Friday, December 03, 2004

Politics: The problem with the ALP

Posted by AmishThrasher at 1:05 pm
Federal Labor
Houston, we have a problem
Last night, I was up fairly late and ended up watching Lateline (on the Australian ABC), where they had an interview with Queensland's Premier, Peter Beattie. Amongst all the talk of Labor's woes that has flooded the media lately, I found this the best description of the problems with federal Labor, and what needs to be done about it. I't's included in my blog because I agree with Beattie's assessment. I've highlighted the important parts in bold; like always, the original interview transcript is in italics, and my comments aren't.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, are you sick of a losing Labor Party when it comes to federal elections?

PETER BEATTIE: Look, I think everyone in the Labor Party would like to win - that's natural. I'm concerned that amongst our ordinary rank and file, there's, I think, a concern about where we are. Wherever I go, I find a lot of people worried about the federal party - despair in some quarters - so look, of course, I'd love to see the federal Labor Party in office. It means that we can work better in areas like education, health, you name it.

So look, I am worried about it, yes.

MAXINE MCKEW: What's it going to take to turn the tide, do you think?

PETER BEATTIE: Look, I think there are three fundamentals that win elections - firstly, good candidates, and I think we need to do better in that area. I'm talking about ordinary candidates. We had some good candidates, but I have to tell you, we had some duds as well.

MAXINE MCKEW: Do you want to name them?

PETER BEATTIE: No, I don't - no, I don't want to do that, Max, but I think it's important that if the party is serious, that at a National Executive level and at a parliamentary level, there needs to be a clear discussion about who's going to get what. We can't factionally divide the seats up, it's got to be on the basis of talent. So that's the first problem.

The second problem is we've got to have good policy, and the third one is you've got to have a good campaign.

On the third one -- and I'll come back to the second one in a minute - I think we can learn something from the conservatives. When we were in the wilderness up here, when I was party secretary, we spent some time looking at what the National and Liberal Party did in terms of campaigning techniques. I think their campaigning on interest rates and so on hurt us. I think we can learn something from that.

The second one about policy - I think we've got to spell out policy early, particularly when it comes to economic management. At a State level, we always run that. That's the first and primary strategy we run - economic policy, a strategy for growth, and then we get on to the key policies of education, health, environment, you name it.

MAXINE MCKEW: Tell me this: when you saw mid campaign or realised mid campaign that in fact Labor was not responding to the attacks by the Government about Labor's interest rate record, were you bewildered that there was no response?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, the sort of response that came wasn't good enough. I don't think you can let an argument like that go. Australians, particularly in a State like Queensland, where home ownership is so important - well, it is everywhere - but people are buying homes here, we've got such growth in the housing sector. Interest rates are a killer. You can't let that argument go. It was wrong to let it go. The Liberal Party campaigns were very effective. We should have responded in kind with them and we should have highlighted the Hawke-Keating record. I mean, frankly... we should be very proud of what Hawke and Keating did, and we didn't do that, and that's a problem. We should highlight our economic credentials. If you don't, you lose. That was a major mistake.

MAXINE MCKEW: Did you try and get that message through?

PETER BEATTIE: Oh, look, I don't get involved in federal campaigns. State leaders get their nose whacked out of joint real quick if they do. I'm always happy to give advice if asked, but that's a matter for the federal party, that's a matter for the tactics, but that was a bad tactic.

MAXINE MCKEW: Tell me this: when Labor won, of course, in Queensland in 1989 - as you know more than most, because you were one of the key reformers - it was the result of a decade-long piece of work at the organisational level, the search for quality candidates - you referred to that. Do you see any evidence that that kind of hard work has begun in terms of the federal caucus?

PETER BEATTIE: No, I don't, and I think that's a real problem. I think we should face up to some very serious issues. The other day, for example - and I'm going to be really blunt about this, because I love the Labor Party and I want it to win - the other day, we had a shadow Cabinet meeting, for example, and then the guts of that Cabinet meeting appeared in every newspaper. I mean, I've never seen such disloyalty in my life. If they were in my Caucus or Cabinet, I'd shoot the lot of 'em.

It doesn't matter who the leader is, you can't operate like that.

There was supposed to be a peace shadow Cabinet meeting and then we find the guts of it revealed in every newspaper. I mean, that sort of disloyalty is just outrageous. I can't see how any leader - it wouldn't matter who the leader was - if you don't have loyalty, if you don't get some sort of semblance of unity, then you've got no chance.

