LABOR IN THE 1990s-WHERE TO?
JOHN CURTIN MEMORIAL LECTURE-1992
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John Joseph Ambrose Curtin was born in Creswick, Victoria,
on 8 January 1885 and died in Canberra on 5 July 1945. He served as Prime
Minister from 7 October 1941 until his death, a period of three years and
nine months, marked by the gravest crisis Australia ever had to face.
Creswick, a small gold-mining town near Ballarat where
the Australian Workers' Union (AWU) was founded in 1886, was the birthplace
of John Curtin, of General Sir John Northcott, the first Australian-born
Governor of New South Wales, and of the Lindsay family-Norman, Lionel, Daryl
and Ruby. Dr Robert Lindsay, their father, was present at John Curtin's
The future Prime Minister's father, also John Curtin, was
a policeman who retired on a small pension in 1890 and left Creswick for
Mt Macedon and Dromana where he worked as a hotel manager. His mother, Catherine,
was nominee for the True Briton and Phoenix hotels in Brunswick.
He had two sisters and a brother.
John Curtin had a sketchy education at Catholic schools
in Melbourne and at the State school at Macedon, and his formal schooling
ended at 14. He had only irregular work from the age of 14 to 18, spending
many hours at the Melbourne Public Library, as it was then called. At 18
he secured his first permanent job, as an estimate clerk at the Titan Manufacturing
Company in South Melbourne, working there from 1903 to 1911. He lived with
his parents at 36 Barkly Street, Brunswick and was an active local footballer.
"As a youth," Manning Clark wrote, "under
the influence of the rationalists and the socialists, Curtin abandoned his
Catholic hopes in the resurrection of the dead and substituted instead the
Utopian socialist dream of the perfection of man on earth."
It was probably in 1900 that John Curtin joined both the
Political Labor League and its more radical rival the Victorian Socialist
Party (VSP). He was President of the Brunswick Branch of the Political Labor
League in 1907, moved successfully for adoption of the name Australian Labor
Party in 1908, but then-somewhat contradictorily-intensified his efforts
for the VSP, becoming its honorary secretary and writing vehemently for
its paper, Socialist. And, as he often said, he gained his education
on the Yarra Bank, the place where Melbourne's Sunday spruikers performed.
Major personal influences on John Curtin were Frank Anstey
(1865-1940) and Tom Mann (1856-1941).
Anstey was MLA for Brunswick 1902-10 and MHR for Bourke
1910 34, one-time Deputy Leader of the ALP 1922-27 and Health Minister under
Mann was an English trade union organiser and orator who
lived in Melbourne from 1903 to 1909, returning to London to become a syndicalist
and, later, a co-founder (1920) of the British Communist Party.
Curtin was secretary of the Victorian Timber Workers Union
(February 1911 to November 1915), doubling up as editor of the Timber
Worker, became its principal writer, and published much material by
British and American socialists.
The VSP disappeared by 1920 when the Australian Communist
Party was established.
In the 1913 elections some of Curtin's editorials were
used as ammunition against the Labor Party and he was some distance away
from the official ALP campaign. However, by the election of September 1914
he had emerged as ALP candidate for Balaclava (now Goldstein), a strong
anti-Labor seat in Melbourne's south-east, where the sitting Member, William
Alexander Watt, defeated him heavily.
At this time, as his biographer Lloyd Ross wrote, Curtin
was "intensely shy, potentially ambitious, uniquely serious towards
his social responsibilities, highly sensitive to criticism" and a combination
of factors led him to acute depression and alcoholism, which dogged him
for many years.
He worked as an AWU organiser in Melbourne (1915-16) and
in 1916 became secretary of the National Executive of the anti-Conscription
Campaign. Curtin had attempted to enlist in the army in 1914 but was rejected
for poor eyesight. However, he was a passionate opponent of militarism and
conscription. Sentenced to three months jail in 1917 for having failed to
register for military service, his sentence was quashed by the Hughes Government
after he served three-and-a-half days.
