Interview: Life After Keating
Industrial: That Friday Feeling
Bad Boss: Begging to Work
Organising: Project Pilbara
Unions: Off the Rails
International: Brazil Turns Left
Environment: Brown Wash
History Special: Learning from the Past
Corporate: Will the Bullying Backfire?
Technology: Danger Lurks For The Passive
History: In Labour�s Image
Politics: Without Power Or Glory
History Special: A 'Cosy Relationship'
Culture: Blood Stains the Wattle
Satire: Iraq Pre-empts Pre-emptive Strike
Poetry: The Executive Pay Cut
Review: Time Out
Month In Review
The Locker Room
Why The User Should Pay
More Bali Feed Back
Clean Election Laws Now!
And Now, Some Fan Mail!
Life After Keating
Interview with Peter Lewis
In the current international climate, do you think the situation for Australia would be being played out differently if the Keating foreign policy agenda had been followed through?
One of the things that Paul Keating stood for was a policy of Australian comprehensive engagement with Asia. Keating was unapologetic about that. He was unswerving - and the full sweep of Australia's foreign policy interests - that in fact was the correct direction for this country to take.
The reason for it is simple. From an Australian point of view if you have good relations with your neighbours it is good for your security. If you have bad relations with your neighbours, it is bad for your security. If you have good relations with your neighbours it is good for the economy and good for jobs. If you have bad relations with your neighbours then the reverse applies as well.
So Keating set an overall framework for engagement which followed in the tradition of Whitlam and followed also in the tradition of Hawke. Had that framework continued in a period post 1996, Australia would have had a more robust set of regional political relationships across South East Asia to work with today.
What we find with the government today is that they are now playing a game of rapid catch up football, in order to patch up some of the damage over the last several years, because they now discover that these relationships are necessary to guarantee our security and stability in this part of the world.
Is it actually possible to re-engage in the current crisis climate?
Our friends and neighbours in the region across South East Asia and beyond - what they want above all is a continuity in Australian policy, rather than one which chops and changes every several years, on whether or not this country is interested fundamentally in comprehensive engagement with its neighbours. The region becomes sceptical when for the period post 1972 we had effectively 25 years of bipartisan engagement of the region, but in the period post 1996, one step after another resulting in effective disengagement from the region.
So I think our friends and neighbours in the region now look at this country with greater scepticism than they did before about whether we are seriously on the regional bus or whether we are not, and they become more sceptical when we only suddenly discover the need for the regional bus when we find our own interests directly and immediately at stake.
That said, I guess even Paul Keating's greatest fans would concede that he didn't carry the electorate with him in that vision. What sort of responsibility does a government have to build that bridge between domestic policy and foreign policy?
I regard that as central, crucial and critical to the sustenance of a long term policy of Australian comprehensive engagement of Asia. Paul got the policy direction right, but you are correct to say that he wasn't able to bring the Australian domestic political constituency with him.
Part of the reason for that, and largely fuelled by a political campaign by his detractors and opponents, was that his vision for Australian engagement of Asia became confused in the Australian public's minds, with a challenge to Australian cultural identity. The Conservatives, quite skilfully in a political sense, caused Australians to become concerned about whether Australian cultural identity was about to be compromised by being merged with the cultures and civilisations of our region. Of course Paul was not articulating that at all in terms of the core content of his vision.
But turning to the future the challenge is this: To make clear that the rationale for Australian regional engagement has everything to do with Australian interests. It has everything to do with ensuring our own security. It has everything to do with ensuring our own economy. In other words, it has everything to do with securing our own security and economic interests - not the interests of others.
Hence why I say in every speech I make, why do we believe in comprehensive engagement with Asia? Because it is good for our security and it is good for our economy. Because if you have good relations with your neighbours it is good for your security and it is good for your economy and jobs - then the reverse applies.
You have spoken a bit in the past about defining Labor values. How do they translate into the foreign policy sphere?
I argue that Labor has five core foreign policy values. Labor believes in a secure Australia; Labor believes in a competitive Australia, whether there is opportunity for all; Labor believes in a compassionate Australia; and Labor believes in an Australia which plays a robust role in the United Nations and in international order; and fifthly, Labor believes in a continued policy of comprehensive engagement with Asia and our near neighbours. These are the five core Labor values which underpin our approach to foreign policy, and in several of those values there are critical differences between ourselves and the values which underpin the Conservative's approach to foreign policy.
The international union movement, through the ICFTU and the ILO have recently invoked sanctions against Burma. It is the first time they have used these powers since the ILO was established after World War One. Do you see a valid role for trade unions in promoting these sorts of issues on a global scale?
I believe organised Labor has a critical role to play in furthering what I describe as the fundamental values of the international Centre Left - whether you call it a Social Democratic Left or a Labour Left or an Industrial Left position on the international order. Part of that lies of course in the promotion of human rights, and when you look around the world and see regimes in such flagrant abuse, such as the military regime in Burma, it is important that governments take up this matter; it is also important that international civil society takes up this matter as well, and that includes organised labour. I actually see the potential for a strong partnership between what international labour does on various international policy questions - not just in human rights but in other areas as well - and what government does.
There has been a movement to incorporate core labour standards into Kopi Annan's global compact at the UN level. Does Labor have a position supporting that?
