JOHN MENADUE. What should Labor stand for? Values and principles. Part 3 of 3.

In Part 2 I focussed on particular issues the ALP faces. In this part I will focus on the way that Labor policies and programs need to be grounded in values and principles.  

The purpose and role of a Labor Government should be to give expression to values – to achieve as far as possible the ‘common good’. Values such as freedom, citizenship, ethical responsibility, fairness and stewardship would be generally accepted by most people. As the values are translated into practices Labor makes a choice that can be further defined as principles that then lead to policies, e.g. the value of fairness can be expressed in the principle of a stronger link between contribution and reward- a link which has become severed by hugely disproportionate executive pay, high returns to rent seekers and financial speculators and the long head-start of inherited wealth.

The following is indicative of a set of values and their expressions in principles which could underpin a Labor platform/policy statement.


  1. A ‘fair go’ is primarily about economic opportunity.
  2. People should be provided with a good education and those who put it to socially useful ends should be rewarded. Governor Lachlan Macquarie was no socialist but his ‘tickets of leave’ gave the outcasts and underprivileged of this country another chance. We built a nation from the underclass. We must give opportunity for all people, particularly our First People and refugees. This is also particularly true in our country towns and rural communities where the National Party has failed so badly.
  3. Fairness promotes social mobility and limits division and resentment.
  4. Generational inequity has dramatically increased. Fairness should not be restricted to education.
  5. The path to prosperity with fairness is through productivity and well-paid employment rather than government handouts. The Scandinavians have demonstrated that education and incentives for participation do produce fairness and economic prosperity.
  6. Fairness implies that we are tough towards ‘bludgers’, whether they be tax-dodgers in large and foreign firms and businesses. The vulgarity and indulgence of those with inherited wealth, protection from competition, government hand-outs and favouritism or cheating on social services. It is important that we address the sin and not attack the sinners.

Areas where we fall short in fairness include generational inequality in such areas as housing, unfair retirement benefits, neglect of early childhood education, treatment of the needs of indigenous people and refugees, diversion of education funding to wealthy schools, neglect of public infrastructure, inadequate ODA.


  1. We have inherited a stock of assets or capital; environmental (forests/water), public and private physical capital (roads/ports), human capital (education), family capital (family and friendship bonds), social capital (trust), cultural capital and institutional capital (government and non-government institutions). That stock of assets must be retained and where possible enhanced.
  2. We must use our resources as efficiently and productively as possible.

Areas where we fall short in stewardship include imperilling our planet, which prejudices our children’s future. Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change we are still influenced by media sceptics who ignore the facts.  Many super funds and fund managers ignore climate change risk. We waste water and degrade the land. We are not skilling ourselves for Asia.

  1. We all have rights to the extent that they do not lessen the rights of others.
  2. Except where the rights of the vulnerable are at stake, the government should not intrude into the private realm.
  3. The potential abuse of power should be minimised by the separation of powers and the separation of church and state.

Areas where we fall short in freedom include the growing power of cabinet and executive which is not adequately balanced by parliament and the judiciary. We have an ‘elected monarchy’. We have no Human Rights Act. We have reduced freedom as a result of counter-terrorism legislation. The media increasingly fails to protect our freedoms and often facilitates abuse of power by lobbyists e.g. miners.


  1. We are more than individuals linked by market transactions.
  2. Our life in the public sphere is no less necessary than our private lives. As citizens we enjoy and contribute to the public good. It is where we show and learn respect for others, particularly people who are different. It is where we abide by shared rules of civic conduct. It is where we build social capital – networks of trust. We need to behave in ways that make each of us trusted members of the community. ‘Do no harm’ is not sufficient.
  3. Citizenship brings responsibilities – political participation, vigilance against abuse of power and paying taxes.

Areas where we fall short in citizenship include our withdrawal into the private realm –there are growing gated communities, private entertainment, private rather than public transport, disregard of neighbours, opting out of community through ‘vouchers’, private health insurance and private schools that discourage the coalescence of socially mixed communities around shared public schools. The discussion about health is reduced to managing the system rather than the principle of social solidarity which should drive a health service.

Ethical responsibility

  1. Those in prominent office should promote those qualities which draw on the best of our traditions and the noblest of our instincts.
  2. The duty of those with public influence is to encourage hope and redemption rather than despair and condemnation, confidence rather than fear. It is to promote the common good – to encourage us to use our talents. It is to respect truth and strengthen learning to withstand the powers of populism and vested or sectional interests. This would set a tone of public discourse which nurtures public institutions

Areas where we fall short in ethical responsibility include leaders who appeal to our worst instincts, e.g. dog whistling on refugees, executive salaries, undue influence of vested interests and corporate lobbyists. Those in public office should help the community to deal with difficult problems which may require painful adaptive change, such as climate change, rather than provide the false comfort of ignoring or downplaying them.