In February 1917, aged 32, he left Melbourne for Perth,
on his appointment as editor of the Westralian Worker, something
Anstey organised for him in the hope that it would mean a new life and a
break from his heavy drinking. The Worker was the major radical paper
in the west, closely identified with the AWU and Curtin remained its editor
until 1928. He was also President of the Western Australian Branch of the
Australian Journalists' Association 1921-23.
In Leederville in April 1917 he had married Elsie Needham
(1890-1975) and they lived in Jarrad Street, Cottesloe. He met her first
five years earlier and she passed through what must have been a profoundly
unsatisfactory courtship, with long periods of separation, complicated by
his depression, drinking and irregular life style. There were two children,
Elsie and John.
Mrs Curtin was a distant relation of my mother's family
and I have a clear recollection of meeting her in Geelong nearly 50 years
ago, as she had afternoon tea and scones with my great aunt Edie. I listened
avidly to John Curtin's wartime broadcasts but I never saw him. Mrs Curtin
survived him for 30 years.
In 1919 he was the ALP candidate for Perth.
In the 1920s he took a surprisingly conservative and equivocal
line on a number of issues. He missed the 1921 Federal Conference of the
ALP due to family illness when the Socialist objective was adopted
but would probably have opposed it. He opposed self-government for Ireland
on the grounds that Labor wanted fewer nations on earth, not more. He declined
to support the 1925 Seamen's strike. He defended the Collier Labor Government's
execution of two men for murder in 1926.
He first stood for Fremantle in 1925, without success,
and continued his activity as lecturer and organiser for the Workers' Educational
In 1927-28 he served as a member of the Royal Commission
on Child Endowment set up by the Bruce-Page Government.
The rest of his career is on the public record and need
not be retold at length here. He was elected as MHR for Fremantle in November
1928 and October 1929, losing the seat in December 1931. He was devastated
to have been defeated for a place in Scullin's Cabinet, and the reasons
advanced have included his drinking, his status as a renegade Catholic and
E G Theodore's opposition.
In a remarkably forward-looking hour-long speech, Curtin
addressed the House of Representatives on 24 June 1931 in opposition to
the deflationary Premiers' Plan, which responded to the Depression by cutting
government expenditure by 20%. He said:
My objection to the Plan is that it seeks to isolate Australia's problems from the world situation. It entirely overlooks the fact that the difficulty is essentially a monetary one...I am opposed to the Plan in its entirety, because the variation of interest rates are contingent on...an abandonment of the whole conception of the Labor movement in regard to reconstruction of society. I believe that [Labor voters] can have no respect for a party, certainly not their own party, if in a time of great national crisis, it sees no alternative but to carry out the policy of its opponents.
Unaccountably, Lloyd Ross failed to mention this speech
in his Curtin biography. Ben Chifley spoke in the same debate next day as
a reluctant supporter of the Premiers' Plan, in the absence of a clear alternative.
He predicted that "within a decade there will be a revolutionary change
in the world's monetary policy".
In his opposition Curtin was right, Chifley wrong.
After his 1931 defeat, Curtin never drank again (although
he remained a heavy smoker).
Then followed three years of sporting and political journalism,
public relations for the Perth Trades Hall, and work as an advocate for
the Collier Government before the Commonwealth Grants Commission until his
re-election for Fremantle in September 1934. (In 1934 Federal Labor held
18 House of Representatives seats and only three Senate places-all from
Queensland. There were 9 State [Lang] Labor MHRs from New South Wales.)
Scullin retired as Leader in October 1935.
The favourite for the succession was Frank Forde, the Deputy
Leader, a decent, conservative but unexciting Queenslander who had supported
the Premiers' Plan.
A group of Victorians organised the numbers for Curtin
and he won by a single vote (11 to 10).
