looks like being very successful. Meanwhile, the ALP blunders on playing games that are out of date and wistfully remembering the happy days when Tony Abbott made such irrelevance viable.

Like many other organisations the ALP will have to adapt quickly or die.