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A New Narrative


Image from smh.com.au

It’s really frustrating to find that respected commentators like Jonathan Green persist in suggesting that there are no material differences between the LNP and the ALP. Writing in Mamamia, in an otherwise thoughtful article about Julia Gillard and the importance of gender, he said ‘our parties are in broad agreement’ and that ‘heartfelt views that test the status quo are out of favour in a mannered modern politics that is an often loud contest for whatever unique but slender toeholds might be found in the narrows of the middle ground.’ I think that the few short weeks since the election show how shallow this view is.

On one hand, we have an Abbott government doing exactly what we thought it would; denying the reality of climate change and championing the unfettered free market’s right to exploit Australia’s natural resources without let or hindrance by government. Sacking the Climate Commission and supporting fracking  – despite having said during the election campaign that they favoured restrictions – are only the beginning. I

t’s true that the LNP’s ‘small government’ rhetoric hasn’t always played out in practice in the past, and it will be interesting to see how they react to the small government right wing nut jobs that have, perhaps inadvertently, been elected to the Senate.

Will the blocking of such ‘big government’ initiatives as direct action to meet the carbon reduction target, or Abbott’s signature paid parental leave scheme lead to a double dissolution? Will we see an Abbott election campaign supporting the intervention of government into the free market? I won’t be holding my breath.

Don’t get me wrong; Liberals – and especially Nationals – don’t really believe in ‘free’ markets – they are perfectly happy to distort markets through things like fuel subsidies and negative gearing, to say nothing of state aid to private schools. They want interventions that protect the already privileged. They just don’t want interventions that make society more equal, and, heaven forbid, use government to do anything that could possibly be done by private enterprise, no matter how inefficiently or inequitably.

Abbott himself seems confused between populism and the politically correct Liberal free market line, but the weight of neo-liberal opinion in his party and among his big business mates will prevail, and they’ll forget about the carbon reduction targets and the paid parental leave scheme.

Like the conservative parties in Britain and the US, the LNP stands for smaller and smaller government and the broadest possible play of the free market consistent with the interests of their mates. And that’s what we’ll get.

On the other hand, the contest between Bill Shorten and Anthony Albanese for the leadership of the Labor Party has given us the opportunity to focus on ALP policy in a way that wasn’t possible during the election – or for most of the last six years.

The reasons for this failure are complex and include the mainstream media’s obsession with political trivia rather than policy, the difficulties of working in a hung parliament and the ALP’s inability to break free of the daily grind and enunciate a broader vision.

How many times did we hear them criticised for not having a ‘narrative’? (No one seems to criticise the LNP for not having a narrative – perhaps it’s just taken as a given that power is all they care about.) In fact, I think there is a Labor narrative, and it’s just easier to see it when someone – in this case, two people – have to enunciate it publicly.

There are a couple of caveats here. It’s easier to talk about Labor values to Labor Party members who mostly share them than it is to talk about Labor values to swinging voters, who are very likely interested in what’s in it for me. Labor’s not like the Greens. As a major party, Labor needs to appeal to something approaching a majority at any election. They can’t just aim at policy purity for the 8-10% who support them. Thus the rhetoric for the internal audience probably isn’t going to be the same as that for the population at large. One of the challenges for the ALP is, however, to align the two sets of rhetoric.

Second, the Labor narrative has, of necessity, changed in the last twenty years. There might still be references to ‘the light on the hill’, but Chifley wouldn’t recognise the current Labor Party or the political landscape it finds itself in. Paul Keating’s embrace of neo-liberal economics – financial deregulation, dismantling of tariffs, privatisation – has seen to that.

There are now far fewer rusted on Labor voters, far fewer unionists, far less sense of common cause than before economic rationalisation reduced us all to single competing units in a market economy.  It’s because both major parties accept market capitalism that we are told that the parties are the essentially the same. But I don’t think that’s ever been true.

What have the two candidates for Labor leadership been saying about Labor’s narrative? Essentially both agree that the ‘fair go’ is central to Labor’s worldview. Both are committed to improving the lives of Australians in the future.

Now any party could say this. What do Bill and Anthony have in mind? Both seem to be looking at gaps in the current activities of government, in areas like urban public transport, better provision for old age and science and innovation, as well, of course, as defending the gains of the Rudd and Gillard governments in education, disability, and health.

Call this a defining narrative? Well yes. Implicit in Labor’s embrace of economic rationalisation is the promise of an accompanying social wage which ensures that the market does not simply reward the strong or the lucky. It is this social wage that is eroded by small government and low taxes. It is this social wage that requires active government intervention in the market. Only a Labor government can deliver this – the other side doesn’t recognise either the need or the means to achieve it. The narrative is thus government intervention in the market to promote greater equality.

Neither candidate has put their vision in quite these terms; support for greater equality is the nearest they’ve come. I think it’s time for Labor to stop being afraid to say that greater equality can only be achieved through government and that it is the party of government intervention. Given the apparent success of the mainstream media’s anti ‘pink batts’ campaign, they may need to find better ways of saying it. But, thank you Jonathan Green, it’s what makes them different from the winner-takes-all views of the free market Liberal Party.

There are lots of areas where Labor needs to work harder for greater equality than it has so far acknowledged. One stands out: the need to ensure that the rigours of climate changes do not fall most heavily on the already disadvantaged – and this includes many rural communities.

There’s been some acknowledgement that Labor’s agenda has to include sustainability as a core filter for all other policies; for example, there’s no point creating jobs that simply add to the problem of greenhouse emissions. Even the British Conservatives can see that a low carbon economy can create new jobs; Labor’s challenge is to promote growth that is not only sustainable but also equitable. Pricing carbon – which is, of course, a market mechanism – is a good start, but is by no means a sufficient response to the changes that global warming will force upon us.