The Caucus was very small and most members suffered from
old age, intellectual bankruptcy and exhaustion. The splits from the Depression,
over Lang, over Lyons, over the Premiers' Plan, remained very deep. Theodore
was gone. Chifley remained out until 1940. Curtin's victory was a lucky
break for the ALP.
Then followed six years as Opposition Leader. He healed
deep splits in the Labor movement, especially serious in New South Wales
where Lang dominated until 1939. The non-Labor parties themselves self-destructed
in 1940-41, and R G Menzies was forced out. Arthur Coles and Alex Wilson
crossed the floor to defeat A W Fadden in October 1941 and made Curtin Prime
Minister, just two months before Pearl Harbour.
It was a supreme irony that the World War I pacifist anti-conscriptionist
should have become Australia's World War II leader.
In his famous 1942 New Year message, published in the Melbourne
Herald after the fall of Singapore, he wrote: "Without any inhibitions
of any kind, I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any
pangs as to our traditional links and kinship with the United Kingdom".
This was a turning point in Australia's foreign policy.
He worked closely with General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme
Commander of the US Army of occupation and had a wary relationship with
Australia's Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Thomas Blamey.
Alf Conlon was a confidant of both Blamey and Curtin and
a fertile source of new ideas, such as the establishment of the Australian
Curtin had some able Ministers: Ben Chifley as Treasurer
and alter ego, Bert Evatt, Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs
(not conspicuous for loyalty), 'Stabber' Jack Beasley, Minister for Supply
(back from the Langite fold) and John Dedman, Minister for War Organisation
of Industry. Frank Forde was a loyal and unobtrusive Deputy.
In January 1943 the ALP Federal Conference agreed to Curtin's
proposition to endorse conscription for service in areas beyond Australia,
after the matter had been referred to State branches for endorsement. Ward
and Calwell attacked him bitterly on this issue.
He challenged Churchill's Middle and Far East strategy
and insisted on the return of the AIF to defend Australia and New Guinea.
He died, broken in health, within six weeks of victory
in the Pacific, aged 60 years and six months. He served as Leader for nine
years and nine months, a term exceeded only by Gough Whitlam.
Curtin left Australia only twice, first to attend an ILO
Conference in Geneva in 1924, and in April-May 1944 to meet President Roosevelt
in Washington and Prime Minister Churchill in London and to take part in
a Prime Ministers' Conference. In that simpler era, all political negotiations
had to be carried out by telegram, telephone, letter or through diplomats.
Knowledge of the outside world was confined to reading and contacts with
world leaders were either spasmodic or non-existent.
Within Australia travel for MPs from Western Australia
was an exhausting ordeal. He hated flying, preferring ship or rail travel.
He never drove.
in the Pantheon
In his memoirs They Called Me Artie (1969), Sir
Arthur Fadden, the man Curtin displaced as Prime Minister, wrote: "I
do not care who knows it [he presumably was aiming this at R G Menzies]
but, in my opinion, there was no greater figure in Australian public life
in my lifetime than Curtin. I admired him both as a man and as a statesman.
Curtin is entitled to be rated as one of the greatest Australians ever."
Paul Keating in his much quoted off-the-record Placido
Domingo speech at the Canberra Press Gallery on 7 December, 1990, was
critical of the quality of Australian leadership.
He said that: Australia had never had leadership of the
calibre of three great US leaders-Washington, Lincoln and Franklin D Roosevelt-and
that "it shows. We have never had one such leader, not once,"
he said. In this, he included some of Labor's great icons. Prime Minister
John Curtin, a leader whose name Mr Hawke often invokes as a model, was
a tryer. Ben Chifley was a plodder.
According to the Australian Financial Review in
an interview with John Brown on John Laws' program on 2UE (10 December 1990)
he modified his words:
I just said, if you look at the United States, at three critical points in its history, its revolution, it had a leader there in Washington, who commanded the revolutionary forces and became president. At the time of the civil war it had Lincoln, and at the time of the great depression and the collapse of capitalism, it had Roosevelt.
