MUNGO MACCALLUM. Albanese risks making Rudd’s mistake.

As they sweat on the results of the long-drawn out post mortem over Labor’s loss in the unlosable election, the warlords are already staking out their own positions.

The feeling seems to be that since a protracted series of blame games are inevitable, a least they can make a pretence of moving forward, even though they are in fact moving backwards.

And nowhere is the retreat more retrograde and dispiriting than the demand that the party of progress should abandon its long term targets on climate change and succumb, yet again, to the government’s manifestly inadequate agenda.

Such right wing luminaries as Joel Fitzgibbon and Richard Marles are now suggesting that capitulation would help things along in Queensland and Western Australia. Their rationale appears to be that the Labor votes were down in both, and since the two are traditionally designated as the mining states, forgetting about emissions would bring the punters flocking back to the fold.

The logic is patently absurd – while Labor mishandled the Adani issue, and Bob Brown’s quixotic caravan of protest did not help, the real problems in Queensland were Clive Palmer, Pauline Hanson and the monopolized Murdoch media, none of whom would have moved a nanometre if Labor’s target for reduction was 45 per cent, 28 per cent or zero.

But hey, you have to blame something, and it sure as hell isn’t going to be us. So the so-called policy relies essentially on self-preservation – a mixture of timidity and perversity.

If it were to be implemented it is not clear how it would play out, but the lessons from history is not promising. And not even ancient history – it is only a little over ten years ago that Kevin Rudd walked away from what he once called the great moral challenge of our times and  put his own ambitious plans for climate change on the backburner.

Dumping what was seen as a core belief – a principal point of difference between Labor and the coalition – caused a slump in his government’s support and the resulting polls, both public and private, provided the excuse the recalcitrant faction bosses needed to replace him, leading to all the instability and vendettas that followed.

The heavies of Sussex Street and beyond were not interested in climate change – their idea of a moral challenge is grabbing the last dim sum from a long lunch in Chinatown. But the rank and file, and the swinging voters, saw Rudd’s defection from the cause a betrayal, not only because most of them believed in it, but because it showed that when the pressure was put on him, he was just another political opportunist – one who preferred expediency to principle.

And this is precisely the risk Albanese is already accused of – that he stands for nothing, that he is driven by the polls and the focus groups, and thus is not worth supporting. He has got away with caution and moderation to date, but climate change is the big one; and will become more urgent as the extreme weather and the passionate politics become more intense.

If self-preservation is really involved, he needs, this time, to hold firm. It may be a long way to the next election, but tapping the mat on this one could be irreparable.


Mungo MacCallum is a veteran political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy.

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10 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. Albanese risks making Rudd’s mistake.

  1. Allan Kessing says:

    We’ve had the appalling spectacle of Fitzgibbon (he re Adani “we need to get the coals out of the ground asap – in 50yrs it’ll be worthless”) speaking at Gerard Henderson’s Sydney Institute, Chalmers appealing for the abandonment of equity and becoming a remora to reolib sharks and AA too afraid of his own shadow to say a word.
    As Frank Crean Snr said “The Labor party, once the cream of the working class, is now the scum of the middle class!”.

  2. Andrew Glikson says:

    Betrayal is the name of the game – even when it comes to the future of nature and the next generations. There was a time when leaders fell on their sword if they were defeated in battle or lost their core beliefs. Nowadays they would not resign their privileged positions to take a stand even against the existential danger posed to advanced life on Earth, including their own civilization. While large parts of Earth are burning, nor do some parliaments, preoccupied as they are with minor political squabbles, declare a climate emergency.

  3. Rob Stewart says:

    Can’t disagree with your point Mungo, but I think it relates to a much bigger issue – and that is the corporate takeover of our monopoly LibLab party, within our rapidly evolving kakistocratic oligarchy (we always lag the yanks but we’re trying to catch up, Scomo is sort of Trump-lite).

    Albo, or anyone who might be motivated by unshakable high morality and principles, can take the ALP to more defeats, defeat after defeat after defeat. You actually make the point in your article when you say it would not have mattered – the Murdoch muck press and Clive wouldn’t have changed their attack. Labor can continue to be a crack suicide squad, losing with a few principles intact, or completely capitulate to neoliberalism’s corporate demands, completely selling out it’s raison d’etre, but getting a few spoils for their career politician side for once. Either way, society, community, the environment and workers are shafted. Joel Fitzgibbon from coal country has seen the light.

    This all started 40 years ago, and although Hawke and Keating were much better than the current rabble, they started selling out the majority, as Clinton and Blair did in the US and the Old Dart, respectively. When vile atrocities like Reagan and Thatcher emerged the challenge wasn’t to beat them it was to join them. Hawke and Keating’s capitulation came a bit earlier, was less virulent, and was smarter, but the result is going to be the same.

