MUNGO MACCALLUM. Labor accepts ritual humiliation.

One, two, three, four
Keeping faith’s a dreadful bore.
Five, six, seven, eight
Tap the mat, capitulate.

This, it appears, is Labor’s new tribal chant. And needless to say, it is less
of a battle cry than a muted whimper.

The party that once boasted of the fire in its belly is now too cowed by electoral defeat to resume the battle of ideas – it has no stomach for further conflict. Surrender is, at least for the moment, the preferred option.

But let us be clear, it is not a realistic option. Politics is inherently an antagonistic process – if you like, a war without blood. There are times when it can be, and should be, bipartisan but such truces are rare; if bipartisanship was the norm, there would be no need for parliamentary democracy in the first place.

Politics is not about avoiding conflict, but managing it: resolving disputes without killing people. But it does not mean the disputes disappear, or that the protagonists should be silenced. As the man said, maintain the rage.

And this is where Anthony Albanese needs to be remain relevant. It is one thing to be careful, to settle into his new role and bring his troops to order. But if he continues to be too cautious, he will end up giving them nothing to fight for,

Scott Morrison is clearly on a high and is baiting Albanese mercilessly. He has now got through three key pieces of legislation – his tax cuts, his drought fund and his foreign fighter exclusion bill. And although Labor argued passionately and at times convincingly about the shortcomings of all of them, in the end the opposition has folded.

Morrison sneers that Albanese is presiding over an opposition “with a capital O,” but in fact that capital O looks very like a big fat zero. Labor talks a good fight, but is unwilling to carry its passion through to vote for it.

Okay, it has not got the numbers. Oppositions never have – that is why they are oppositions. But they owe it to their supporters,  only a small number fewer than those who supported the coalition, to give them a decent show. And to date, they haven’t.

The tax cuts, or at least the third stage, that will deliver a shitload of money for the rich, should have been resisted to the end. If the government continued to refuse to split the bills Albanese should have called their bluff and continued to agitate for stages one and two – as he had urged. The crossbench senators were prepared to cave – but Labor could still have stuck to its guns and its principles on such a fundamental issue of fairness and equity, not to mention hard economics.

And as for the drought fund – Albanese’s refusal to hold the line against raiding Infrastructure Australia looks like not just pusillanimity, but something close to parricide. Infrastructure Australia was Albanese’s own creation – the very special baby he birthed in 2008 in one of his first forays as minister.

It was, and is, an attempt to make sense out of a confused area which had been dominated by slush funds and pork barrelling. It was independent and non-partisan. And it was Albo’s pride and joy. But now it is to be dismembered at the demands of the National Party to create a Drought Fund which, whatever reassurances will be given, will be an invitation to return to the past – to the slush funds and pork barrelling.

And it was not even an election promise – sprung on the new parliament as “a matter of urgency,” despite the fact that no money will actually be delivered to farmers for at least one year and probably two. The Minister, David Littleproud, howled that by delaying it, Labor was denying desperate farmers the only solace available to them. This was both untrue and cynical. But again, Albo tamely submitted.

But perhaps the most egregious backdown was the foreign fighters exclusion bill. Even the Liberals on the Parliamentary Committee that examined it thought that it needed amending. The chairman, Andrew Hastie, a right wing warrior appointed by Morrison precisely because of his hard line approach, signed the unanimous report that said, among other things, that it gave too much power to the minister, Peter Dutton.

Given that Hastie had backed Dutton in last year’s leadership putsch, that was surely a reason for Labor to hold the line. If Morrison is determined to give Dutton everything he wants, make him wear it – and of course the doubts over whether Dutton’s latest exercise in megalomania is even constitutional should have been enough for Labor to vote against it anyway.

But once again, Albanese has taken the approach that if you can’t beat them on the numbers, you might as well join them in the chamber. And so the chickens come home to roost, and we do mean chickens. And as everyone knows, chickens are there to be plucked – or something that sounds very similar..

Morrison has now developed a new taunt: “Whose side are you on?” The correct reply should be: “Well, not yours, you vacuous marketeer of bluster and bullshit.” Instead, when the crunch comes, it is to roll over and submit, and wait for the next ritual humiliation ScoMo can devise.

And of course, he will devise plenty – successful bullies always can.

It has now got to  the stage where Albanese needs to stand up simply in order to remain in touch with his own side – if he does not believe in his own policies, why should he expect anyone else to.

And the crunch is about to come.  The government’s wedge of the week will be the bills spun to remove Albanese’s enemy John Setka. but are in fact far wider measure to neuter or even eliminate entire trades unions, the final solution to the centuries-old war between laissez faire capitalism and organised labour.