What I said is, "We've never had such a leader". I was not in that sense commenting on Bob Hawke. I was commenting on the fact-let me put it in a nutshell: you couldn't compare Joe Lyons and Menzies to Roosevelt, who was around in the same years. Certainly, our leader at the time, Curtin, was a great wartime prime minister, but he was not about doing the things Roosevelt was doing. They were the points I was making basically.
It is certainly true that the United States, as one of
the locomotive nations of modern history, was directly involved in great
events which shaped the world and found great leaders who shaped internal
and external responses and articulated issues very clearly.
Australia, as a nation on the margin, was largely shaped
by external forces-but the challenge of World War II did produce leaders
who were outstanding by Australian standards: Curtin, Chifley, and, despite
his extraordinary errors of judgment, Evatt-men who looked beyond the environment
that shaped them to the new world that was to follow World War II. All three
were very much ahead of their time. All were workaholics. The lives of all
three were shortened by their devotion.
I think that the Prime Minister's impromptu remarks were
either unduly harsh or misunderstood and that Curtin deserves the party's
As we approach the 2Oth anniversary of Whitlam's election,
it is appropriate that we acknowledge his role as the man who saved the
party from suicide, led it out of 23 years in the wilderness, created a
completely new political agenda, proclaimed the revolution of rising expectations,
and paid the price himself three years later. Paul Kelly correctly described
him as an apocalyptic visionary and founder of the modern ALP.
1972 and its Lessons
The It's Time campaign of 1972, resulting in the
election of the Whitlam Government in December gave Labor the opportunity
to implement a large number of major changes, most of which have remained
Twenty years on, what can we learn from that campaign to
help us set a radical new agenda for 1992 and beyond?
Whitlam's policy speech made 16 specific pledges, none
The 16 pledges, in order, were:
Of these 16 pledges, seven have been implemented in full,
three carried out in part, one has been reversed and five not implemented.
It is surprising that the causes Whitlam had campaigned
for long and vigorously and is now most often remembered for-recognition
of China, adopting Australian honours, introducing FM radio, Constitutional
reform, affirmative action for women, the Family Law Act, expansion of development
of the arts (especially film), a national railway system, promoting Heritage
issues, and a massive (the word would have been characteristic) extension
of sewerage services in the outer suburbs of our major cities-were not listed.
There had been a 23-year log-jam in social, legal and political
change under Liberal-Country Party rule. However, John Gorton promoted national
feeling by playing down the British connection, backing out of Vietnam,
asserting Canberra's primacy over the States and initiating Commonwealth
support for the arts and film, an area which Whitlam took up with a vengeance.
In March 1971 Gorton had been done in by his own people and McMahon reverted
to the traditional line during his brief Prime Ministership.
Litmus issues/Spectrum issues
Most of the reforms that Gough Whitlam and Lionel Murphy
are remembered for could be called litmus issues: subjects which
lead to an answer as unambiguous as a litmus test in chemistry-Yes or No.
Should we recognise the People's Republic of China? Yes or No? Abolish conscription?
Yes or No? Get out of Vietnam completely? Yes or No? Abolish the death penalty?
Yes or No? Make Papua-New Guinea independent? Yes or No?
I use the term litmus issues to distinguish them
from spectrum or contextual issues where parties and governments
differ about how far to move along a continuum, rather than giving a Yes
Litmus issues are central to generating political controversy
and recruiting political activists. It was abolition of the death penalty-a
classic litmus issue-that made Peter Walsh join the ALP, not a robust commitment
to cutting Budgets or pushing privatisation.
Where are the 1992 issues which are equivalent to the ones
Whitlam and Murphy argued for in 1972? Having implemented a wide range of
reforms 1972-75 and 1983-92, Labor finds it hard to identify new ones.
After years in Opposition, a radical party can compile
a hit list of radical reforms which can be easily and cheaply achieved.