    Albo or Tanya or Penny won’t make any difference. It’s structural and it’s over. It doesn’t matter what Labor’s spinning, blame shifting post morten says, when it comes to principle, ideology or morality in politics it’s all over – the players just need to think about their own careers now, there is nothing left, and certainly nothing LEFT.

  4. Ken Dyer says:

    Fear and greed has led us to where we find ourselves today.

    Australians need to be reminded of the policy speech of 1949 by Ben Chifley:

    “ it is the duty and responsibility of the community and particularly those more fortunately placed, to see that our less fortunate fellow-citizens are protected from those shafts of fate which leave them helpless and without hope. That is the objective for which we are striving. It is the beacon, the light on the hill to which our eyes are always turned and to which our efforts are always directed.”

    This should be a core tenet of today’s Labor party, but unfortunately, they have lost their way.

    Gough Whitlam also spelt it out:

    “…Chifley saw that the fundamental duty of the community, acting as a whole through its elected representatives, was to provide security for all its members. To that I add the basic objective of promoting the basic goal of equality. As I see it, the two goals are inseparable. I have always put the search for equality in positive terms, that is, the promotion of equality, not the imposition of equality.”

    And Australia is the land of inequality today, no more illustrated by Robodebt, Jobstart allowances that continue to diminish, draconian rules for job seekers, stagnant wages, high pension deeming rates, and a host of other impositions that together add up to inequality and insecurity, that have been supplanted by fear and greed. Something has to change.

    And this was further enforced in a speech by Barack Obana in Illinois

  5. Felix MacNeill says:

    Quite apart from the politics, anyone prepared to prevaricate like this in the face of an unequivocal emergency deserves to be consigned to history’s very capacious dustbin.
    Some things have to trump political pragmatism if our politics are to mean anything.

  6. Mungo, I don’t think Albanese has “got away” with anything. And nor should he. An excellent article here on P & I from Allan Patience (10 October) suggests that RADICAL change and progress are needed. And certainly not a cowardly, ridiculous shrinking into Lib-lite. Many agree. Comments I posted in reply to Allan follow (in part). Perhaps there is someone among P&I readers who can counsel the current “leaders” and, indeed, lead them to kinder pastures? Is there? We are all getting pretty desperate.
    Below are my comments to Allan, relevant here too? I hope so.
    Are there any among P&I readers who have personal relationships with Albanese or Marles – and could bring to them some understanding that they have no chance of “winning” by tossing aside the social and environmental protections fundamental to progressive 21st-century politics? Caving in to fear – and to the toxic protectionism of neo-liberal, hyper-capitalism – is itself an unforgivable defeat.
    Their greatest “win” now – and they are not “cutting through” in any way at all – would be to step aside. They’d be heroes, both of them, if they could silence those within their own party who might as well be Liberals, and support the kind of leadership and renewal that Tanya Plibersek and Penny Wong and Linda Burney and Kristina Keneally could bring. And others.
    To have women across the top row would signal a profound readiness to move forward in a new way, ideally with some genuine co-operation with the Greens, and certainly with a fresh band of media/social media/local organiser advisers. (And certainly with meaningful clean-outs and shake-ups to the “Sussex Street” style of backroom politicking which betrays every decent ALP supporter.) Too much to ask? The alternative is appalling.
    Also worth noting, ALP lost the election by 0.43 of a million. Overall vote: 7.3 million LNP (many still waiting for franking credits even though they have no shares…) and 6.9 million votes for ALP.
    Heed this: despite Palmer’s, Murdoch’s, Reinhart’s MILLIONS, their puppets won by the most slender margin: 1.17% “decided government”. (Those figures from Ash Leahy @AshleyLeahy for those of you following #auspol on Twitter.)
    With a leadership shake-up, and the progress and hope and vision that Allan Patience describes [10 October 2019], ALP could win and wisely use their power. But playing Liberal-lite is death.

    • Lorraine Osborn says:

      Thanks for the link Stephanie . Taking one for the team as you suggest Albanese and Marles should do is beyond them. Shorten should have done that after 2016 election. I am in despair about the hubris of these blokes.

  7. R. N. England says:

    The electoral system has turned two forces for good against each other. Albanese’s main rivals in Grayndler are the Greens. Raising people out of poverty and saving the biosphere are both good causes.

  8. Lorraine Osborn says:

    Good advice for Labor from Mungo. It’s looking grim and there doesn’t seem to be anyone capable of doing a Whitlam.

  9. MikeJess says:

    I’m not sure Albanese and the other long term labor opposition really want to do the work to get on the government benches. A new “Calwellism’ if you like a label. Get rid of the old bunch and bring in some young enthusiasts. Even one of the ALP’s better performers, Kristina Keneally looked tired and sounded disinterested on yesterday’s Insiders. I just cannot for one second imagine a decent Labor politician not being able to turn the discussion with Fran around to deeming rates and the appalling government treatment of the less than seriously rich elderly.

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