Surely Albanese cannot duck this one. Watch this space.



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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8 Responses to MUNGO MACCALLUM. Labor accepts ritual humiliation.

  1. j austen says:

    Mr Maccallum:
    The thrust of your post may not surprise those who saw Labor effectively run dead on infrastructure in the NSW and Federal elections – little if any criticism of Coalition idiocies, ignoring the big issues, proposing its own pork – bicycle paths, the Woy Woy car park etc:
    I am not sure of the connection between using ‘building australia’ funds for drought aid and a demise of Infrastructure Australia – my understanding is that organisation doesn’t have a pool of money to dole out, rather Federal infrastructure spending comes from general revenue and is made by Government decision – hopefully delegated from Parliament. If I am wrong, there may be significant problems arising from some of Infrastructure Australia’s past project assessments.
    Two further observations might be worth considering:
    . most Commonwealth spending on transport infrastructure (and recommendations from Infrastructure Australia) has no relation to Commonwealth purposes but is simply a piggy bank for the States. The very definition of pork. It relies on Constitution s.96 and it would be fascinating to see how it might fare if challenged in the High Court – given some recent questions about s.96.
    . the Infrastructure Australia publications I have commented on in Pearls etc – Sydney Metro, WestConnex, public transport franchising etc were so extremely poor e.g. as to suggest the organisation needed a complete overhaul including of its processes and form. and
    that was a bit over a year ago, and maybe now former Productivity Commission Chair Mr Peter Harris AO is on its board things have improved. I might look….
    In the meantime, given its prior practice of repeating what States had put to it e.g. Sydney Metro, perhaps you are referring to a case of parrotcide?

  2. Charles Lowe says:

    Mungo – patience!

    These Bills were foreshadowed before the election; it can be argued (however unconvincingly) that the Gov’t had a ‘mandate’ for them.

    Labor needs to re-motivate. The more abject it knows its surrenders to be, the greater their re-motivation.

    Further, just when are you going to name the elephant in your own journalistic office? Your close appreciation as to why the Greens are claiming to be “the real Opposition”. Namely the continued dominant bribery of the NSW and Federal Party by Right Wing Unions (think SDA and AWU) in terms of electoral funding. You’d do better to use your talent to provoke Labor’s Australia-wide adoption of Andrews’ electoral funding protocol.

    I invite you to look to the longer term – the strategic picture. It’s not simply a matter that if Jacquie Lambie is not disposed to vote for a Bill then that Bill is stuffed (an admission lacking in your article), it’s far more a question of how soon a re-invigorated Labor Party can seize whatever moment might arise. And both NSW and Federal Labor cannot do that unless they reform their electoral funding protocol – and the associated structural reforms that such reform necessitates.

    And I thought you were a realist!!

  3. Andrew Glikson says:

    On the most critical issue facing the world and Australia – dangerous accelertion of global warming – the ALP has surrendered even before the election, when it gave up the resistance to the Adani coal mega-mine. What was the “greatest moral issue of our time” has become a whimper.
    Nor are there any significant differences regarding foreign policy.
    The rest is detail.

  4. John O'Callaghan says:

    A lot of Labor supporters are waiting for a Messiah to lead the party to the promised land instead of rolling up their sleeves and working towards making this Govt .
    Messiah’s these days are as rare as hens teeth and have the same bite!

  5. Michael Faulkner says:

    Yes, Mungo, Albanese has been very unimpressive so far.

    And you are right, Morrison has been granted a narrow majority win at the last election, and he is marketing that win in his bombastic bullying style, as though it was one of Australia’s most significant election victories
    Bullies typically invade your space. We should forget how Shorten quietly and decisively called Morrison out on that, during one of the election debates, by calling him a ‘ space invader’ when he Morrison got right into Shorten’s face with an aggressive question.

    That is Morrison’s quest now, to make the ALP utterly redundant.

    Over to you Anthony Albanese, ….. you self-styled fighter of Tories !

  6. Lorraine Osborn says:

    “Surely Albanese cannot duck this one”. The old street fighter needs to dust off the gloves and get in the ring and go hammer and tongs. If Labor lets the LNP get away with what could be the defining assault on unions they may as well give the game away and change the party name.

  7. Hal Duell says:

    The challenge for the Labor Party, as I see it, is to retain enough core support within the electorate that following their defeat in the next Federal election they can elect a leader who Australia can get behind to win the following election.
    It looks like we’ll have ScoMo and Dutton for a few years. Does the ALP have someone with the vision and the appeal to take us above that?

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