In 1949 Prime Minister Ben Chifley addressed a State Labor Conference, saying these words:
“I try to think of the Labour movement, not as putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket, or making somebody Prime Minister or Premier, but as a movement bringing something better to the people, better standards of living, greater happiness to the mass of the people. We have a great objective – the light on the hill – which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand. If it were not for that, the Labour movement would not be worth fighting for.”
Compare these words with contemporary politics. It seems every decision is purely designed to put “an extra sixpence” in someone’s pocket. We equate wealth with worth and vilify those who have failed to make it onto the gravy train. We want our unions to extract every cent they can for us. We want our government to cut our taxes and increase our concessions.
But money does not necessarily make better people. As John Gumming said,
“Dignity and rank and riches are all corruptible and worthless; but moral character has an immortality that no sword-point can destroy.”
Chifley speaks of service and a vision to make the world a better place. He does not speak of personal ambition or winning elections – the ideals of the movement are more important than the individual politicians.
The “light on the hill” is the betterment of all humanity. Instead, we have closed our borders, ignored the pleas for help from a world in turmoil, and refused to co-operate in global action on climate change and income inequity. We have slashed foreign aid and chosen instead to ramp up military spending.
Society has been replaced by economy in the minds of politicians. The government is like the parent who devotes all energy to accumulating money but spends no time with their family. The means have become the end goal.
Even with such a focus on the economy, we find our politicians either sadly lacking in economic understanding or deliberately misleading the populace for their own agenda.
They have chosen their advisers from a very narrow group of people who share very similar views and who are most unlikely to offer any criticism of the government’s stated direction. In effect, they are there to rubber stamp the Coalition’s policies.
They have also chosen to employ literally thousands of people to “sell” their message. I have always been of the opinion that if a product is good enough it sells itself. The hold that advertising has taken on the world is frightening. These people have absolutely no qualms about lying and, in politics, we have no consumer watchdog to punish them for false advertising. Any government that would employ Mark Textor shows how little regard they have for truth or integrity.
But what of the alternative?
Increasingly the public are expressing their growing concern about the Labor Party’s lack of vision. It seems apparent that ideals have been forsaken for personal ambition as more time is spent on factions jockeying for position than in defining the direction of what was once the people’s party. Preselections are handed out as favours rather than on merit. Policies are hidden until the next election.
Chifley said that if it were not for the light on the hill, the Labor movement would not be worth fighting for. That light seems all but extinguished and, unless Labor can find the courage to articulate a truly progressive alternative, it is time to look for honourable individuals to step forward to represent us and to stop the laziness and corruption that the two party system has allowed to flourish.
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