Labor has lost its base, and now it’s burning bridges
It isn’t hard to find ways to mock Jenny Macklin for her extraordinary claim that she could live on the dole. But to be fair to her, she was only telling the truth. Of course if pushed we all could live on the dole.
In Africa they live on a dollar a day. People adapt. If $35 a day is what you have, then that’s what you have. Obviously if you are used to being on $900 a day as a cabinet minister then it’s going to be a bit more of a step-down for you than it would be for, say, a cleaner, but if you were happy to be the deputy leader of the Labor Party under leaders as diverse as Simon Crean, Mark Latham and Kim Beazley, then clearly flexibility is not a problem.
But that said, it still showed extraordinary political ineptitude. Let’s go to the transcript, the bit we got, not the embarrassing bit they failed to include.
Asked if she could live on the dole Macklin responded thus: “What we know is that we needed to fix a difference that was in the system for parenting payment. Back in 2006 the rules were changed and anybody who had their youngest child turn 8 coming on to Parenting Payment who was looking for work went on to unemployment benefits instead. What we’ve done is really just make sure that those people who’ve been on the payment for a longer period of time have the same rules applied to them.”
“Back in 2006” is a way of saying John Howard did this and Labor, the party of fairness and equity, was actually addressing an injustice.
Of course If Labor felt so strongly that it needed to “to fix the difference” it could have moved the women affected by Howard’s changes back on to Parenting Payment. Instead it has moved tens of thousands of women onto the dole “really just to make sure” the same rules apply to them.
From the way the Government is treating these people you would never have guessed they are bedrock of Labor’s support. But as a Labor official said to me in despair this week: “People living on welfare are our base”.
In political terms, you might say, so what, where are they going to go? To the Liberals? The Coalition supports the changes. Are they going to start voting for those inner-city hipsters, the Greens? Not likely.
It would seem that the Government is correct in its bet that no matter how much a single mother might hate Government that has cut her income by $110 a week, she is going to keep voting Labor.
But one of the interesting things about the last 20 years is how many people who were once rusted on Labor voters have started voting Liberal in this country. The usual explanations for the rise of what were once called “Howard’s battlers” include the decline of trade unions and a feeling that the middle class operatives of the Labor Party were principally concerned with issues such as the environment that were of little interest to ordinary Australians.
According to this view it took Work Choices – a direct attack on their living conditions - to drive them back to the Labor Party. Looking at the polls around the country today and the seats – particularly in Sydney - that Tony Abbott will win this year, it is clear that that while the ALP managed to win a lot of these voters back in 2007, they have utterly failed during the past five years consolidate their allegiance.
The explanations for the electoral tsunami that is going to hit the ALP later this year will keep Australia’s scholars busy for years with necking Kevin Rudd, the waste of the stimulus programmes and other fiascos big and small all set to be given their due.
The real reason in my opinion however is the carbon tax, which while it might have dropped off the radar for certain Canberra journalist is still, in the words of a Labor official “killing us” all around Australia.
What the carbon tax and kicking tens of thousands of women onto the dole both create in the minds of many Australians is the impression that the ALP is not on their side. A tax to fix roads, to pay for hospitals or to defend our borders might have been sellable.
But putting a tax on electricity bills to indulge an obsession of Northcote Age readers makes a lot of people look at their middle-class Labor MPs – who in some cases needed the Melway to find their electorates when they were handed them by the faction bosses – and ask themselves, is that person really like me?
Similarly, if you are a single-mother worried about being home when your kids get home from school because looking after them properly is the most important thing you can do, you probably look at someone like Tanya Plibersek, who is so wrapped up in her career she went back to work one month after having her son Louis, and wonder if that is someone who shares the same values as you.
Especially as many of the women who are being hit by this move are actually already working.
Likewise, you don’t actually have to be a single-mother to wonder if Jenny Macklin on her $6000 a week salary that our taxes pay, actually lives in the same country wed do. The tsunami is coming.
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