MUNGO MACCALLUM. Labor accepts ritual humiliation.

Jul 30, 2019

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.



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