There’s no doubt lots of other areas where modifying market outcomes is necessary; housing provision and taxation policy come urgently to mind. Labor has time to develop policies in such areas, so long as it is true to its promise to listen to the needs of ordinary people.

The Liberals and their friends in the mainstream media can be relied on to call such policies class war or the politics of envy. This is rubbish. As Warren Buffett says, ‘There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.’ He should know.

Labor doesn’t oppose capitalism, or profit, or entrepreneurialism. Nor, these days, does it want class warfare. But it does want to use the power of government to create a more equal society, and it needs to say so loudly.  And it needs to build new constituencies in support of this.

There is much at stake here. It isn’t just about Labor. It’s about rekindling the belief in the efficacy of government action that twenty years of neoliberalism has eroded. The market, as it is currently configured, is not serving us well. We need to revive the belief that government can, and will make things better. Next time Jonathan Green says Labor and Liberal are the same, can someone please send him this article?

By Kay Rollison


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  1. Annie Dodd

    What aload of rubbish. Try writing something relevent to me. I am an Australian citizen who is currently very disengaged. This story says absolutely nothing of relevence. Congratulations…….NOT.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Then Annie I think you might be happier on the Murdoch sites.

  3. Kaye Lee

    Annie try telling us what IS relevant to you. I find social equity very relevant, in fact it underpins my whole philosophy of life and I think it is the defining difference between our two major political parties.

    “Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members ; the last, the least, the littlest.” Cardinal Roger Mahony (1998):

  4. randalstella

    The article looks OK.
    But I am keen to ask what is “otherwise respected” about Green? Other than his practice of moral equivalence and his equivocating, I see nothing. I see nothing but the new ABC, the LCP propaganda machine paid for by me; wherein the “moderates” are too gutless to stand for principle, fairness and the truth. Read Green’s guff and you will continue to be frustrated. Where are the rebels in the ABC? Where are the whistleblowers? Where are the real, investigative journalists?

  5. Richard Leggatt

    Thanks’ Kay, I agree with you entirely, the past 20 years have seen the embrace by Labor of Modern economics and the clear value of Market competition ( where free and equal competition exists!) and as a small businessman and a rusted on Labor man I think it has been (generally) for the good. The problem as I see it is that Labor has never owned the changes, and that has allowed it to still be painted by the Libs as the sort of semi-socialist, maybe commie? certainly leftie, anti the individual trying to improve himself party. We know that it’s nonsense, But the swinging voter clearly, is easily swayed and any success Labor has with economic policy (G.S.T. stimulus as an example) is seen, if it’s even noticed, as probably just luck. My own view is that Labor needs to embrace emphatically it’s economic credentials but always with the caveat, that we support an ETHICAL free market. Not a race to the bottom, no U.S. style $7.25 minimum wage. No cutting “red tape and green tape” at the expense of worker safety and or the environment.
    Do everything to support any business that is prepared to accept their responsibilities to the greater good not just to their share-holders, By defining carefully in that manner we could easily create appeal across 60% of the population. IF WE SPEAK WITH ONE VOICE AND REMAIN CONSISTENT!!!.
    # And by the way, why do we fight with the Greens? Aren’t all real progressives environmentalists? We can be both ethical Capitalist, and custodians of the environment. Extremists at both ends of the political spectrum can’t seem to see this, am I the only one? :-)

  6. Richard Leggatt

    Thanks Kaye, sums it up nicely, but of course, that tells us we’re both idealists? 🙂

  7. Kaye Lee

    Richard I have always said the Greens should tell us what to strive for and the Labor Party should work on how we can realistically achieve it. We need the idealists and the pragmatists to work together.

  8. Kaye Lee

    Shhhhh I am a closet idealist with pragmatic tendencies.

  9. Billy moir

    Funny or sad? I have never found the ABC ‘labor’. Indeed over the last 3 years, especially in 24 and breakfast, the approach seemed more like the only consistent question the coalition guests were asked was ‘would it be alright if you talk and I will listen’ and labor got ‘when did you stop beating your wife.’ As for greens jonathon and antony variety, I complained about the latter’s compass and got this answer:(which I sent to media watch with an example of an ABC announcer who used ‘results’.

    It’s true that The Nationals are not listed as a separate entity, but as part of the Federal Coalition, The Nationals’ policy is not substantially different from the Liberal Party. Another consideration is that they are only fielding candidates in rural electorates unlike the other three parties who have candidates in pretty much every electorate.

    Again, the choice on September 7 is yours and there is no attempt to sway Australians in any particular voting direction, rather a chance to reflect on the issues set to define the next election.

    Yours sincerely
    Adam Doyle
    Abc news
    Dear ABC,
    Sadly, your ‘election compass’ shows that many traditional labor values, especially
    for the over 60s, are attributed to the greens.
    This skews the results making me a green/labor and my wife a labor/green but my
    neighbour is ‘coalition’?
    I would like to know why the Nationals were left out of the compass when they form a
    group arguably far more important than the greens?
    I object strongly to you(the ABC) using such results when I would not vote for the
    greens in a fit. I view their representatives and their policies as befitting a ‘lunatic
    left’ minority and marginally preferable to the rabbott’s ideals.
    These flawed results will be used by academic juveniles at University and ABC spinners
    like, Antony Green, leigh sales and alberici as statistics worthy of extrapolation into
    opinion which will be, shamelessly, rolled out on ABC autocues all over the country.
    Where parts, out of context, will be picked up by the commercial media. Resulting in
    News Corp bias and uniformed announcers putting in their tuppence worth giving another free
    bash at labor.