Incumbency poses major problems for a party long in office. When new issues
are raised before the election, the electorate may react cynically:
In the 1983 election, the Tasmanian dams controversy, another
classic litmus issue, helped Labor win marginal seats. If we had been in
Opposition in 1986 selling uranium to France could have been another.
Bill Kelty correctly points out that elections involve
passing judgment on existing policies, not just the identification and endorsement
of new ones. I am grateful for some of his suggestions about how to re-classify
perennial issues into litmus ones.
Paul Keating's political judgment was correct when he insisted
that the 1993 election should be treated as a Referendum on the Opposition's
GST-voters themselves must take direct responsibility for endorsing or rejecting
Campaigning can be positive and negative. Our negative
campaigning against Dr Hewson and the GST has been very effective, but on
the positive side we are still lacking in what George Bush so eloquently
calls the vision thing. I have taken this up below under New issues.
Many of these litmus issues involve the reaffirming
of Labor's existing policies, and where the Opposition is proposing a radical
alternative. The issues are here set out in my words and should not be taken
as an indication of the position of the Government or the party. However,
I believe the views expressed have widespread support.
The Goods and Services
The 15% GST proposed as a central element of the Opposition's
Fightback! package involves a radical change in taxation policy,
with profound moral and social implications.
The GST debate turns on two fundamentally opposed taxation philosophies which the electorate must pass judgment on.
Industrial Relations and
Again, there is a clear-cut choice, between a system based on cooperation and consensus, with a central role played by trade unions and the Industrial Relations Commission, leading to national awards, and an individualised contact system which sidesteps the historic role of the industrial movement and the principles of centralised wage fixing, which protects the weak.
The litmus choice is between maintaining priority
for a publicly funded State system, which accounts for more than 70% of
all school pupils, or turning to a privatised system which weakens
the State core and depends on the operation of market forces.
The provision of a social safety net has been central to
Labor's philosophy for a century. The Opposition is committed to breaking
After some degree of convergence between Government and
Opposition in industry policy in the 1980s, a clear distinction is now emerging.
Supporting Major Australian
In an era marked by the winding down of public funding
and the move towards privatisation, some major Australian institutions are
under threat and need a guarantee of support. Under the Opposition, their
very existence is threatened.
Labor remains committed to the strongest possible support
for the environment and rejects the idea that its protection can be left
to the operation of market forces alone. Labor also rejects the idea of
inevitable conflict between environment and employment. It is recognised
that unnecessary and unavoidable conflict has arisen between environmentalists
and the labour movement over some specific sites (eg logging of forests)
which lack alternative job opportunities, or broader issues such as the
use of coal and limiting Greenhouse gas emissions.
Labor must emphasize its absolute commitment
to three elements in the environment: SOIL, WATER, AIR. All three are central
to our national survival. But a fourth word has to be added: BIOLOGY, and
promotion of biological diversity.
Australia has some of the world's oldest,
poorest and most fragile soils. CSIRO estimates that Australia loses 4 billion
tonnes of soil every year. (It has been estimated that between 1982 and
2000 we will have lost 32% of our soil). Our agriculture depends on soil-but
the subject is never mentioned in elections! Salination of rivers, contamination
by chemicals and nutrients, and pollution of harbours and bays by sewage
disposal is a national disgrace.
Air pollution, while far less serious in Australia than in Europe and the Americas, is a growing international problem. Australia will suffer from the impact of the Greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer. Labor must act to preserve biological diversity, as essential to the most efficient land use and the need to develop regionally explicit plans for regeneration of the environment.
Promoting Green Industries
This links together the three Es-environment, employment
and equity-conserving resources to ensure their long-term security.
We will promote ecologically sustainable
development (ESD) in a variety of ways, for example encouraging export industries
which improve the quality of city life-energy efficiency, sewerage and waste
disposal, monitoring air and water quality, efficient transport vehicles
and systems. Labor rejects the false antithesis between development and
environment. Australia is internationally recognised in this area-CIROFLOC,
PLAS-ARC, MEMTEC, SYNROC.
