What about the ALP which, despite its protestation about its commitment to social justice and the social wage, has also effected neoliberal outcomes over the past three decades? Just witness its recent support to Australia becoming a member of a revised TPPT. And it has done this even in the face of objection from parts of its left wing and the remnants of the union movement. Yet the union movement itself has been corporatized with a number of high profile ex union leaders having moved into the corporate sector.
The ALP is as factionalised as the LNP and has a leader who consistently trails behind the actual PM in the polls, but for no good reason that I can see except that the ordinary voter may think a potential ALP PM should not demonstrate such naked ambition as Shorten does. Nonetheless, he has held together a disciplined parliamentary party since he was elected leader of the opposition, a party now beginning to make the right noises about mitigating the effects of climate change, especially given the welcome efforts of the Victorian state ALP government.
But if, as seems likely, it wins the next election it will be required to begin the dismantling of corporate welfare, the hallmark of the neoliberal state. This may, however, just be too much to ask. It will require a balancing act on the part of the members of the elected parliament who have distanced themselves so much from the voters. It will also involve a step back from the hothouse environment which Canberra has become, fed by hordes of lobbyists, ministerial advisers and the media, whose concern is limited to short term victory with no concern for the kinds of long term problems so well articulated on Pearls and Irritations.
Yet it might be easier for the ALP to make the transition to the “sensible centre” as it is much closer to it than the present LNP, nor is it so hamstrung by the contradiction between economic liberalism and social conservatism so dominant in the LNP. Moreover, a move back to the centre would be consistent with the tradition of the ALP as a social democratic party of the European kind, especially exemplified during the Whitlam government which remains the benchmark for this kind of government (and associated culture) in Australia.
Even with a shift back to the centre–a shift still unsatisfactory to Labor’s left which has gone to the Greens, even though they remain with Labor when giving preferences–the leadership of the party will need to place a damper on any outbreaks of schismatic activity. This can be done if a group of half a dozen issues of fundamental importance for Australia over the next three decades are decided upon and then developed in terms of rational policies that can be explained and argued in a number of forums. It is not difficult to determine what these issues might be, after all countless surveys have told us what they are: living costs, energy, education and health, with climate coming behind the others. All of these fall within the traditional bailiwick of the ALP and over the last few years the LNP has almost completely turned their back on them. The ALP could build a coherent long-term vision around these, one which would be seen as part of its social democratic tradition, one focussed on the community as opposed to the individual. Such an option is traditionally not available to the LNP.
Dr Greg Bailey is an Honorary Researcher, College of the Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce, Latrobe University.