Thursday, June 30, 2005

Latham's disgruntlement

"When maintaining factional power is put ahead of civility, decency, honesty, humanity or even legality, then bullying and thuggery become lazy substitutes for debate. Behaviour unacceptable outside NSW Labor is all too often rewarded within it."

Faulkner at Lagan's Latham Biography booklaunch.

Latham has been causing a stir again, perhaps more effectively from the "borders" then he could have ever from within the confines of the Australian Labor party.

Latham and Faulkner are right to criticise Labor/the ALP's "toxic culture". Because the ALP is. It's as simple as that. The ALP is poisoning itself, and as a result has diminished any impact it has as a viable "opposition".

The ALP's problem - it suppresses it's critics, rather then listening to them. This does not work very well in Australian political culture.

Australian political culture, I have learned, has a habit of "adoptive" politics. That is, a long standing party rarely has an original idea of it's own but instead keeps it's unwieldy structure afloat by hooking itself to the policies of more buoyant surrounding minor party rafts. Some of these minor parties are little more then air rafts, one puncture and pfft - but while the raft floats the posturing is loud and has impact (bit like 1970's greenpeace with loudspeakers). The major party silencer of choice is simply to adopt the minor parties policy and "drown them out" - neatly snaring the minor parties vessel and wiring it onto the composite body.

While I personally grimace at the unoriginality of this whole "stay afloat" solution, it is a great way of telling who the most effective opposition party really is - the one the incumbent is choosing to "emulate". Historic case in point, 1990's Hansonism. Oh yes, great cringe factor there. But really, she kicked up more dust on her own then the entire ALP did in the late 1990's. Current case in point - Howard's racking off at Bob Brown over Tasmanian rainforests, and Howard's subsequent "save the whales campaign", followed by the Downerian slot in the "Save Zimbabwe" boycott movement. Most forgotten case in point - Australia's incumbent government is not actually "a party" at all but a coalition. References to "The Coalition" grow thinner on the ground with each passing week, and when those references do appear a punter could almost be tricked into believing "the coalition" are a party - rather then a conglomerate consisting primarily of the Liberal and National parties. The National party absorbed, a minor party which rose to prominence after being tacked onto the bailing body of the former Liberal ferry. Fringe case in point - The Australian Socialist Alliance, an "alliance" of disparate groups who hire themselves out for free with tin-drums and placards to whatever's going "we have to represent the people" they cry as they sink into the morass of anti-semitism dressed up as "anti-zionism".

Traditionally, environmental issues, whale saving and human rights abuse lobbying existed almost solely in the realm of NGO's. It was only when Green parties grew from mid 20th century NGO's and rose to formidable third party status globally in the 80's, that the environment, whales and torture were ever petitioned by political parties. Splinter socialist and communist parties almost snared the human rights abuse spot, but unfortunately have been undermined by the abuses of their own former larger bodies.

The issues represented by the Green party are not represented to any major extent by the ALP, and yet those very Green party issues are forming a considerable part of current Howardian rhetoric.

That the Green party in Australian politics is more effective then the ALP is all the more significant for the Green's "centrist" appeal. I hear you baulk. Yes, The Australian Green Party is a "centrist" party. Again, witness "policy adoption". Not only have hard-right incumbent parties recently attempted to "absorb" Green impact by posing as whale savers, tree-huggers and Zimbabwean refugee advocates, but minor hard left parties identified the "Green threat" years ago and have pre-emptively been employing absorption tactics for several years with the publication of "The Green Left Weekly" - a publication by one of Australia's variant socialist organisations looking for all the forest as if it issued from the very press of greenpeace itself. Till you read past the header.

So, while absorption politics is unoriginal and insincere (yes it is) it does actually swing the dynamic away from two-party preferred politics. If you're a minor party with a threatening message, chances are, sooner or later you'll see a major party taking up your campaign out of shear vote fear. What this means; minor parties play a powerful role in Australian politics.

Which all points to Labor's ineffective hull. It has no distinguishing policy marking it in opposition to "The Coalition". The balance of power is not held by Labor with it's vast vote, but by the minor parties, with their clear and bell-like appeals to policy reformation.

Is Latham right to rock his ex-parties boat? You bet he is. He's onto something. Boatrocking is on the rise (and even Howards backbenchers know it).

Latham shouldn't just publish his diaries, he should damn well start a blog.

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