MAXINE MCKEW: What would you say that disloyalty is symptomatic of, though?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, clearly, there is - I mean, people are going around in circles at the moment and I think we've got to find some direction. My view is very simple. I think we should stop navel gazing about what went wrong. I think there's clear indications of what went wrong - the campaign didn't focus on issues that were going to win and we didn't respond to the interest rate issue.

I think that the Caucus leadership should meet with the National Executive leadership, they should work out a strategy about getting good candidates, nut out some clear policy directions and start selling them. That's what's got to happen. Once you start doing positive things and you're heading forward, then people will get behind that team. If you simply sit around trying to work out what went wrong in an election we lost badly, then that in itself will kill us. That's what's happening at the moment.

MAXINE MCKEW: I just want to refer to another leak, and Mark Latham has in part denied this, but he was certainly apparently reported as having told Labor's National Executive last week that State issues were a factor in the October poll.

PETER BEATTIE: Well, I'm used to everything being my fault, so I'm not particularly worried about that, and I understand there was no reference particularly to Queensland. But look, I think we've got to stop the name blaming or the game blaming. At the end of it all, that doesn't achieve anything.

The fact is we lost.

The result in Queensland was not a good one. I'm embarrassed by the Queensland result because we delivered four coalition senators which give control of the Senate to the Howard Government - four and two Labor. Now, at the end of it, we've all got to work together. The important thing is there's got to be some sort of circuit breaker here. I have been around the Labor Party a long time.

There's got to be some circuit-breakers. There's got to be a leadership issue in the sense of the leader of the party federally and the leader of the organisation have got to sit down with both areas and sort through where we go. That's got to be used as a circuit-breaker. If we don't do that, then you're going to find this behaviour continuing. Somebody has got to say to them - look, I don't want to be the Prime Minister, I have no interest in a federal seat. I only want the Labor Party to win. I have no interest in this other than the Labor Party. I just say to them - sooner or later, someone's got to bang some heads together, there's got to be some senior people in the party that sit down, support Mark, support the National Executive.

If they're not going to support Mark, well then get rid of him. I don't know who else is better, to be frank. But if they're going to get behind the federal leader, for God's sake, get behind him, otherwise they're just going to die the death of a thousand cuts and we'll lose more seats and I won't see a Labor Government in my lifetime. I despair about where we are.

MAXINE MCKEW: I have to cut straight to the obvious question. Is Mark Latham electable?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, at moment (Mark Latham is) not (electable), because there's so much disloyalty going on, no-one could get elected. Bob Hawke couldn't get elected at the moment - and he was our most successful leader - with that sort of disloyalty going on in his own team. Look, Mark's the federal leader; I'm happy to support Mark, but people have got to say to themselves bluntly, "Look, do we support Mark or don't we?" Let's have none of this nonsense of, "Look, we'll support him for 6 months or 12 months and then slowly erode him and cut his throat."

I mean, the reality is we either support him, we make that decision before Christmas. If we're going to support him, we support him to the election.
You can't just simply say, "Look, we'll give him a few months, see how he goes and then we'll knock him off." I mean, they either support him or they don't. If they don't want to support him, then get someone else. But sooner or later, you've got to face up to the reality that unless they're behind the leader, then we're dead.

Disunity is death. There's no point saying it, we've actually got to get some people who mean it.

I think this is the most important point that Beattie raised. The truth is the media love conflict, whether it be at the Hawthorn or Richmond Football Club, or in the ALP. It makes for interesting news, it sells newspapers, and it gets ratings. And as long as there is infighting, it will be the media's media focus when it looks at federal Labor. The longer this conflict goes on, the less time and space - both in the party room and the media - is spent on attacking the Liberals, and promoting (and developing) Labor policies. And that is highly damaging to the party.

So the choice then is clear: decide NOW to stick by Latham until the next election, or get someone else. And the longer Labor stay in the netherworld between, the less likely they are to win the next election. And that may mean getting everyone involved and locking them in a room until they decide one way or another. If you really want a leadership spill, speak now, or forever (or at least until after the next election) hold your piece.

MAXINE MCKEW: You're suggesting a circuit-breaker. What kind of a circuit-breaker could cut through all of this?

PETER BEATTIE: I think the federal president of the party - that's the organisational wing - should get the national organisation together, the National Executive. Maybe they should have a day out - a day out with the National Executive and the leadership of the parliamentary Caucus, and actually work out what they're going to do, get a strategy mapped out. I don't see any strategy. We've got to map out where we're going to go, that is, when are we going to endorse candidates, the timing, let's talk about getting some good candidates up, let's be fair about it, make sure we get some talent.

