29 January 2016
by Syd Hickman

Does the ALP have a future?

Only two good things have happened to the ALP in the last twenty years; Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. Both fizzled. Could another saviour appear?

Rudd was one of Australia's best actors. His sustained performance as a nice smiley guy amazed people who knew him and should have won a gold logie. He singlehandedly dragged the Party back into government, but then he had to actually govern and even Cate Blanchett couldn't help with that.

In 2010 Abbott managed to not quite win an election against a chaotic ALP and then mishandled negotiations with the independents so badly that he conceded government to Julia Gillard. Despite the ALP doing nothing with government except invent new spending programs Abbott managed to keep them in the game by being repellent to a large part of the electorate, especially women.

Even State ALP leaders were able to benefit from the Abbott effect. The three ALP State Premiers have much to thank him for.

Eventually the ALP became so hopeless even Abbott beat them, then, admittedly, he let the ALP down badly by losing the leadership.

Now Kevin is trying to take over the world and Tony is doing his bit for Malcolm by reminding us periodically of the great service Malcolm performed in removing him, leaving the ALP trying to save itself.

Bill Shorten shows no signs of attaining saviour status. He recently reshuffled his office and changed some personnel, which could see the end of the zinger witty reposts. But it is unlikely that becoming less of a joke will see him become more of a contender.

It will be interesting to see if he keeps appearing on TV wandering round supermarkets dropping things in other people's trollies. This looks like a copy of the deeply flawed 1998 Beazley campaign against the GST, and at that time there was a real tax to oppose rather than just a vague idea of a tax increase.

Anthony Albanese is apparently an option but he recently produced a truly horrible effort with his Chifley Light On The Hill Memorial Speech, as detailed in a blog at lucindaholdforth.com. My favourite sentence from Albo is, "Tonight, I want to raise five points that encapsulate a plan for an approach that puts people first can drive the agenda of the future Labor Government."

If he had read the speech by Penny Wong from the previous year he could have corrected his most egregious error, and seen how to perform a vital leadership role, but obviously he didn't bother.

That leaves Tony Burke as the man most likely to succeed after the inevitable thrashing at the upcoming election. He does genuinely smile a lot, which is now considered essential to political success. But he is no Kevin Rudd, which is a good and a bad thing. More importantly, his conservative religious backers will work assiduously to ensure he does not permit any updating of social policies, particularly regarding euthanasia, thereby continuing to concede a lot of popular policy ground to The Greens.

Whoever takes over will have to confront the issue that has been ducked for two decades, what sort of future would the ALP create for us if given the chance?

There is one current policy to which the ALP is totally committed, that no union official should ever live in poverty. But with union private sector membership now around 10% that will not be enough, even though the number of officials has gone up as the membership has gone down.

More spending programs will not do the trick either. Resource prices have crashed and George Soros announced last week at Davos that, essentially, he has shorted Australia, so its time to get serious or get out of the game.

Meanwhile The Greens will be eating away at left votes as the new leadership moves steadily towards the centre. The announcement by Richard Di Natale that he had no problem with genetically modified food was very significant. It has caused some of the more extreme members of his party to resign, assisting the change process, particularly in pre-selections.

The Liberals are also taking steps to get rid of old hacks and oddballs, even though the media predictably reacted with horror at the possibility of democratic action occurring within a political party.

But the ALP is concentrating on keeping all the dead wood in place. After all, most of them are ex-union officials. Highly talented aspirants are given boring tasks that eventually break their spirits. Even the dullest of timeservers are now highly skilled at excluding talented people who have failed to devote their entire lives to living off union members and taxpayers. Political journalists and party tacticians think this is a great idea. (I almost wrote 'strategists', but that would be silly.)

In short, the ALP was a dismal future because it has failed to outline a future for the nation. And there is no sign that they are even going beyond raising points that encapsulate a plan for an approach that can drive an agenda, as former Deputy Prime Minister Albanese puts it.

Bill Shorten looks more like Bill Shortterm every day. And why has the Shadow Treasurer grown a beard? Is he after the western Sydney hipster vote, or trying to hide his embarrassment, or cleverly excluding himself from a leadership draft?

Maybe they will come up with something we can all take seriously, but, as one of my colleagues used to say, I wouldn't suspend respiration while waiting.