  10. VoterBentleigh

    This is a fine article and articulates what has been giving me the pip for a number of years now – commentary that there is no difference between the ALP and the Coalition. It has become increasingly clear that there are considerable differences and, under the current leadership of the Coalition, these differences are growing. Notice how the PM now regularly refers (as both a signal of defiance and a forceful push further to the right) to call his party Conservatives rather than Liberals. Not least amongst the differences is the ALP’s readiness to be more open to scrutiny than the Coalition.

  11. Möbius Ecko

    The Nationals’ policy is not substantially different from the Liberal Party. Another consideration is that they are only fielding candidates in rural electorates unlike the other three parties who have candidates in pretty much every electorate.

    The first statement is not true and the second doesn’t cover the fact that though Nationals don’t contest urban electorates the Liberals certainly contest rural electorates against the Nationals, and apart from an increase in the last Federal election that saw the Nationals help the Liberals win government, the Liberals have been slowly but surly undermining the Nationals.

    If you look at the National’s policies, many are diametrically opposed to the Liberals, like DAP, CSG, automotive industry assistance etc.

    The ABC is being very disingenuous here and as I saw this morning are in full swing promoting Abbott again. Not one opposition says when from day one of the previous Labor government there was nothing but. You could not see an appearance or statement from the Labor government without an opposition says, often with more media time and favourable coverage. Now you cannot see the opposition anywhere in ABC coverage except if it’s to disparage it.

  12. diannaart

    I agree there is a fundamental difference between the LNP and Labor. However much of this important difference was lost during Labor’s more right wing policies.

    Seeing as the foundation of equality and equity isn’t enough for the likes of Jonathan Green, one suggestion would be to stop foisting a few hapless boat people on third world countries and adopt the formerly workable, cost effective (compared to offshore) on shore assessment, and, by the way, HUMANE treatment of displaced people.

    That would go a long way to restoring some faith in the disaffected Labor supporter. Treating single parents as families would also help – Newstart was an appalling act on behalf of the Gillard government, as much as I am a fan of Julia Gillard, this was another step to the right we could’ve done without. No hope of the LNP rectifying this harsh piece of discrimination any time soon.

    On another thread I pointed out the urgent need to develop sustainable and clean technology. Could the Greens and Labor stop the bitching and just get on with creating a better place to live?

    Well, any and all of the above would help.

    Thanks for the article, Kay, I find your work nuanced and mature as well as broad in outlook.

  13. Bacchus

    Treating single parents as families would also help – Newstart was an appalling act on behalf of the Gillard government…

    diannaart – this was one of the more successful pieces of misdirection and spin by the MSM during the term of the Gillard government. The change was actually made in 2006 by the Howard government, but they set up an anomaly in the legislation by “grandfathering” anyone who was already on the parenting payment at that time until their youngest child turned 16, not matter how many more children they had.

    All the Gillard government did was to remove this anomaly – making the rule the same for all single parents – yet the impression in the big wide world (thanks to the MSM) was that they’d been guilty of instigating the policy in its entirety.

    Now an argument can certainly be made that a Labor government should have been providing parenting payment to all parents, including those who’d become first-time parents since 2006, but that wasn’t what this policy change was about…

  14. diannaart


    “Now an argument can certainly be made that a Labor government should have been providing parenting payment to all parents, including those who’d become first-time parents since 2006…”

    I’d like to see that.

    I am too tired right now to research this, however if you are correct, then Labor did nothing to restore this piece of unnecessary hardship on single parent families.

    Also, it is another example, where Labor failed to clarify itself. BTW I would’ve voted Labor for the Lower House if Julia Gillard had still been PM and there are many people who feel as I do.

    Labor needs to clearly define what it is about, thanks to the 6 years of MSM smear, even people who try to see through the B/S can still not get to the truth.

  15. Bacchus

    diannaart, if someone as politically aware as you doesn’t know of the history of this payment, what hope for the general public fed by the Murdoch & Fairfax press, repeated unquestioningly by ABC and Commercial television?

    This from Peter Costello’s 2005-06 Budget Speech:

    People who are unable to find work deserve support from the taxes paid by those who are working. But those who are working deserve to know that others capable of work are at least looking for work in return for their income support.

    If more people are able to move from welfare to work then this will help them with higher incomes and better participation in mainstream economic life. It will also reduce the obligation on other taxpayers whose taxes pay for the welfare support.

    Our proposal for reform announced tonight is to start on 1 July 2006. From 1 July 2006 those on Parenting Payment will be expected to look for at least part-time work when their youngest child turns six and is ready for school.

    Tonight I am announcing a massive increase in outside school hours child care which will assist those parents.

    Of course if they are unable to find work they will keep their payment. Those on Parenting Payment at present will keep it. Those coming on to Parenting Payment after 1 July 2006 will continue to receive it while their youngest child is under six and then move to enhanced Newstart when that youngest child turns six.


    A background paper can be accessed here: http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/rp/BudgetReview201213/ParentingPayment

  16. FatherJon

    Jonathan Green must have been having one of his devil’s advocate days. He’s a died-in-the-wool politically correct Labor man, like most of the ABC/SBS stables. He’ll jump on any band wagon passing by so long as he can back the Labor shower and denigrate the LNP.

  17. FatherJon

    Typical lefty response. When all else fails resort to scorn and abuse.

  18. diannaart

    Bacchus & Kaye Lee

    No one is perfect. I guess my background in environment tends to make me better informed on things ecological than across all social issues. OK, the evil LNP empire brought in the needless pain to single parent families. I’ve got it. Instead of berating me – perhaps my mistake illustrates how any of us can be mislead by the MSM standard of churnalism. No?