Let's also then work out what the key policy directions are going to be. I know people say, "Well, let's go to the conferences." Look, I've been going to Labor Party conferences for a long time. We all know that there are deals done about policy areas well before the conference. Let's work out the key policy areas, let's work out what we're going to do, and get some positive things out there. If we don't do some positive things about our own policies within the next few months, then we might as well forget about it. People will give us away.

The Labor Party is a party of heart and soul. It's a party of passion. It believes in things. Policy is the key to our winning, policy is the key to good government.

MAXINE MCKEW: But Premier, as you know, it's going to be very, very difficult to get to that point. I mean, you've got so many competing views at the moment of what Labor should be. You referred to the party president. The incoming president is Barry Jones. He takes the view that the party should move to the left. Others say the party should move to right. You've got Mark Latham, for instance, saying the party has to appeal to the new middle class of contractors and franchisees.

How do you get a consensus among all of that?

PETER BEATTIE: You know what, you go out and talk to the person in the street out there, the average Australian, Max, and they couldn't care less whether the Labor Party was left, right or up its own gizzards. All they want is a party that is an alternative government, that actually stands for some very fundamental policies in areas like education, health, jobs, the future of Australia. I mean, we don't have, frankly, a real vision for Australia, and that's the problem, and that applies to both sides of politics. The government that will be formed after the next federal election will be the one that has a plan and a strategy for the future of this country. People can argue about this left-right stuff. I mean, you know, that's sort of old hat.

People hate it.

It would be better - for the NSW Left for instance - to get at least some of what they want - and to have a voice in government - than to have more say in a divided and ineffective opposition. And if the infighting continues, that is exactly the situation that they will end up in.

Anyone who wants to go out and talk about that is talking to their own navel. They're not talking to Australians. Australians want policies that are going to give their kids a chance, going to give their kids a future, that are going to give the nation a future. People want to get out and create jobs. Australians are amongst the most positive people on this planet, and they want a government that will actually give them some leadership. They want an opposition that will do the same, that's not running around more interested in its own careers than it is in the future of a movement, the Labor Party movement, or as an alternative government. We've got to stop being self-interested and be interested in Australia.

MAXINE MCKEW: But as you know, Mark Latham articulated a very clear vision about the ladder of opportunity.

PETER BEATTIE: Yeah, and I actually share that view. I totally agree with that. That's a view that Smart State is all about Queensland. I share that view passionately, but it's more than that, and that's why now, they're back revisiting some of the policies. Well, let's start thinking about them. Let's do something revolutionary. Let's go back to the fundamentals, and that is, start spelling out policy well before the election campaign. One of reasons we got done is that people didn't know where we stood on economic issues. We could have killed the interest rate argument or the ad the Liberals ran if we'd have actually had the courage to talk about our track record.

Look at what the Hawke Government has done for Australia. Talk about what Hawke and Keating did, then people can understand that we have credibility. I mean, to us, economic fundamentals are crucial to a good government. We practise it here, we're obsessed about it in the Labor Party in Queensland, and I know my other State colleagues are the same. That's what we've got to do, and we shouldn't be ashamed of our history.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, you mentioned the problem of dud candidates. Tell me this - why would good-quality candidates be attracted to the Labor Party at the moment, given what is so deeply unattractive, if you like, when people look at, say, the organisational structure of the party, particularly how faction-ridden it is?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, they wouldn't be, and you're quite right, but the fact is if you start talking about good policies, you talk about a vision for Australia's future and have a plan, a plan mapped out to deliver that, then you will attract people. Ordinary Australians will give up something to make sure that they can serve their nation in building a future for their kids. That's what's important. Look, I know the Labor Party's got its factions and all the rest of it. Factions can be positive if the leaders of the factions stop thinking about their own little nest and think about the Labor Party as a whole.

Now, in Queensland, frankly, 25 years ago, we were a basket case. We had factions that worried about themselves. Now, our factions here are very positive. They actually put the party first. Our factions here work in a constructive way with the government. I don't have a problem with them. I don't always agree with them, and sometimes they know that, and I don't miss 'em when they do, and they don't miss me - we have a very frank relationship. But the factions in Queensland are not a problem. They don't cause any grief for my government.