Labor will promote a positive linkage between employment and environment and avoid unnecessary confrontations. (The Japanese motor industry has increased its world market share because of fuel efficiency, to the detriment of the US industry).
Place in the World
Labor is redefining Australia's view of itself and its
place in the world. Where are we? Who are we? What are our goals? What are
Australia as a Republic-Updating
Paul Keating was absolutely correct to promote Republicanism
as an item for the political agenda. After a momentary burst of fury from
the British popular press (momentarily diverted from its own obsession with
the Royals) and some predictable groups in Australia, republicanism has
returned to the background in 1992, with economic issues dominant. Nevertheless
in recent months there has been a quiet, but striking shift in public feeling
and it is increasingly taken for granted, by both sides in politics, that
Australia will be a republic by 2001.
The need for a new Constitution is even more important.
However well this document reflected the views of our great-great-grandfathers
in the 1890s, it is absurdly anachronistic now. The Phil Cleary decision
by the High Court demonstrated its archaic nature very clearly.
The Court's decision has been attacked but there is no
point in shooting the messenger-the problem is the Constitution itself.
(Even the Leader of the Opposition might be at risk under S44. He holds
an office of profit and the question is: is it under the Crown?
The Crown doesn't appoint him, but John Dawkins pays him as the Crown's
Promote and Encourage Equal
Opportunity for Women
This involves a radical reordering and redefinition of
power, affecting 50% of the population. Feminist issues are increasingly
important to Labor which is committed to breaking down the glass ceiling.
Nevertheless, it is a spectrum issue. The fundamental battle of principle
has been won-its adoption in practice in a variety of areas is far from
On child care, Labor has a good record in direct provision
of facilities. The Opposition relies on tax incentives alone.
The Inventory Problem
Although Australia is now a significant exporter of manufactured
goods (for the first time) we lack international reputation and/or credibility
in this important area where we have no inventory of brand name goods. We
export General Motors engines to Germany, but they are essentially invisible.
Building up a credible inventory must be a priority area.
This is the best and fairest medical benefits scheme in
Australian history and the ALP will continue to maintain it, against the
threat of an Opposition determined to privatise health benefits. The sick
will be the losers, doctors and health funds the winners.
Labor has a long record of commitment to the welfare of
Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, while the current Opposition has
shown no interest. However, while the importance of Koori issues is generally
agreed, there is little consensus on priorities. Money? Land rights? Infrastructure?
Jobs? Health care? This is a typical spectrum issue.
Maintaining Support for
Labor encourages language studies and believe that diverse
cultures can enrich Australian life. Dr Hewson favours a narrow monocultural
Defuse Debate on Migration
There is a strong case for setting up an enquiry into the
carrying capacity of the continent and its cities. (Emotionalism at the
extremes in this issue can be very damaging).
Promote Quality of Urban
Life: Brown Issues
Labor will continue its efforts to tackle problems of waste
disposal and improve public transport.
Overcoming Adult Illiteracy
l,000,000 adults, one third from English speaking backgrounds,
are functional illiterates.
Media Ownership and Control
The dangers of too much convergence due to the newspaper
duopoly of Black and Murdoch are a matter of increasing concern, in and
out of the party.
Rethinking Life After Retirement
Or Outside Work: Attributing Labour/Time Use Value
The implications of a lengthy extension of active life
and the probability of a sharp reduction of working life (especially physical
work) have been ignored until now. We must promote empowerment for the aged:
taking them seriously, and seeing them as assets, not liabilities (getting
away from the concept of statutory senility). We must encourage flexible
options on retirement.
Rethinking Health Priorities
There should be more emphasis on public health and preventative
medicine (where unit cost is low, accounting for 10-15% of the whole) rather
than therapeutic medicine, often treating disease which could have been
avoided at vast expense (with 85-90% of the cost).