I do not suggest that Labor should not focus on specific policies and programs. But not too many so as to confuse. But specific election policies and programs must be grounded in secure values and principles that are held by social democrats.


In government and opposition the ALP has set the public agenda in Australia for over a hundred years. I am confident that it can and will continue to do so. But reform is clearly necessary.


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7 Responses to JOHN MENADUE. What should Labor stand for? Values and principles. Part 3 of 3.

  1. David Gillett says:

    Your 3 articles are very interesting John… Thank you.
    I read the ALP constitution a while ago and if I have read it/recall correctly there are a couple of things in there which are very noticeable
    1) The party describes itself as a “democratic socialist” party which is at odds as to the description Bill Kelty Bob Hawke and yourself for example have used … that term used being “social democrats”. These two terms are very different I think.
    2) The ALP constitution uses the term redistribution but nothing referencing economic growth
    3) The ALP constitution says that it will take action in conjunction with the unions to achieve the party objectives. Lessening union control over the ALP would be very difficult if it were considered desirable.

    If I have read the constitution correctly how do these 3 items fit in your analysis? Thanks again.

  2. Michael Flynn says:

    Dear Mr Menadue, Thank you for your confidence in the ALP that gives me hope as a member of Canberra North sub branch that supported Alicia Payne to win Canberra. Here we seldom look to the past but work in the present for a better future for all Australians and mean it. Alicia has at the top of her list New Start and the NDIS and could speak to these issues in her first speech in the House I hope to attend. Perhaps Mr Morrison will look to the example of Sir Robert Menzies in implementing good ALP ideas. If he does and acts on the Uluru Statement from the Heart he will win support.

  3. John Doyle says:

    The other comment I would add is to remind readers what is government for? what are its responsibilities and duties? It’s spelled out in the article but very basically it’s responsibility is the well being of every person on the nation, every person. That means the society has to be structured around providing for the well being of every one, ist nation and new arrivals included. We must have safeguards in law ,in welfare, in education and employment and infrastructure etc. These we can provide free without privatisation. That we leave to the profit making, entrepreneureal spirit of the public . There must be no profit motive around public services. This needs to be emphasised by public declaration at every sitting of parliament., just to keep it from being overlooked.

  4. Bob Ellis says:

    John’s observation that “The ALP has set the public agenda in Australia for over a hundred years” fails to acknowledge that the ALP was during that time (and remains) essentially a party of opportunists who in large part were responding to the activists in the Communist Party of Australia (or similar). That reaction and role of follower was evident in both the Trade Union movement as well as in broader social activism. Unlike the ALP which nurtured racism for example the CPA was prominent in support for the Gurindji Walk off, the change of the Constitution and it was left to the CPA and other Marxist-influenced groups to oppose the US and Australian occupation of Vietnam. The ALP in all such matters were and they continue to lead from behind.

    • John Doyle says:

      The Welfare State was a response to Communism after WW2. The big spending victors, the USA decided to show that the West could better look after its citizens than could the Soviets.The Marshall plan paid for it. The only chink was that they didn’t do it at home, although some progress was made. But so many countries went for welfare that it had to be a plan, in case anyone is in any doubt.

      What political party is not composed of opportunists. Why should Labor be exempt? Mistakes are made but the economy has benefited more from Labor politiking than from the LNP. who are the SERIOUS opportunists.

  5. Noel Child says:


    I really enjoyed your observations regarding Labor. It is a party very much at the crossroads – and to continue to provide effective representation for its followers (not necessarily only members and insiders) it will as you say require genuine reform. I think the party has allowed itself to become too backward looking, and has failed to track the children and grandchildren of its past stalwarts. They are out there – but very much disconnected I fear. They need to encouraged back to the fold – and the fold needs to perform. The “new deal” crew are looking a little bit incestuous I fear. A bit of substance and integrity would also help greatly, and in my view dumping a good man like Ed Husic to achieve a very dubious outcome looked like a very dodgy start to the “great recovery”.

    • Noel, I do not think that Ed Husic has been “dumped”. The factional rituals clearly need updating, no question about that. However, Husic displayed real character, and a strong (rare) sense of something bigger than personal ambition, stepping aside with dignity for the sake of a very strategic move to elevate Kristina Keneally, allowing her to be deputy Labor leader in the Senate (deputy to the immensely strong Penny Wong), and also Shadow Home Affairs Minister. KK has shown in Senate Estimates that she has exceptional abilities in calling to account unethical behaviour. Where are those skills most needed now, with Peter Dutton continuing to have so much power over the lives of the vulnerable, increasingly damaged refugees – and so much power also to determine what companies will profit from the INDEFINITE DETAINING of vulnerable human beings? This is a huge task. Ed’s time will also come.

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