Unlikely bedfellows are lovers no more
Despite a recent surge in the polls, Labor has a shrinking and ageing membership base and is in need of some rehabilitation.
And typical in a case of poor health, there are plenty of well-meaning spectators hovering around, googling treatment options and offering up advice.
“Just join up with the Greens” is a good one. After all, they have progressive policies. And isn’t it crazy for parties of the left to squabble in the face of the serious threat on the right?
It’s a popular view… in Leichhardt, and less than a handful of other inner-city suburbs in Sydney and Melbourne that feature large populations of cyclists on retro bikes and vegetarian butchers.
Brad Orgill is the latest to advocate a formal alliance with the Greens, arguing a formal Labor-Greens partnership is the best way to deliver a progressive vision and prevent a split in the left vote.
This view, guided by a narrow focus on some areas of policy alignment, disregards the intense suspicion – hostility even – towards the Greens party outside its inner-city support base.
In Australia’s outer-suburban and regional heartlands, the Greens are electoral poison. Labor’s plunge in the polls over the carbon pricing scheme is largely due to its birth in a deal between Labor and the Greens.
Despite the fact it delivers better outcomes for industry and jobs than the 2010 CPRS negotiated by Labor and the Coalition – blocked by the Greens in the Senate because they wanted less protection for blue-collar workers in exposed industries – the current scheme is seen as a Greens scheme. Therefore it must be extreme and bad news for ordinary people.
Reality is, while there might be some areas of policy cross-over for the Labor and Greens on environmental and economic issues, other area of Greens policy reveal just how out of touch with ordinary Australians they really are: their opposition to competitive sport, their introduction of foreign policy boycotts into local government, their refusal to compromise on refugee policy, their disregard for protecting people’s jobs.
As for Orgill’s proposition Ben Chifley would be just as likely to join the Greens as Labor today, he obviously hasn’t met any train drivers from Bathurst lately. Does he really think Chifley would be in the same party as Lee Rhiannon?
Australians look for leaders that reflect and understand their values and aspirations – they don’t see that in the Greens.
Advocating a partnership with the Greens presumes the party’s future success. Yet the Greens are in decline in the polls and with the departure of Bob Brown – whatever your politics a charismatic and impressive leader – support is likely to continue to slide.
Labor’s past – and its future – is as the party of the many, the party of working Australians. It’s through its engagement with working people, not deals with fringe parties or policies dreamt up in inner-city cafes, that Labor has delivered great progressive reforms like universal healthcare, compulsory superannuation and affordable higher education.
Labor’s future relies on rebuilding a dynamic engagement with working Australians as the driver for policy reform.
That’s not just Labor’s future, it’s the future of mainstream progressive politics. After all, what’s the value in a progressive vision that ignores everyone outside a 10 kilometre radius of our capital cities.
There are no shortcuts to rebuilding Labor, it’s a difficult process and it’s fair enough that ideas are raised and tossed around. But there are some that should be killed off at birth – like a Labor-Greens pact.
Tony Maher is National President of the CFMEU
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