When the hoary old phrase ‘fall on his sword’ is used to describe a resignation, in this case the end of the career of the ALP’s Noah Carrol, you know circumstances are dire.
I am not inclined to pick over the entrails of the ALP’s loss to Scott Morrison. Rather, I’m curious why the global electorate is shunning progressive, social democrat parties around the world.
I seek the observations of political scientists and commentators I admire, but even their well-crafted explanations fail to answer my questions.
I believe in human rights, equality, equal pay, peace, an end to climate change and a benign technological future devoted to the service of humanity. In short I am a product of my schoolboy and university studies of the Enlightenment, Karl Marx, and from my own era, the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes.
I am a child of the post-World War Two period; a legatee of Whitlam, Hawke and Keating. All three Labor prime ministers are like Marx, Keynes and the architects of the Enlightenment, luminaries of the 20th and earlier centuries.
But here’s the rub. The ALP of the 21st Century remains beholden to heroes whose Light on the Hill does not shine for half the voting population.
The author and orator of the Light on the Hill speech Prime Minister Ben Chifley lived in the former Labor stronghold of Bathurst. But in the 21st Century, with the exception of the regional NSW Federal seats of Gilmore and Eden-Monaro, plus one or two others, Labor is not the political party of choice.
Unless the ALP engages meaningfully with the Bush, with its unique challenges, national government remains beyond reach.
The new NSW ALP leader Jodi McKay recognised this conundrum when she chose Yasmin Catley, the MP for the State seat of Swansea in the Hunter, as her deputy.
In NSW Hunter and Illawarra seats, both state and federal, are critical paths to government.
I first met Ms McKay at the International Media Centre in Darling Harbour during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She impressed me then, and continues to shine to this day.
If anyone can win back the Bush for the ALP it is politicians of the calibre of Jodi McKay and Fiona Phillips, the new MP for Gilmore which centres on the regional NSW city of Nowra in the Shoalhaven.
Gilmore, Eden-Monaro and the Federal seat of Macquarie, with its ramparts of the Blue Mountains, and which Labor held by its fingernails, are the equivalents of Minnesota, and Ohio in the United States and Manchester and Huddersfield in England.
Similar regional cities and communities across Europe and much of the Anglophone world are suspicious of human rights, equality, equal pay, peace, an end to climate change and a benign technological future. In short their citizens despise people like you and me.
Instead they hearken the violent, xenophobic rhetoric of Tommy Robinson and his ilk. Or vote for populists like Nigel Farage, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson. The more discerning among them swallow the gobbledegook of Jordan Peterson.
In Australia mornings and afternoons are wasted listening to shock jocks, or reading tabloid muck. Many pore over pseudo-science peddled by the likes of Malcolm Roberts or the so called ‘fellows’ of the Institute of Public Affairs.
This daily jibber-jabber is the equivalent of the outpourings of George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in the novel 1984.
But it achieves nothing other than serving the purposes of a cohort of so called conservatives whose rhetoric seems the antithesis of conservatism.
So whither Labor?
I believe the ALP requires a devilish, two-fold strategy. First, win over urban Greens voters who are experiencing a similar sense of shock and loss as their Labor counterparts. Second, listen to and learn from the experiences of regional and rural Party members.
My local Federal Member for Grayndler and Leader of the Labor Opposition, Anthony Albanese claims the Unity Hall Hotel in Balmain as Labor’s birthplace.
Albo uses the Unity as a go-to venue for significant Labor announcements such as Kevin Rudd’s change to the ALP’s rules in 2013.
The problem with this is it cock’s-a-snook at regional Australia, in particular those nascent ALP supporters with a tattoo of the Southern Cross — emblem of the Eureka Stockade flag — on their bodies. And it ignores older ALP supporters who yearn for the story of a Labor Party founded beneath the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine, Queensland.
Track down the movie Sunday Too Far Away starring Jack Thompson in a fictional characterisation of ALP stalwart and designer of the It’s Time campaign, Mick Young. Watch it and you’ll get my gist.
If Albo can manage to reconcile the divergence of these two iconic Labor sites with their disparate traditions, he might reignite a light in the hearts of a demoralised ALP rank and file.
I believe Albo capable of this reconciliation. And while he is a much tougher character than John Setka of the CFMMEU, he cannot afford to alienate its membership.
Albo speaks in a vernacular which resonates with conservative, traditional ALP supporters, who since the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd years shifted their vote elsewhere.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews strikes me as a Labor politician admired in his rural heartland.
And Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s 2015 trouncing of the hapless Campbell Newman remains a warning to Scott Morrison and his Liberal cohort which is showing signs of behaviour not dissimilar to Tommy Robinson and his bully boys.
Premier Palaszczuk’s victory in Queensland proves this nation can get very angry, very quickly.
But now it is up to Anthony Albanese to find his voice and assure the citizens of a 21st Century nation that Australia, united, will never be defeated.
Henry Johnston is a Sydney-based author. His latest book, The Last Voyage of Aratus is on sale here.
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