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Curtin's Background

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 birth.

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 Scullin 1929-31.

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 Association.

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 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 National University.

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.

Curtin's Place 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 deep respect.

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 for 1992

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 in place.

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 specifically economic.

The 16 pledges, in order, were:

1. A new charter for the children of Australia (to involve the creative energies of our ... youth in a creative, concerned community: the real answer to the modern malaise of juvenile crime, drugs and vandalism).
2. Pre-school education to be available to every child.
3. Commonwealth spending on schools and teacher training to be the fastest expanding sector of Budget expenditure.
4. Abolition of fees at universities and colleges of advanced education.
5. Raising the basic pension rate to 25% of average weekly earnings.
6. Establishing a universal health insurance scheme (Medibank).
7. Establishing a National Compensation Scheme.
8. A massive effort to rebuild our existing cities and to build new ones.
9. A massive attack on the problem of land and housing cost.
10. Local Government to be given full access to the Loan Council and Grants Commission.
11. Establishing a Prices Justification Tribunal.
12. National intervention in consumer protection.
13. National development bonds through an expanded Australian Development Corporation (we want ordinary Australians to play their part in buying Australia back).
14. Abolition of conscription (forthwith).
15. Legislation to give Aborigines land rights.
16. Cooperation with the New Guinea House of Assembly to speed up self-government and independence.

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 or No.

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 it.

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.


Litmus 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 Tax (GST)

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.

 Labor: Believes that taxation should be progressive and based on wealth and income. (This is equitable and favours the poor.)

 Opposition: Believes that taxation should be largely levied on consumption, as a flat tax. (This is regressive and penalises the poor who devote the highest proportion of income to consumption. A pensioner would pay the same GST on bread as a millionaire. The rich devote a smaller proportion of income to consumption, which permits saving, investment and off-shore purchases, none of which attract Australian GST).

Industrial Relations and National Awards

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.

 Labor: Will retain the existing (dual) system with a centralised core based on determinations and national awards made by the Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) and other tribunals. There will be increased scope for enterprise bargaining, where appropriate. The system is stable, predictable, taking national economic factors into account. It emphasizes consensus, minimum standards and equity.

 Opposition: Will destroy the existing system, weakening the role of the IRC and the trades unions, relying on the operation of market forces and individual enterprise bargaining, which has the potential of penalising the weak, and is potentially unpredictable and risky, because of the introduction of harsh penalties for breach of contract. It emphasizes confrontation. The Kennett Government's Employee Relations Act 1992 is a predictive model of what could be expected under Hewson.

Public Education

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.

 Labor: Will maintain absolute priority support for the State school system, encouraging access for students from families with limited resources and who live in isolated regions. Education must be retained as a public good.

 Opposition: Will break down the State system, encouraging parents to opt out by using vouchers, converting education to another market force operation, the mere sale of a commodity.

Social Security

The provision of a social safety net has been central to Labor's philosophy for a century. The Opposition is committed to breaking this down.

 Labor: Will maintain generous social security provisions so that retirement, job loss, old age or illness do not destroy the right to security and peace of mind. There will be comprehensive national superannuation cover by the year 2000.

 Opposition: Will break down the social security network and relying on the privatisation of security: that the emphasis must be on private savings and returns from investment. This will provide a winner take all situation with no second chances for victims and few stretcher bearers to carry them off.


Industry Policy

After some degree of convergence between Government and Opposition in industry policy in the 1980s, a clear distinction is now emerging.

 Labor:  Labor recognises the need for selective but limited intervention where necessary, and to retain and support certain strategic industries (such as the motor industry). This involves the setting of priorities, reserving the right to maintain some limited tariff protection, encouraging industrial R& D, with governments acting as variety generators, and the strategic use of government purchasing. Labor will continue to work towards creating an internationally competitive economy which adds value to raw materials, and recognises the increasing importance of manufactures and services in our exports.


 Opposition: Dr Hewson, Mr Reith, Mr McLachlan and their followers maintain the same market-driven approach to industry that-Australia must pursue the twin dogmas of the level playing field and that governments cannot pick winners. (Past experience suggests that Australian industry has rarely tried to pick winners either. Does that mean that we simply ignore the vast sweep of changes in the world's economy and technological base?) Hewson promises abolition of all tariffs by the year 2000.

Supporting Major Australian Institutions

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: Labor should guarantee support for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and the Australia Council, Australian Opera, Australian Ballet and the National Library. All make a fundamental contribution to the rich texture of Australia's cultural and intellectual life, and they are institutions to be proud of.

 Opposition: All these institutions may be destroyed by Dr Hewson's Opposition.


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.

 Opposition: The Opposition has no interest in this area which is barely mentioned in Fightback!

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).


 Opposition:  Its contribution is entirely blank.


Rethinking Australia's 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 our symbols?

 Labor: Paul Keating has initiated community debate about reinterpreting our history, and this debate will have important implications for education, industry, social policy and our future international relations. Is Australia part of Asia? An extension of Europe? Should it have a bridging role between Europe and Asia? Labor should encourage this debate as we face up to the 21st century.

 Opposition: The Opposition has no interest in issues other than the narrowly economic, believing that market forces will lead Australia and that thinking about and discussing the issues is irrelevant.

Australia as a Republic-Updating the Constitution

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 agent).

 Labor: Should work to update the Constitution to ensure its replacement by the year 2001, by a contemporary, relevant document which faces the problems of the 21st century just as our forebears prepared Australia for the 2Oth century. Labor should work to secure public support for a republic, while retaining the Westminster system of Executive Government, replacing the Governor General by a non-executive president chosen by a qualified majority in the Parliament.

 Opposition: They prefer the status quo and reject change, just as they campaigned to defeat the 1988 Constitutional Referenda.

Perennials (Spectrum issues)

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 accomplished.

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.

Preserving Medicare

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 Multiculturalism

Labor encourages language studies and believe that diverse cultures can enrich Australian life. Dr Hewson favours a narrow monocultural approach.

Defuse Debate on Migration Levels

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.

New Issues

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.

Marine Industries

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.

lnternational Affairs

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 Culture

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.

Unemployment-a special case

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 special case

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.

Towards l993

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:

1. The ALP is in better shape than any other Labour/Labor/Social Democratic Party in the world.
2. Labor stands far higher in the public opinion polls now than at a comparable point before the 1990 Election (when the economy was perceived to be stronger).
3. The Government has a strong, decisive Leader, not loved, but certainly respected.
4. Factionalism is being damped down as members recognise that the issues that unite us are far more important than internal divisions (preselection battles in NSW notwithstanding).
5. We have a good record to defend, in education, industry restructuring, tax reform, social welfare, the environment, foreign affairs, the arts.
6. There is a widespread community apprehension about the Opposition's commitment to policies which have demonstrably failed in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and New Zealand-and the increasingly fanatical conviction of its Leader that the failure of the Friedman-von Hayek economic policies is that they were applied with insufficient zeal, that their proponents chickened out and failed to go all the way.

We have the basis for an unprecedented fifth Labor victory in 1993 and Western Australia's role in that victory will be crucial.

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