It is essential that we recognise that Australia is an
information society, and that 42% of Australians are employed in
the information sector. Information has significant export opportunities
for us-communications, business services, entertainment, education, arts,
research, banking, insurance. We need to understand the social and economic
implications of the information revolution, and to adopt a coordinated policy
response. We must avoid the impression that decisions in this area (especially
communications) are made on the run, lacking a context.
We must salvage the McKinnon Report Oceans of Wealth
(1989) and take up its recommendations about exploiting our vast marine
resources more sensibly and productively.
We must seek international support to tackle global poverty,
population growth, planetary security and ecological breakdown (eg loss
of rainforests), Greenhouse and ozone problems.
Developing an Innovation
We must not only create and support new industries, but
also think entrepreneurially and globally too.
Facing up to the 21st Century
We must work with States to promote thinking about the
21st Century, especially on issues relating to information/skills/languages.
I have left unemployment until last, although in November
1992 it is the single most pressing social, political and economic issue.
However, it is neither a litmus, spectrum nor new issue. Neither party actually
advocates unemployment (although Jeff Kennett may be an exception) and both
agree that the only long-term solution is higher levels of economic activity.
Differences arise over the best means to achieve this.
Foreign Debt-an even more
Again, this was a side effect of having an open, largely
deregulated economy. Everyone is concerned with the problem. No satisfactory
solutions have been proposed.
Two pieces of the conventional wisdom are now looking distinctly
shaky-first that there was a strongly convergent tendency between the policies
of the two major political parties, second that there was such widespread
disaffection with the two major parties that there was a great opportunity
for independents to be elected.
It is true that the 1990 election was probably the high
point of political convergence, with two charismatic leaders (ours distinctly
more than theirs) and a remarkable dearth of significant policy issues.
It would be hard for most voters-and even many politicians-to remember just
what the 1990 election was about, other than rival claims that each side
would be better economic managers and our commitment to transform Australia
from being the lucky country to the clever country. (Not my
coinage-I would have preferred intelligent country, although I recognise
that the word is longer and harder to spell and lacks the alliteration of
clever country.) Both sides retained a broad commitment to smaller
government, internationalising the economy and less government intervention
in the market.
Everything indicates that the 1993 election will be deeply,
even passionately, divided on ideological grounds and that two completely
different visions of Australia will be promoted.
One equates society with the market, in which economic
values predominate over everything else, indeed that there can be no values
without a dollar equivalent, that education is essentially instrumental
aimed at professional qualification and not as a means of self-discovery,
that the environment has no value except as an adjunct of tourism, the arts
is equated with box-office returns, that life is seen as a competitive event,
a contest between the strong and the weak.
The other vision equates society with the community, in
which economic values are important (because without a strong economy we
cannot pay for the Australia we want), but where education, the environment,
the arts and access to services all have an inherent value of their own,
where individuality is respected and encouraged, but not to the extent of
a winner take all.
Paul Keating is becoming increasingly passionate in his
defence of traditional Labor values, especially protecting the poor, disadvantaged
and those with limited skills or bargaining power in the labour market.
The second proposition is that we were entering a period
of mass desertion from the major parties. It is true that active membership
has fallen away-but no third force shows signs of emerging.
In the 1990 election, Democrats and Independents generally
polled 17.2% (the Democrats accounting for 11.3%).
This phenomenon reached its highpoint with the Wills by-election
in April 1992, when a record 22 candidates stood.
In the United States, the Ross Perot phenomenon in both
its first and second comings was seen as reflecting a similar distaste for
conventional politics and politicians.
The amazing New Zealand Referendum in September 1992 in
which 85% of the voters who turned out indicated dissatisfaction with the
existing voting system was taken as a massive rebuff of the Labour and National
parties who both campaigned gingerly for the status quo.
However, Independents and minor parties polled poorly in
the Queensland and Victorian election.
The 1993 Election will be a two-sided contest.
Labor approaches the 1993 Election with major strengths:
We have the basis for an unprecedented fifth Labor victory in 1993 and Western Australia's role in that victory will be crucial.