    I will repeat what I have been saying across the various blogs here at AIMN, until we take action, instead of endless argument, on AGW, there is no point in worrying about family welfare, interest rates, cheating on tax claims, LNP V Labor, whether people who vote Greens are as rude as LNP voters….none of it will matter.

    The irritating part is that sustainable tech will provide jobs as well as being long term future proofing for our species.

  19. Kaye Lee

    Bacchus is correct…there is no “if” about it.

  20. Kaye Lee

    In May, Prime Minister John Howard unveiled a “Welfare to Work” package of changes to pensions for people with disabilities and single parents. These were part of the annual budget proposal, which also included enormous tax cuts for the rich. Peter Dutton, the Minister for Workforce Participation, argued that “people’s self-esteem is much greater if they are off welfare and into work” — a transition that the new program, presumably, would facilitate.

    • Single mothers and fathers whose youngest child has turned six and people with disabilities assessed as capable of working 15 hours per week will be required to look for part-time employment and will get $20 per week less than currently.

    • When paid work is obtained, welfare payments will be cut more sharply than is the case now.

    • Payments will be cut off entirely at a lower level of earned income. This will also cause many people to lose reduced rates for things like healthcare.


  21. Kaye Lee

    FatherJon you are just pig ignorant. You truly haven’t a clue.

  22. Bacchus

    Likewise diannaart, I didn’t wish to come across as “berating.”

    perhaps my mistake illustrates how any of us can be mislead by the MSM standard of churnalism. No?

    I did in fact make this very point in my reply – if someone as politically astute as you can be mislead by the MSM, what hope for the not so politically aware? It was very easy to be mislead at the time, given what was appearing in the MSM.

  23. Kaye Lee

    FatherJon I apologise. I let my frustration get the better of me. Can I phrase it another way. You need to broaden your reading and check the credibility of your sources.

  24. diannaart



    Kaye Lee

    I am fully aware that we cannot switch off fossil fuels to sustainable overnight, please credit me with some intelligence.

    As for what the Greens are supporting ATM, I can’t comment until I take a look myself. Given present condition, dunno when that will be.

    As for Tony, he is going to be One-Term-Tony, he is not a leader, not a statesman, every day that passes reveals his incompetence no matter how much of a lid is placed on the MSM.

    We have unsurpassed instant communication – plenty of methods for much leakage.

  25. Kaye Lee

    dianna I did not mean to berate you and we are in full agreement about the urgent need for action on climate change and the potential of renewable energy and sustainable practices. Where we diverge is in the practicalities of how to achieve it. It just is not possible to stop the use of fossil fuels in an instant. Unfortunately Tony Abbott has stated he wants to see the coal industry grow and I have grave fears about proposed port expansion and its effect on the Great Barrier Reef. I also have grave fears about the expansion of CSG mining and fracking. According to all reports I have read, Direct Action will not achieve the inadequate goals to which we have already committed and Tony Abbott has also stated the money he is prepared to spend on it is capped. How he can say this, and that they can’t afford to increase the Newstart payment, whilst still spruiking his PPL scheme is beyond me. I don’t understand why the Greens are backing him on that.

  26. Kaye Lee

    The Greens’ scheme pegs paid parental leave to the salary of each parent to a cap of $100,000 per annum, and with a safety net floor of the National Minimum Wage, to be paid for 6 months (or 26 weeks). That means over the 6 months the paid parental leave for the primary carer will be between $16,170 and $50,000 based on their salary, plus any additional support provided by their employers.

    The Australian Greens’ paid parental leave (PPL) scheme:
    -Provides 6 months of paid leave at 100% of the primary carer’s regular wage, capped at $100,000 per annum ($50K for the 6 months) which recognises paid parental leave should be a workplace entitlement, not a welfare payment.
    -Includes superannuation contributions to ensure women are not disadvantaged later in life for taking parenting leave.
    -Provides 2 additional weeks of leave to the secondary carer at 100% of their regular wage, capped at $100,000 per annum which means the second parent, often dads, will have secure and fairly remunerated time to bond with their new child.
    -Funded by a 1.5% business levy on companies’ taxable incomes above $5 million, plus an achievable additional government contribution, of $1.9 billion over the forward estimates.

    I would have thought that this sort of payment should be means tested rather than “capped” which means that people earning millions are still eligible to receive $50,000 (slightly less than Tony Abbott is promising). I also would have thought that an increase in the Newstart payment would have been a higher priority.

  27. gorgeousdunny1

    Victoria, I think you make a valid point which is very often overlooked.

    The coalition’s rhetoric is often worse than its actual bite. Over time it has found, especially since it is fundamentally weak on drawing up public policy (as Dr Hewson once remarked about Howard), it has found it expedient to keep a lot of the system in place. In the Howard years, the hubris of Workchoices excepted, they did learn some of the limits of power.

    But it is a mistake to assume that it is pretty much the same. The enterprise agreements and superannuation were both sharply rejigged to reflect the big end of town interests. Perhaps the genius of Howard, whether by accident or design, was to extend welfare benefits to the upper and middle income groups. In the short term it helped win the marginal seats. In the long term it made the whole support system more unaffordable, and thus IPA-type policies seem more appealing.

    The fundamental difference between the two major parties can be seen in the Hawke-Keating years. Labor did essentially destroy its historic support-base while making our economy more competitive. Yet it would be a mistake to assume that either its roots or its intentions on equity and equality of opportunity were abandoned. Retraining and restructure support was made for those industries and their employees losing protection. Disability reform led to much greater access for those with disabilities than had ever occurred previously, and superannuation not only provided for wage-earners’ future, but allowed investment to be funded.

