The Guardian July 2, 2003


Labor leadership's swing to the right

When the Australian Labor Party was formed in the early 1880s, it could 
legitimately claim to be a workers' party. It was formed by the trade 
unions of the times and it included in its policy platform many very 
progressive objectives. They included the creation of a publicly owned 
commonwealth bank, the nationalisation of monopolies, proportional 
representation, civil equality for men and women, old age and invalid 
pensions (that did not exist at that time), and navigation laws to protect 
Australian shipping.

Together with these progressive policies there was the racist and 
discriminatory White Australia Policy that continued to be advocated by 
some leaders of the ALP until the 1960s.

Over the years Labor Governments implemented a number of these policies. 
The Commonwealth Bank was established together with a national shipping 
line (ANL). A number of other public enterprises were established although 
this did not amount to a policy of nationalisation of monopolies.

The Whitlam Government introduced Medicare and free tertiary education. The 
Technical and Further Education (TAFE) was developed, opening up new 
educational opportunities to migrants, women, Indigenous Australians and 
many working class people. There were a number of other welcome social 
reforms. The Whitlam Government was the last of the Labor Party Governments 
that was committed to generally progressive social reforms.

Things changed fundamentally under Hawke and Keating. They adopted the 
social and economic policies of the economic rationalists that amounted to 
a steady but far-reaching attack on social welfare policies and 
particularly the reversal of support for public enterprise. A policy of 
corporatisation and privatisation was introduced, the Commonwealth Bank, 
Qantas and other public assets were sold off. The sale of Telstra was 
begun. This signalled the beginning of a course that continues to be pushed 
by State Labor Governments and the Coalition Federal Government.

Labor gave private schools massive support, and wound back of money (in 
real terms) for the public education system. Its refusal to oppose outright 
the payment of an estimated $4 billion for the Government's support to the 
private health insurance industry makes a mockery of its pledge to support 
Medicare. Similarly, the support for the Howard Government's legislation on 
ASIO, irrespective of some minor amendments, makes a mockery of any 
pretence of defending democratic rights. The legislation makes ASIO a 
totally unaccountable, political police force with powers that contravene 
international law.

The Labor Party under Beazley's leadership failed to condemn and expose the 
"children overboard" episode, in effect supporting the racist exclusion of 
certain refugee groups.

Acceptance of these policies by the Parliamentary Labor Party and the Labor 
Party's leadership confirm that the Party has shifted sharply and 
fundamentally to the right and has thrown overboard the original policies 
advocated by the founders of the ALP.

The ALP leadership is now bowing down to the social, economic and foreign 
policies demanded by the real rulers of Australia, the big corporations and 
financial institutions of Australian and overseas capital. Any genuine 
commitment to the needs of the working people has been effectively 

There is now very little real difference between the policies and the 
practice of the Labor Party leadership and that of the conservative 

This is not what the majority of the rank and file members and ALP 
supporters want. Although their voice is often heard at Labor Party 
conferences the Parliamentarians ignore it.

This change is not a simple question of Labor Party leadership but is 
inherent in the make up of social democratic parties throughout the world -
- in France, Britain, Germany, New Zealand and other countries where such 
parties are found. They have all moved to the right because social 
democracy is now and has at best always been fundamentally a party of 
compromise with capitalism.

Capitalism is rushing headlong into crisis. All it has to offer is 
instability and increasing attacks on the progressive social and economic 
policies that were introduced in earlier times. The social democratic 
parties as part of the two-party system of government have become a part of 
this process.

The time has arrived when many long-time supporters of social democratic 
parties are reconsidering their membership and support. That is a very 
healthy development and the Communist Party encourages it and welcomes 
those who conclude that it is time for a serious change.
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