Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Why I am in the Australian Labor Party

Nineteen year-old Brontë Cleary joined the Australian Labor Party recently, more than forty years after I took the pledge. Her story is a positive response to the recent deluge of negative coverage:
Why I joined Labor

After reading Andrew MacLeod’s piece on The Age website about why he left the Labor Party, I found myself reflecting on the reasons I decided to join up in January and, more importantly, why I’m in it for the long haul.
Unlike Andrew she isn’t looking for a new centre-left party:
Today, the Labor Party’s belief in social justice is reflected in countless policies. The recent change to the Sex Discrimination Act will reduce violence against women and children, while the delivery of DisabilityCare will impact a long-marginalised group of Australians.

While there are vocal and – at times – very public debates within the Labor Party on issues like marriage equality and asylum seekers, I know by being a vocal and active member of the Party that I can fight for my personal beliefs and for a stronger Labor Party.
Andrew McLeod argues for the creation of new political parties on the progressive and conservative sides of politics. On the right he’s too late as the Liberal Party has given up any pretence of small-‘l’ liberalism and might as well call itself Conservative. On the left, perhaps he wants to see a re-birth of the Australian Democrats or a more electorally acceptable version of the Greens. Good luck!

Climate Change and Industry Minister Greg Combet addressed the National Press Club on 6 June 2013. His speech The Clean Energy Future - One Year On didn’t get much publicity but it is a gem. It was a mixture of reasoned arguments about the government’s climate policies and an impassioned call to defend the positive record of the last five and a half years:
We will fight to win the election. 
Our economic management has been strong through difficult international times:
  • we have solid economic growth, and relatively low inflation and unemployment;
  • private investment remains strong; and
  • contrary to the Opposition's hysteria, debt to GDP is low. 
We have made hugely beneficial reforms for the economy and the community:
  • in education - to improve schools and improve the opportunities for kids from less advantaged circumstances;
  • in universities - dramatically increasing the number of places in degree courses, especially for young people from low income families;
  • in health - making huge extra investments in healthcare, in extra doctors and nurses, in mental health, in dental health and in aged care;
  • in support for families and pensioners - with a record increase in the pension, the child care rebate, a paid parental leave scheme, improved family tax benefits, and better superannuation savings for workers;
  • in workplace relations - protecting people's rights at work;
  • in supporting people with disabilities;
  • in delivering broadband, and massive infrastructure investments;
  • in promoting innovation, and supporting people through structural change in the economy.
I could go on - it's a long list. 
They are all things worth fighting for. 
And fight we will.
I’ve been a member of countless ALP branches in Victoria, as well as in the NT and Western Australia. Others can talk better about what the party stands for. The overwhelming majority of the people I’ve met have shared common values and a vision of where we should be headed. There has been plenty of debate, sometimes positive and sometimes wasteful brawling centring on personalities and factionalism.

There have been plenty of issues that have caused division within the party since I first voted. War, conscription, uranium mining, East Timor, the US alliance, State aid to non-government schools are just a few. The current policy failures such as treatment of asylum seekers and same sex marriage will be worked through.

There have always been tensions between the rank-and-file and the party organization, particularly when in government. The power of unions and factions has been hotly debated at least since the 1960s. Ironically, today’s ‘faceless men’ have national profiles. Their relationship with the party is one that urgently needs thrashing out. However, it must be remembered that during some of the darkest days following electoral debacles, the unions have been a key part in Labor’s survival and revival.

After attending Julia Gillard's Community Cabinet on 17 April in Ringwood Victoria, this was part of my response:
Somewhat upexpected was the very warm and loud reception Julia Gillard received from the standing-room only crowd. At times it felt more like one of Gough Whitlam's public meetings, with plenty of true believers in attendance. In addition, the government's DisabilityCare program seemed to have attracted a significant number of the participants. 
The level of civility was also surprising given the depths of public abuse and denigration our political discord has reached recently. Exchanges were good-humoured and without interjections. Great to see that democracy can flourish without descending to some parody of a survivor reality TV program. No testosterone, and no belittling! 
In fact, there was very little spin. Don't take my partisan word for it. Watch the video.
I am very happy to stand and fight the next election alongside people like Julia Gillard, Greg Combet, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and Victorian State Opposition leader Daniel Andrews. Not to mention the members of my local Black Rock branch, and Brontë Cleary of course.

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