    It is similar today. The reforms of Gillard, although barely mentioned because of the noise about Rudd and Abbott stunts, are all about improving opportunity. There is simply not the same vision in the coalition. Even the “me too” approach leading up to the election was less than convincing. Labor barely mentioned the reach of its reforms, and the MSM seemed determined to ensure it remained unknown.

    What the government is intending with regard to climate change and to the NBN is not the least encouraging, nor is the enthusiasm for Coal Seam Gas fracking. The supporters of Abbott’s government want to take the country in a vastly different direction. It seems doubtful that the moderates will be able to resist.

  28. diannaart

    Just a question, when will Labor start being, well, an opposition? Soon would be good. Watching Abbott just get away with everything, including being paid for charity work is more than beginning to rankle.

    I’m in agreement with the very astute Corinne Grant,


    Too busy playing nice to each other with a little on the side Greens bashing. Nothing has really changed at all.

  29. gorgeousdunny1

    I don’t know that the near silence of Labor attacks is necessarily doing them any harm, diannaart. We should remember that the media spent over three years avoiding any scrutiny of Abbott or his colleagues.

    At the same time they seemed to place an embargo on reporting on anything the government was doing in governing. Which is really what any sane person would imagine the Press Gallery would report on. As Victoria has often shown, this government was passing some outstanding reforms, in the most difficult of circumstances – a minority, threatened daily by Abbott and Pyne stunts undermined weekly by Rudd and his Cardinals – and still achieving! It was a great story that they either missed or chose to miss.

    Instead, the only things they wanted to discuss, even if it was to each other, were how diabolical the polls were and how close Rudd had now reached in his attempts to challenge. It took 81 attempts before they finally got one right. So it’s nice now, even if it is only on Liberal NP rorts, to see the media finally doing its job. Let the media get on with it, i say, while Labor works out what it and its supporters stand for.

    As for Greens-bashing, I haven’t noticed much of it myself or I might have joined in. Rudd was the abiding damage Labor was saddled with, but the Greens could have helped a little more, as a party supposedly in alliance. Had they accepted Malaysia, Manus Island and Nauru wouldn’t have been considered, and Abbott would have lost his only talking point. And the humanitarian intake would’ve been greatly increased. Sometimes you have to take the least worse option. Onshore was politically impossible.

    Am i being too cynical in believing that part of the motivation might have been aimed at picking up Left ALP supporters?

  30. Adam Smith

    KayRollison, I enjoyed your thought provoking challenging article, especially your opening paragraph to establish your case and proposition. I recall in 1989, the American political philosopher, Francis Fukuyama published an essay which he called ‘The END OF HISTORY’. He argued that as advanced nations began celebrating what he considered to be the more or less permanent triumph of freer democracy, he saw the “free market” and democracy as not only compatible but as mutually supportive. That was 23 years ago and as I explored your thoughts about the Australian political system reflecting back to me what it is, that we are actually doing now, the question I would also raise, examines Abbott’s policy’s governing our welfare, wealth creation-market based upon a perils of a free market free-for-all?

  31. diannaart


    I appreciate your point of view. However, time is passing and I believe that sufficient has been given to selecting a new leader. If we are to achieve OneTermTony, either Shorten or Albo must then regroup the party and decide what Labor stands for.

    Will Labor continue to stand by the hard line treatment of refugees? In spite of the high cost of offshore processing, in spite of the damage to children and and families?

    Will Labor treat people caring for children more realistically – by which I mean eliminating the poverty trap started by Howard and continued by the Gillard government?

    Will Labor reform FairWork which was really just Workchoices light and give a real chance for a level playing field between workers and employers?

    Will Labor build upon the reforms brought in by the Gillard government (and give due credit)?

    Will Labor repair the mess made by Abbott of any action on climate change and encourage investment in renewable, sustainable tech?

    Will Labor stop funding private for profit schools and support education for all?

    I cannot place a vote for Labor until it does remember its roots, its people, its truth to stand up to the powerful minority and ensure a fairer distribution of the opportunities and wealth that by fortune this country has to offer us all.

    As for the Greens, they are far from perfect, I too have issues with their policy on PPL as KayeLee just a couple of posts previous to yours, decided to attack. The point is this Greens policy will never see the light of day, although it does achieve keeping a light on the issue of parenting and paid employment. Meanwhile, a very real PPL may be implemented by a ‘welfare for the rich’ Abbott, at huge expense.

    Also why should the Greens just be a follower of Labor’s? It is an independent party, not a pet dog as the National Party is primarily to the Liberal Party. Could the Greens have done more to support Labor, I actually believe it should – but not at the expense of its own ideology on environment, treatment of refugees, eliminating the lack of means testing on such as PPL or first home buyers scheme and the points I raised above.

    Working with does not equate to being a follower. it means walking together. It is not easy and often is messy but it does have at heart an honesty and truth, which while not all things to all people, is a far more worthwhile goal than the hypocrisy of the LNP.

  32. diannaart

    Kaye Lee

    Rest assured I do not take you personally at all. I happen to agree with your view of the Greens PPL – if you have been following my posts you would know this.

    I do not expect a single party to answer all of my needs, however, since Labor has lurched seriously to the right (for reasons I have stated previously), the Greens do fit my world view more adequately.

  33. Kaye Lee

    dianna I do not understand how you can construe informing you of the Greens policy as an attack. You have pointed out some good points about Labor. I was merely trying to do the same about the Greens. As I have said on countless occasions, I agree with the Greens’ philosophy, but I feel they did us a great disservice by their opposition to the Malaysian solution which would have allowed 4000 refugees to be resettled here, and I think they are deserting their followers by promoting welfare to the rich rather than fighting for our most vulnerable. You seem to feel every comment I make is attacking you personally and for this I am sorry. It is not my intention.

