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!
Without Power Or Glory
A young woman made her way to a Cunningham polling booth, rejecting ALP election material that was thrust her way. She knew how she was going to vote, and it wasn't for the ALP. Her refusal to accept ALP material was taken as a challenge by the out-of-town ALP campaigners who hectored and badgered her to the point she was jostled. The woman was angry but exercised restraint; she takes after her mother. If she had been more like me, her father, there would probably have been an incident.
This episode, with its crass disregard for the decision of a voter, basically says it all. The ALP lost in Cunningham because the party machine has treated the electorate in a similar way. Over the years Cunningham, centred on the industrial and university city of Wollongong, became a safe seat, more a pocket borough than a democratic electorate, the people taken for granted and not regarded as a dynamic, evolving, community of human beings with all that this entails.
In Cunningham the ALP is on the nose. Branch stacking, rorts, and machinations have tainted Cunningham to the extent the politics in the area have much in common with the notorious party machine Frank Hardy described in his classic POWER WITHOUT GLORY. As a result the ALP has lost members through resignations, and lost the goodwill of potential members and supporters. For this by-election the local ALP could not muster enough local troops to do the necessary booth work.
A double whammy comprising moves to dump local ALP left-wing State MP Colin Markham, and the imposition on the electorate of a "factionally correct" Federal candidate for Cunningham who does not even live in electorate, also contributed to Saturday's defeat.
For the trade unionists who supported the campaign of community-union independent Peter Wilson, President of the South Coast Labour Council and a respected organiser with the NSW Teachers Federation, there were many State and Federal reasons for opposing the ALP, going back to the Workcover changes. But the main reason seemed to be the rhetorical and political venom involved in the way the ALP turned on the union movement after the last Federal election, blaming unions for the party's electoral demise, and a line of ALP thinking which regards trade unions as being irrelevant in the modern world.
As the Wilson camp explained, historically the ALP was created by the union movement; trade unions are not the enemy, nor are they irrelevant. Indeed. In the Wollongong region the trade union movement is, for many people, the trusted first line of defence; the protector of jobs, entitlements, and watchdog over welfare and work safety provisions in industries traditionally associated with injury and death.
The local environment was a Cunningham election issue. For many voters, including traditional ALP voters, it seems the Carr Labor government projects a green image in Sydney, but regionally acts otherwise. Regionally there are key sources of friction which raise a huge question mark over the integrity of the Carr government's green credentials and responsiveness to community concerns: the hugely problematic Copper stack in Port Kembla; the bitterly resented attempt, recently abandoned, to establish a charcoal plant south-west of Batemans Bay near the tourist town of Mogo; the long running conflict over the contentious Sandon Point coastal development North of Wollongong.
The Crean Machine that ran the Cunningham by-election campaign contributed to the ALP defeat. The electorate was flooded with out-of-town apparatchiks from as far afield as Tasmania and South Australia; they even managed to upset local ALP loyalists with their mixture of arrogance, lack of local knowledge, crass stupidity, and undergraduate politics. There were attempts to create fear in the electorate; disinformation was spread; unauthorised election material circulated. Even Mark "Mouth" Latham made a fool of himself when he hit the local airwaves on the eve of the election and warned that a Greens' victory would force the closure of the BHP Port Kembla steelworks.
In short the tactics of the Crean Machine backfired, and the ALP shot itself in the foot. If Cunningham is an example of what Modern Labor is all about, then heaven help the ALP.
The Greens won on a shoestring budget, with a local candidate, enthusiastic volunteers, and the preferences of disillusioned ALP, and dissident labour movement, voters. They won because they had clearly ennunciated opposition policies, convincingly projected a social vision in which people matter, campaigned against economic rationalism, and were not afraid to look into the Heart of Darkness: NO WAR WITH IRAQ was an election policy, and VOTE GREEN, NOT KHAKI was an election slogan.
In Canberra the US Embassy took note and dispatched two edgy officials to Cunningham the day before the election to interview candidates; their mission was to gauge public sentiment in Australia towards the US war against terrorism.
|Search All Issues | Latest Issue | Previous Issues | Print Latest Issue|
© 1999-2002 Workers Online