Factions federally can be positive if there is a direction and the leaders start thinking about themselves and stop running off championing some cause which, again, is only known to themselves and not known to mainstream Australia.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, this sounds very much like a call to arms, you know, for something like - if I could say this - a coalition of the willing to get together to create a modern Labor Party?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, let me tell you a little secret which I'll share with everybody. When I became leader of the party, which was February 1996, Paul Keating had one month to go. John Howard became Prime Minister in March 1996. For the whole time that I've been Labor Leader, with the exception of that month, John Howard was been Prime Minister of this country, and every election I wanted us to win. Every election, we have either gone very close or we've missed out by a reasonable margin.

Now, a lot of people in the Labor Party are like me. We actually want to win. Now, the ordinary rank-and-file person wants inspiration and leadership. They're passionate about policy. And it is up to the leaders of the party federally, both at an organisational level and a parliamentary level, to get off their bums and give the rank and file of this party and ordinary Australians a chance of government, an alternative government that stands for something.

They can't sit running around in their limousines thinking, "I'm right, Jack."

The facts of life are they've got to think of who they represent, and that's what's important, and I think the leadership of both the parliamentary party and the organisational wing have got to sit down and work it out, and they've got to have some very sober thinking. While I read in the paper and every other Labor person reads in the paper that you sit down with a lot of Labor people, the alternative government, the alternative shadow ministry, and they're so disloyal to one another - we all just shake our heads and say, "We're going nowhere." I mean, if they can't get loyalty to themselves, they should just get lost - go away. If you can't be loyal and you can't be part of a team, then give it away. You're not doing yourself or anyone else a service of any kind.

MAXINE MCKEW: So when are you going to run for a federal seat?

PETER BEATTIE: (Laughs) Listen, there's no better job in this nation than being Premier of Queensland, Max, I've got to tell you.

There's no better job, and no-one - look, I'm not interested in federal politics, but the reality is, your question about candidates is a good one. They're not going to get good candidates while they're running around having a brawl. When they finally get together and head in the one direction, then people will want to run for the party, and I'm talking about ordinary party members.

This is a very important point right here. In an environment where there is factional inflighting, and you are just as likely to be attacked from opponents in your own party, you will not get strong conviction politicians. The true believers who simply want Labor to win the next election won't put their hands up, because they know they will get shot down. Instead, you will get factional hacks, flacks, and lackies. And you won't get high profile people; you won't get any high profile left-leaning people like Peter Garrett, or successful state leaders like Peter Beattie, in that environment; the bigger the name, the bigger the target. And the problem is that those people who don't want to sign up are the very people Labor will need to win the next election.

And the problem is that loyal, conviction politicians will get blocked. Take for example Julia Gilliard - the main reason why she isn't the Shadow Treasurer is because she committed the 'sin' of being loyal to her leader. The media stories that questioned her 'suitability' were primarily planted by those attacking Latham, and succeeded in blocking a talented debater (who could probably win a debate against Costello) from rising further.

MAXINE MCKEW: How much time does Mark Latham have, then?

PETER BEATTIE: Well, that's up to the party. I mean, I frankly think this has got to be fixed before Christmas if they're serious. It's December 2. They should fix this before Christmas. There should be some crisis meetings and some honesty.

If they're going to keep lying to one another and knock Mark off some time next year, then you're going to find people will shake their heads. Let me tell you a little lesson that I have learned about the Labor Party in the 30 years I've been in it - if you can't give loyalty, you won't get it. Those people who've got aspirations behind the scenes by not giving Mark loyalty will never get it from anyone else. So even if you change the leader to someone who was undermining Mark, they'd get the same disloyalty.

Factional flacks and leaders: pay attention!

You've got to have a circuit-breaker, and that's the only way forward, otherwise we're going to have the most one-sided election in Australia come next time around, and that election will be won by the Liberal Party and the National Party I mean, Peter Costello, who we targeted, is running around now grinning like a Cheshire cat looking to be the next Prime Minister. I mean, we targeted him, that misfired. All we did was in fact give him a leg-up. We've got to stop that, we've got to think about positive policies and be clear about where we're going, otherwise we won't be going anywhere.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, do you have any other alternatives in mind yourself? I mean, what about fellow Queenslander Kevin Rudd?

PETER BEATTIE: Oh, look, we've got talented people there; there's no doubt about that. I'm not going to get into who should be the leader, Max - that's a matter for the Caucus. I'd resent anyone in my Caucus interfering from outside, and I won't … they've got to make their mind up. They're either with Mark or they're against him.

Let's stop mucking about.

MAXINE MCKEW: Premier, for that, thank you very much indeed for joining us tonight.

PETER BEATTIE: It's a pleasure. Thanks, Max.