  34. gorgeousdunny1

    diannaart, I’d agree with you that Labor has shifted to the right. I’d go further and say the whole political spectrum had shifted rightwards. You could make a fair case that the Menzies government policies would be to the left of Labor today (except perhaps on multiculturalism and White Australia). Part of it is the aftermath of the shake-up the system suffered during the Reagan and Thatcher years. Pubic expectations have changed with time.

    Leaving aside the ideological issues, the public expectation is that we part with taxes grudgingly and we expect that to be spent well. What that means is that there is never quite enough to do what should be done and it is a matter of getting the most out of scarce resources. In that respect, Australia does very well on a world-wide comparison basis. According to Ken Davidson, a few years ago, we get better value for our tax dollar with social security reach than any other in the developed world. That is more down to the much-maligned public service than the political parties, but they can shape the direction.

    The issue you raise of adequate support for sole supporting parents is a case in point. As you mentioned, it started with Howard and merely continued with Gillard. However, I was at the Melbourne Anne Summers Conversation with Gillard, who did not back away from that decision.

    She said that in Lalor, there were pockets of residents who were third-generation welfare-dependent. We only hear of the cruelty of the income loss without hearing what other systems are put in place. Gillard’s aim, in supporting that program was to encourage the transition into education and employment as a way of breaking that cycle.

    I’ve been out of the public service since 1998 (when Howard closed the CES) – so I don’t know what programs of support may be in place. In those earlier times we had programs like Jobs, Education and Training (JET) to encourage such a transition. It’s probably not the same today, but I’m very sure there is some support to encourage those options. It is unfortunate that the benefit for unemployment is so much lower than the pension. In my day they were nearly the same.

    Maybe I’ve grown more right-wing as I’ve got older, but I think a lot of my concerns come from direct experience in my previous profession. We need to find ways of getting people to accept responsibility for their future and to take control of their lives. Part of that concern is that as we get an ageing population we may have less paying taxes unless we change other things.

    As to the leadership, yes, it needs to be settled. But this prolonged process has actually been beneficial in reaching out to members and explaining what they and Labor stand for. I am not sure who I prefer at this point. Each has strengths and weaknesses. But this new method will ensure we are more in touch with the leaders and the party in future.

    Personally, I feel that Gillard needed one more term to consolidate her reforms and to destroy the middle-class welfare that Howard had set up over the previous decade. They’d only made a very cautious start on that, which was about all they could manage, given the knife-edge balance and perpetual hostility from the coalition and the media.

  35. diannaart


    You have presented valid points.

    On the issue of single parents and generational welfare recipients – we are not helping anyone move on if we treat all welfare recipients somehow illegitimate. Newstart is openly acknowledged as inadequate, forcing people onto Newstart (this includes Disabled as well as single parents) only places yet another hurdle. It is a punitive approach which harms the bulk of low income people and does not solve any problems. In recent years many support programs have had their budgets cut – not just once but in a steady decline. This is due in part to a public lack of understanding and believing that the welfare $ is unaffordable. In a country like Australia we can do so much better.

    Indeed across all western nations there has been such a significant ‘jump to the right’ that even extreme notions from the right appear fair now.

    Do we want to be held to ransom like the USA is currently being held by a faction of the Republican Party?

    Clive Palmer has now ramped up his balance of power in the senate with a coalition with the Motorists party. We stand to be governed by a man who is all about power and I am not talking about Abbott. Unless Labor can offer a real alternative to the excesses of the right I do not see a reasonable future for low to middle income people at all.

    As refugees have been labelled ‘illegal’, welfare recipients have been labelled bludgers. That this can occur in a country like Australia has me despairing – and that is not even bringing in the issue of climate change.

    We are capable of better, but we simply continue to justify hounding the most vulnerable and those we have least to fear, while lauding the powerful and by our own inaction assisting the power hungry to grab more.

  36. gorgeousdunny1


    The main point I was trying to make is that there are limits to what the state can do, both in affordability and in a democracy. Asylum seekers is a case in point, where crass cheap populism and xenophobia can overcome our rational and humane instincts. The limits to what Labor can do are governed to some extent by its support base, which can easily be eroded. It is what Howard exploited, much to the detriment of all.

    It can never be an all or nothing approach just because of that. You can’t change much from opposition. Sometimes principle must be supported. I believe Labor could have made a stand on Tampa. It would have lost, but would have retained its values. But once xenophobia is established and exploited, the only way of destroying it is to gradually nullify it. Gillard’s approach, so deplored by the Greens and Left alike, would have done that, as she’d already showed with Inverbrackie contrasted with Baxter and Woomera, Malaysia sounded brutal, but it would have destroyed the boat trade, increased the humane intake of refugees, and brought the focus to a regional solution.

    As to sole parents, the support may be inadequate, but there needs to be some effort to encourage people to take control of their own lives rather than rely on state support. The most benevolent of support systems cannot work adequately if people don’t respect and support them. Here’s a piece I published on work I’d done using the support of Workcare. In my opinion it was about the best system of compensation and rehabilitation I had ever encountered. But ultimately it was undermined by people exploiting it instead of using it to rebuild their lives.

    The issues are somewhat similar with social security support. It should be a means to an end, not an end in itself.

  37. diannaart

    Where do I begin?

    How to people feed, clothe and transport themselves on a pittance like Newstart?

    What do single parents do with their children while meeting Newstart jobsearch requirements?

    How do they manage rent, medical and children’s school costs on Newstart?

    How does this help anyone “using it to rebuild their lives.”? Maybe you could start by adding up your weekly necessary expenses and compare to Newstart weekly allowance. You think you could manage? With children?

