David Combe was ALP National Secretary from 1973 until 1981
Just over a month ago, I received an email from an old friend – an ALP Life Member who belongs to the ‘my party right or wrong’ school of loyalists – asking my thoughts on the likely outcome of the election which Prime Minister Rudd had just called. In my reply to her, I said in part:
“I have not been optimistic for some time….. Unless the way things happen has changed dramatically, I still believe that once the electorate ‘takes out the baseball bats’, there is nothing which is going to change the outcome. And they took them out a long while ago.
“I may of course be terribly wrong, but I have been expecting the polls to decline quite dramatically once the election was called. I shall never forget 1975, and the ephemeral lift we got during the constitutional crisis which disappeared as soon as there was a chance to vote the government out. We, of course, knew that the lift was only ephemeral, but the faithful did not and somehow expected a miracle. The electoral mood for the duration of Julia’s Government has been eerily reminiscent for me of 1974/75 in many ways. I am looking forward to reading Kerry-Anne Walsh’s book on the subject, but I must say that I found the events of June 26th. (and its aftermath) quite depressing. I would never buy shares in a company where a former CEO sacked by the Board for incompetence spent three years undermining both his successor and that Board until bringing the company to the edge of bankruptcy, only to be reappointed CEO as a last ditch measure to save the company! Why should Australia? And I expect that when the Libs start spending their money in earnest, that message will come across……the cause of the original problem cannot be sold as the solution. “
I have now read “The Stalking of Julia Gillard’, and recommend it to anyone who wants to better understand how derelict many of Ms Walsh’s journalistic colleagues became in not disclosing what they knew and telling us what they saw. Instead, they themselves became ‘spear carriers’ for the ambitions of one of the great exponents of “rat-fucking” and “plausible deniability” – practices made famous by disgraced former US President, Richard Milhous Nixon.
Since Saturday night, I have marvelled to read and hear so much analysis of the results which an untrusting simpleton such as myself suspects comes from a continuing symbiotic relationship between these lazy or incompetent Press Gallery journalists and the court of Australia’s very own Kardashian Klan – Kev, Kherese, Kjessica, Knickerless and so on – communicating to an insatiable public their every deed, thought, and selfie….. We have been reassured that fortunately, and like Bazza McKenzie, Kev and the Kardashians saved the world on Saturday. The result for Labor was much better than anyone expected; NSW’s Sussex Street faction from whom Kev gained so much support both times he became Leader is proud of its campaign to save seats; in fact it seems one can take comfort that like Billie Snedden in 1974, Labor didn’t actually lose at all….they just didn’t win! Quite heroic, really…
But consider this:
- The ALP’s primary vote on Saturday was by a long way the lowest it has received since the Second World War (which is as far back as I have had time to check), and a massive 9% below that achieved in 2007.
- Antony Green, the ABC’s latter-day Malcolm Mackerras tells us that the party’s primary vote in NSW was the lowest in a Federal election for 100 years.
- He tells us ditto Victoria.
- Ditto Queensland, except there it didn’t even reach 30%. However, some may take heart from the fact that it was slightly ahead of the 26% achieved in the 2012 State election debacle.
- And in South Australia, Nick Xenophon tells us that in the Senate poll, on primaries; his group outpolled the ALP which will be reduced to one seat.
The truth is that as Bob Hawke said on Saturday night, this was a disastrous result for the ALP, and no amount of spin about saving individual seats, or two-part preferred vote (2PP) can change that fact. Even in the dark days of the post-Dismissal election of 1975, after which it held only 29% of the seats in the House of Representatives, the ALP under Gough Whitlam received 42.8% of first preferences – or 9% more than at this election. It was in 1990 that the party opportunistically met the rising threat of a minor party (the Australian Democrats) by focussing on chasing preferences and the 2PP vote rather than primary votes, and its first preference vote performance has eroded ever since. As Paul Keating once observed, you cannot win government without a first preference vote percentage which starts with a 4! Saturday’s result leaves the party a long way short of that.
But Labor’s task is not without hope…. When Bill Hayden took the leadership following the 1977 defeat, and at a time when the ALP was wallowing in despair – but at least recognised the dimensions of its plight – he was able to bring it to the brink of victory again in just three years. However, as history will record, Hayden was an exceptional Leader of the ALP, and arguably its unluckiest in not reaping the fruits of his endeavours by becoming Prime Minister.
In a future blog, I shall share my thoughts on what I believe the ALP must now do. In the meantime, I hope that it can find within its ranks a Bill Hayden to unite its Parliamentary Party and begin the process of rediscovering the values which once enabled it to set the national agenda – even from opposition.