MARGARET REYNOLDS. Where do we go now?

May 20, 2019

It’s a sad day for Australian Politics when  national  reform is rejected and  voter priority is reduced to individual benefit .

But why should we be surprised ? 

For six years now conservative political debate has encouraged  a very narrow view of significant issues. Slick slogans have replaced serious consideration of complex  topics  Much media coverage of politics has featured the sensational behaviour of certain individuals , but  constantly downgraded any serious analysis of the policies that most affect us.

As a community too many people dismiss politics as boring and irrelevant and many Australians place little value on their civic responsibilities.
Who can we blame when the country that pioneered electoral democracy now risks the tendency to dumb down politics so that negativity is more valued than serious thought about policy options?

As a lifetime member of  Australia’s oldest political party I regret my criticism of “party politics “ but I trust that as the 2019 election is reviewed, the Labor Party will be prepared to seriously examine the factors that have contributed to some degree of voter alienation.

I understand that unity and tradition are fundamental  in maintaining a well functioning system of policy development and in this regard the Shorten Opposition created an impressive agenda that should have been embraced by more Australians.

However local personality and factional politics  must be challenged by senior party leaders charged with maximising acceptance of a national program of action.
It is foolish to allow local machine politics to bypass popular candidates and proven performers to simply entrench loyal foot soldiers with limited voter appeal.

Preselection must become merit based and factions need to better test their choices by having a higher regard for those with effective communication skills for policy advocacy.
Similarly it is important to recognises  the need for staff to be employed for their competence  and insight not mere factional loyalty .

While of course  our trade union base is both historic and essential  for representing Australian workers, but we must also recognise that many workers are no longer unionised and they too warrant the commitment of a future government.

Furthermore a reforming party needs to build alliances and partnerships across the social divide .
It is much easier to run status quo campaigns for election than to persuade  voters about the need for reform ..

The Australian Labor Party has won government in the past because it has inspired and for many  disappointed voters Bill Shorten and his team did  inspire in 2019. But  the forces of fear and self interest  have prevailed so that Australians continue to face  policy uncertainty and  a divided community .

The team we could have been welcoming today as a  new government has  the vision and ability to introduce  long overdue reform . Therefore in choosing a new leader and policy priorities, it is so important that this setback does not undermine the fundamental direction already chosen because it does reflect the values of the Australian Labor Party.

However some serious review is necessary to nuance how best to marshall  the skills and talents of so many people who want see that change . There is a need for more innovative  ways of  including all sections of the community in decision making . Branch meetings and state conferences are part of the Labor tradition ,but they are not  the most modern way to reach out to diverse communities .The Labor Party ,like all political parties ,must avoid talking to itself and learn to be more inclusive  and adopt new ways of communicating its laudable objectives

Clearly within the parliament there are opportunities for Labor to continue to lead debate and question the dubious practices of excessive expenditure and preference swapping.
Above all it is essential that all those elected as Labor members remember to act only in the interests of Australians who expect a say, a fair go and choice.

Margaret Reynolds was a Labor senator for Queensland 1983-1999.  

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