    Also, while I agree there are limits to what people can do – why should a wealthy country like Australia actually make it harder for people to effect change in their lives? This is what is meant by the ‘poverty trap’.

    BTW I was not discussing Workcare trying the red herring approach, much? I was discussing Workchoices and Labor’s implementation of a very similar package, which kept much of the worst of Howard’s Workchoices.

    Gillard’s refugee solution ‘sounded brutal’, because it was. Far cheaper to assess people onshore as well as uphold the UN convention. Refugees aren’t going to disappear because a government implements harsh treatment of innocent people.

    Why are you more concerned about a few welfare cheats and a minority of refugee immigrants, than you are with what used to be Labor’s foundation of fair distribution of opportunity?

    Newstart is not an opportunity it is the beginning of a spiral into permanent poverty.

    Offshore processing is not an opportunity, it is punitive treatment for people who, overwhelmingly, are found to be genuine refugees fleeing torture, death and persecution of themselves and their families.

    If these are those most pressing issues Australia has to deal with. Then we really don’t have much to worry about at all.

    Nothing to worry about?

    No issues with a fair and liveable minimum wage?

    No issue with the blanket of silence that now surrounds refugees?

    No issues with snout in troughs by both major political parties? (far better jump on someone who fails to report a few dollars earnings while on Newstart, eh?)

    No issue with the complete dismantling of climate change efforts?

    No issue with fracking for gas and oil at the expense of arable farmland?

    No issue with the financial support by government of private for profit education?

    I could go on, but I am sure you and others reading this blog can find many more issues far more urgent than a few welfare cheats.

    Finally, you have no issue that Labor has lost its way? You are a Labor supporter and not a LNP plant?

    Whether you are or not, you have indeed become more conservative with age, as you previously stated – that’s if conservative means a narrow, judgemental view of others. A desire to withhold a helping hand? I know I cannot change the worldview of people such as yourself.

    I have done my best to focus on issues that are of great importance. You have ignored these and chosen to focus on issues that concern the most vulnerable people. This reveals a great deal of your motivations for writing here.

  38. gorgeousdunny1

    I don’t see it as judgemental at all. You seem unable to conceive that we are unable to get all of what we want, and that it’s sometimes a matter of settling for the least worst option. Did you ever hear of politics as the art of the possible? Just what do you think Milne and SH-Y accomplished by joining forces with the tories to sink the Malaysia option?

    Well, that action led to the coalition keeping that talking point front and centre in political debate, and it led to Manus Island and Nauru being re-opened.Are you seriously suggesting that was a more desirable outcome than increasing our humanitarian intake of refugees?

    I alluded to compensation insurance because the same principle applied. Workcare was affordable but only while it was used responsibly. Similarly with social security if you followed to the end of my story. I’m not so much defending the system as pointing out the realities and limits. The reality is as I outlined there.

    If abuse is discovered, the political reaction is always to tighten up making it that much harder for those who do have very pressing needs and may be left impecunious by exceptional circumstances. They deserve better than to have to jump through extra hoops merely to justify a benefit. But it is them that pay the cost of others using the system, not tories, not public servants (though often they have to bear some the distress and abuse), but those already under duress.

    I know what I’m talking about here, having been unemployed for over a year in the early 80s, despite having a degree and a previous work history as a state manager. It can happen to anybody in the right (or wrong) circumstances.. Nobody is necessarily to blame, but people in such plight deserve to be treated with better respect than I knew then. That’s one of the reasons I joined the CES when I did find work, to ensure that nobody I dealt with was treated with that same level of indifference.

    I can say that I was able to make a difference when I got into counselling. I dealt with people with severe disabilities. I was part of the Disability Reform Panel in the early 90s that dealt with people’s access to education, training and employment – often if only to improve their participation in the community.

    I also had considerable success with long-term unemployed. Here there was a balance. Counselling can only work if the person takes part willingly, and there is an element of coercion in calling in very long-term unemployed. The argument I used in such cases was that it was better to discuss what aims they might have to move off benefits over time, by using the program assistance I could implement. Far less unpleasant than doing nothing and waiting until the hard men come along and threaten to take you off benefits. The people I’m talking about had often been claiming unemployment for over 6 years, which undermines their own ability to implement change. None of them were necessarily ‘bludgers’. There were various reasons for their plight.

    I lived in Elizabeth in the late 50s, and then was to be employed at the CES there in the mid-80s. The difference was significant. It was always working-class, but there was pride and dignity in that earlier time. That was less evident a generation later, and a large part of the reason was the rise in unemployment, the large proportion of people on welfare dependency and the loss of hope-expectation.

    I happen to believe that the cycle can be broken through taking more control of your own destiny, rather than being totally at the mercy of others. A lot of what you talk about is justified, but it is a mistake to assume that they are ‘rights’. They might have become so, but that is because many others in the trade unions and the Labor Party fought very hard to obtain them. None were given us out of generosity. They were hard-won and should never be taken for granted.

    Don’t ever think we can’t lose them, though. Look at what’s happening in the US today. It’s getting harder to resist corporate power. Democracy can be manipulated by demagogues, as Plato showed 3000 years ago. It’s still occurring today. But don’t underestimate the value of education to transform people’s lives.
    Consider what that girl went through simply through wanting an education.

  39. gorgeousdunny1

    I neglected to answer about what direction Labor was going in. My general feeling was that Gillard answered this with the policies she introduced in education, training, health, disability and clean energy. It was not publicly articulated well, and ignored by the MSM who preferred Rudd speculation stories and Abbott stunts, but I thought it was pretty substantial, especially adding in the NBN, the Murray-Darling basin agreement and the Marine National Parks.

