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December 2004   

Interview: Minority Report
New federal ALP industrial relations spokesman Stephen Smith on the hostilities in store for the labour movement.

Industrial: Girl Power
Tim Brunero looks at how women are making their mark in a once-male dominated trade.

Unions: Made in NZ
Jim Marr looks behind the rhetoric to uncover what the Howard Government has in store for Australian workers.

History: Spirit for a Fair Go
Paddy Gorman looks at the importance of Eureka on the Australian political psyche.

Economics: Fool's Gold
Tom Bramble identifies some contradictions in Howard's economic miracle.

Politics: Worth Fighting For
One of the Left's most influential figures of the last 40 years gives his theory of power ...

Health: The Force Behind Medibank
Public health has always been a core activity for the union movement, writes Neale Towart

Legal: Robust Justice
Former ACTU executive member and textile union leader Anna Booth argues that Alternate Dispute Resolution is one way around the looming assault on union rights.

International: After the Revolution
Has China entered a post-revolutionary phase - and where will it take the world, asks James Goodman

Poetry: The Sound of Unions
Ah, the hills are alive, with The Sound of Unions, muses resident bard, David Peetz

Review: Bad Santa
Billy Bob Thornton's newest role puts the 'nick' in Saint Nicholas and reveals the Satan in Santa, writes Tara de Boehmler.


New Matilda
How Labor Lost the Plot
In his contribution to Australia's new political zine 'New Matilda' , Father Michael kelly argues the ALP is in search of a soul.

The Soapbox
Outside the Tent
Labor exile Lindsay Tanner is warning the ALP to be careful who it gets into bed with.

The Locker Room
Sons Of Beaches
Phil Doyle gets the perfect wave, and waves back

The Westie Wing
150 years since the struggle at Eureka, the fight to achieve social justice, equality and responsible government is just as vital as ever in the neo-conservative Australia, writes Ian West.

Postcard from Harare
Ken Davis, from Union Aid Abroad, on how unions are at the forefront in the battle for democracy in Zimbabwe


Moral Majority
Unions NSW is currently hosting one of the world�s great thinkers in Robert Reich; academic, commentator and Clinton labour secretary; a man with a mind as big as the dilemmas progressive politics face right now.


 Moral Crusade to Save Family

 20 Dead � Stockmarket Applauds

 Karen Gives Howard a Paint Job

 Buckeridge Bill Blocks Entry

 Casual Beach Closures

 Railworkers Scull Costa

 Racism in the Dock

 Go Home Alone � And Other Survival Tips

 Vet Beats Bullet

 Cleaners Clean Up

 Weekend Work Wiped

 Miners Go to the Movies

 Feds Attack Low Paid

 Activists What's On!

 Leadership Skills
 Not A Casey Fan
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New Matilda

How Labor Lost the Plot

In his contribution to Australia's new political zine 'New Matilda' , Father Michael kelly argues the ALP is in search of a soul.


The Australian Labor Party is an entity in search of its soul. The signs of disintegration and disaffection are a symptom of something much deeper - the loss of connection between values and stated beliefs, and the policies and programmes to attract support among Australians. In a way, the spirit is out of sync with the body.

And this is for some very simple reasons. In the past, the spirit of the Party was nurtured in the labour movement. It was there that the passions, needs and vision were named. Over the last twenty years, most of them with Labor in power, the ground rules of the economy and politics have changed. As well, the groups representing Labor in the Federal area have changed their experience base and makeup. These changes may have been noticed by some, even many. But nothing has been done about them.

First, the economy. Twenty and thirty years ago, the economy was a matter of dispute - and what was disputed were ideologies and paradigms. Today it is a 'science' about which there is universal agreement. With the end of dispute, the economy has been depoliticised.

Second, politics. Since the economy is no longer a matter of dispute, the unique selling point of the ALP seems to have been lost. The political choice at elections is not about beliefs but about perceived technical expertise.

Politics has changed, but the Federal ALP hasn't. Parliamentary representation - and hence policy creation and direction - is in the hands of an ever narrowing group of people - Party staffers, trade union officials and lawyers with attitude. Two Federal Conferences ago, eighty seven percent of the members were insiders - MPs, their staff or trade union officials - chosen by a small clutch of state-based officials.

There was a golden opportunity to do something about this after the 1996 election defeat. The party's recruitment and management infrastructure - especially in NSW - was known to be in the hands of people with a narrowcast focus - NSW. Reform of preselection procedures and staff at head office etc. were fudged and Gough Whitlam's observation almost forty years ago was vindicated. In the 60s, he said, the ALP was not a national party but a federation of state branches pursuing State agendas and missing national targets.

He did something about it, as Barry Cohen has recently observed: in 1969, twenty nine occupational categories were represented in the Federal Caucus and MPs were encouraged to do Uni degrees part-time; today there are five occupational categories in the Federal Caucus.

What is the way ahead? Two things have to happen. Party and preselection reform are obvious and many have called on the leadership to get cracking before the current dinosaur condition of Labor finds its true home in Jurassic Park. New people, new ideas, a real openness to fresh initiatives, etc.

But more fundamental is the spiritual renewal of Labor. Is it the Party of working Australians or simply the outgrowth and expression of the political ambitions of some trade union leaders?

Clearly it must be the former. But if it is to be that, two things are needed: first an experience-based knowledge of what it's like to be a worker in a post-industrial society, and second, on the basis of this experience and knowledge, a fresh look and a new articulation of the values that made Labor attractive in the industrial era - solidarity, equity and fairness, the cooperative way that linked people into groups with shared needs, public good and commonly owned essential public infrastructure, and so on.

When was the last time anyone heard an experience-based appeal to values from a Federal Labor politician? Answer: the recent election from Mark Latham about Green Valley. How narrow can you get? I think you see my point.

Michael Kelly SJ is CEO of Church Resources, an electronic publisher, and founding publisher of Eureka Street.


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