Labor's position is that when it comes to core labour standards, and for that matter core environmental standards, that it is critical that we have these entrenched across international practice. We don't believe that these things can simply be left to the ravages of the marketplace. We believe that when it comes to core labour standards we are dealing with the standards of basic humanity. When we are talking about environmental standards we are talking about the future of the planet, and for those reasons they can't simply be regarded as random items on a checklist to be negotiated in a given economic or business contract. They are of universal standing in my view and must be entrenched in the way in which international community - both corporate and political - goes about its business.
A bit more personally, within the federal ALP you are probably not regarded as someone with particularly strong trade union ties. What are your links with the Labor movement?
I have been a member of the Australian Labor Party for 20 years. I joined just after I left university. I did not grow up in a Labor household. I grew up on a farm and most of my extended family were from the National Party. So I suppose I am the first of our lot to cross the line and join the other side. I did so as a product of the Whitlam revolution in higher education. Gough made going to university possible for me and as a consequence of that I felt a debt of obligation to the labour movement for making that possible for me.
Turning to industrial labour: While I have had no formal association with the trade union movement at all in terms of working for the union movement, I have a fundamental view that organised labour must remain a key part of the economy and society.
Why do I say that? It rests on my simple view that human nature has not changed, and for people to optimistically assume that somehow all employers in the future are going to be good hearted human beings who always treat their employees with fundamental respect, as well as looking after their basic economic wellbeing, is I think misplaced optimism. What you need therefore is a continued force of organised labour to provide leverage for working people. I have a fundamental and somewhat conservative view of these things.
Do you see the role of the political wing to merely tolerate trade unionism or actively promote it?
No, I believe trade unionism should be promoted. Plainly the political and industrial wings have different tasks to perform. The political wing has to embrace the interests of a broader community as well, beyond organised labour, but including organised labour. But as for organised labour itself, as I said before, it has a critical role for the future, and that is because its role is to protect the weak. Its role is to protect those who would otherwise be exploited in their workplaces or more broadly. Therefore, I have no qualms whatsoever about the importance of promoting the role of organised labour and trade unions in this country because I think their core mission is central to a decent society.
It doesn't mean we are always going to agree on everything - that is part of the normal argy bargy of politics - but on the fundamentals I believe that the trade union mission is a right cause, just as it was a right cause in the 1890s, when it gave birth to the political wing of the movement, of which I am part.
Post Cunningham particularly, there seems to be a call for federal Labor to come up with some really bold policies. What are the areas where you see scope for the big ideas?
I think this is the challenge facing Centre Left parties across the world, and taken at its broadest level it is about how we challenge the neo-liberal economic consensus across western economies and western societies. It means for example, that we need to rediscover the value of regulation. We need to rediscover the value of using force to protect people. It means for example, that we should not be afraid of intervening when it comes to ensuring that every Australian has access to an affordable and equitable educational opportunity. It means that we should not be afraid of intervening when it comes to ensuring that everyone has access to first class healthcare, which is both affordable and available to them.
These basic labour values, which I would describe as part of our values of compassion and fairness have to be stated clearly, unequivocally and with passion and with courage, then, the next bit is, given complete policy definition in terms of what we mean by that.
That said, how limited are the policy parameters in a globalised economy?
Well, the neo-liberal economic consensus has - and I have written about this in a book on globalisation edited by the Evatt Foundation last year - the neo-liberal economic consensus and neo-liberal globalisation has meant that there has been a global constraint placed upon public outrage across developing economies because the overwhelming principle of that consensus is that public sectors should do less and private sectors should do more.
The challenge for the Centre Left is to take that head on because what we are seeing more and more and more, is that with the failure of institutions there is an emerging interest and demand on the part of working people everywhere for government to re-assess its role.
I don't see any problem with that. I think it is the right thing to do. If government doesn't intervene equity will never be guaranteed. The quality of opportunity will never be guaranteed. And if to obtain those things means putting your hand in your pocket to fund the programs which deliver equity - and it that means challenging the neo-liberal economic consensus, then it is probably about time we did so.
Finally, it seems to be a truism that Labor needs optimistic times to thrive. How much do you think federal Labor at the moment - its political fortunes are at the mercy of external events?
A lot of people assume that an adverse security policy environment is by definition bad for Labor. I would argue that people need to re-read their history books before reaching that conclusion. Where did the Australian people turn when the war clouds gathered in 1914? Well, they turned from the Conservatives to Labor under Andrew Fisher. Where did the Australian people turn when the war clouds gathered again in the late '30s and early '40s? They turned from the Conservatives to Labor under Curtin, and then Chifley. I think when the chips have been down and this country's security has been under threat, the history of this country is that its people have actually turned to us because they have seen us a representing an independent view of how to maintain this country's security.
Those principles are alive today as well, because the events post Bali, which everyone in this country is now concerned about, means first and foremost in the tradition of Curtin, our responsibility as a Party, as an Opposition and as a potential Government, you argue the centrality of this region in terms of guaranteeing the security of Australia. That was Curtin's message to Churchill in '41, it is our message also today, both to the Americans, and to the British and to Howard. This is where our security must first and foremost be secured. For those reasons, if we argue that case well, then both logic and passion will prevail.
I don't actually take a dim pessimistic view; but in the presence of an adverse security environment, that simply delivers the political agendas to the Conservatives by default, we have got to embrace the security policy agenda; argue a robust, tough and hard line on that security policy agenda, because that is what working people want; and at the same time argue it, with the absolute focus of this region where geography has placed us.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online