    Labor hasn’t been good at this in the past, the best really coming from Latham, and unfortunately buried with personal controversy around him. Overall, I think it’s a pretty solid set of values, which may not be identical with past Labor Party policies, but do set the scene for a self-sufficient economy, viable enough to offer a secure future and opportunity for its children.

  40. diannaart

    Final comment to you, GD1

    I have never claimed “to get all of what we want”, simply that we can do better.

    You were unemployed way back in the 80’s and now think you are the font of knowledge on Newstart this century? Time to bring your knowledge up to date, Mr GD1.

    You are happy with Labor as it is. Clearly you have failed to read a single thing I have written. Why have deliberately ignored all I have questioned? Too hard? You choose to believe in a “secure future”, based on what exactly – don’t tell me… your own aptitude, well you have done nothing to impress thus far. Nothing about investment in sustainable technology and no help to our most vulnerable people and a shut door to refugees? Myopic indeed.

    What has the suffering and triumph of a young woman like Malala to do with this topic? She is an amazing person. An exception to the millions of women and children who suffer every day at the hands of the powerful or the little tyrants of this world. Would that all human beings were Malala’s – but we are not.

    Overall, you appear self-satisfied with the status-quo and, yes, very judgemental. Your comments on the minority of welfare recipients being somehow to blame for their circumstances (generational simply means we have failed) and able to afford both a roof over their heads, food on the table AND seek employment IS judgemental.

    Finally, you have generalised in all of your posts. I have specified areas where Labor can provide an alternative to the paltry offerings of the LNP. You have taken a patriarchal approach towards me – that you believe Labor has a “solid set of values”. Well, GD1 has told me, so it must be so.

    Where is your evidence?

  41. gorgeousdunny1

    You provide no evidence of my being judgemental, yet you are willing to cast judgement on me. Where did I say that welfare recipients were somehow to blame? My sentence was, “Nobody is necessarily to blame, but people in such plight deserve to be treated with better respect than I knew then.”

    That hardly suggests I am being judgemental. In fact I’d suggest the opposite, but I’m open to whatever inference you manage to construe on it. If you’d had a deeper understanding of what I was trying to say, you’d realize that I was getting at not what may be desired but what is politically achievable.

    The 43rd parliament provided major reforms which I’d cited. Under Gillard’s leadership it went some way to restoring values to the Labor movement, something which had become buried. A major criticism to come from the Enquiry after the 2010 election debacle was that it was unclear what Labor stood for. I think that was addressed very specifically during the course of this parliament. Fairness and equality of opportunity are fairly clear. I don’t say that they’re an end so much as a start. But you need to carry the country with you if you’re going to achieve anything.

    I’m sorry to have to resort to the past so much, part of being old I suppose. But there is an old saying that those who don’t learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. My measuring stick was Don Dunstan. He was part of the first SA Labor government for nearly 30 years and led major reforms in its first term before becoming Premier for the last year (1967-68). He was defeated in 1968, despite 53% of the vote because of a gerrymandered electoral system. He was able to use that to shame the Liberals into fairer boundaries and he swept back into power in 1970.

    Privately, however, Dunstan was shocked that despite the numerous reforms and his own popularity, he was unable to command the 56% they’d had in 1965. So he commissioned market research on it. The results suggested that however desirable change was, the public needed to be persuaded of why it was needed. It changed his approach in that he spent a lot of time on factory floors, in street rallies, on television and radio explaining the need for change. Consequently when it was legislated, hostility was limited.

    Occasionally big business did campaign against him but he stood firm. The drink container deposit legislation, still virtually the only one of its type in Australia, is testimony to that. Now, it takes a fair bit of integrity and courage to do that, and you do need to know that the public is broadly onside.

    Those of us who lived through the Whitlam Years felt a sense of deja vu during the Gillard government. There was a shrill media campaign against each government (worse this time), along with fake ‘scandals’ aimed at forcing each to collapse. A lot of us didn’t get over the travesty of 1975, that we’d waited 23 years to get a reformist government elected, we’d played by the democratic rules, but our opponents had not.

    But a larger lesson was, like Dunstan had learned, that change had to be explained and advocated, that we needed to carry the people with us with what we aimed to do. The Hawke government was more disciplined when it came to power and it learned that part well that we needed some community consensus.

    In that respect I claim to be very much in the Labor tradition. This past government will go down as one of our great reforming ones. It doesn’t mean it was perfect. There were many limits, but it still achieved and against the odds. My own personal view, for what it’s worth, is that our greatest leaders had great humility. I say that in reference to Curtin, Chifley, Dunstan and Gillard.

    As to how much I know about Newstart, well perhaps it has changed since I last claimed it. Everything does over time, in one way or another. But I can still claim to have been unemployed and all that entailed. It is not a pleasant experience and I daresay that remains so. But dealing with the unemployed and disadvantaged for 14 years does give me some knowledge and empathy. My idea very much inclines to Gillard’s, that if we can provide education and opportunity they can do more with their own lives.

    If you claim Labor can do better, well it’s not much good just whingeing about it. Why not join it, a union or a community group and put your ideas to them?

  42. gorgeousdunny1

    Diannart has retired from the protracted argument we were having, quite reasonably since we were getting nowhere in each trying to justify our positions. I thought I’d just add this link to Nicola Roxon’s John Button address.
    This sums up pretty well the points I was trying to make in carrying the country with.

  43. Carol Taylor

    Goergeousdunny1, I was thinking while I read this how spot on Nicola is…Labor is at least prepared to look at faults, prepared to learn and move on whereas Abbott will never, ever admit that he is anything less than perfect.

    You therefore have a situation where one party is perfect and the other party admits faults. Who is going to win?

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