Aussie rules: what Labour could learn from Kevin Rudd’s defeat

September 9, 2013 11:20 am

Six years ago the Australian Labour Party (ALP) was all-powerful. As a party, it controlled every single state government and had just achieved a stunning Federal Election result which even saw the Liberal Prime Minister, John Howard, lose his seat. Today they are surveying the wreckage. Labor have lost control in five of the six states. In the case of Queensland and New South Wales, where Labor managed to retain seats, there was a huge swing away from the party in the Federal Election on 7th September.

Yet as a government, the ALP was a proven success over the last six years. It presided over economic prosperity and improving living standards at a time of global austerity. Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd as Labour Prime Ministers introduced a raft of popular and socially progressive legislations such as the Disability Rights legislation.

What went wrong and what can the British Labour learn from the experience?

Well the first rule of modern politics – division is death – was played out to spectacular effect with the ALP. Australian Labour’s politics turned into a Punch and Judy show: Julia Gillard replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister before the General Election in the 2010 and Rudd replaced Gillard earlier this year, just before the federal election. This confused the public and created huge divisions within the Parliamentary Party. Simon Crean, a former leader and respected MP, summed it up in the Australian: “Their strength was in their combination,” he said. Rudd and Gillard was a godsend for Australian Labour politics; but Rudd vs Gillard was a disaster. The experience of the ALP over the last three years proves a stark reminder that the UK Labour Party, too, needs to move on from secret briefings and rivalries of the Brown-Blair, Ed-David type.

The Australian Labour Party failed to deal with long standing issues of party mis-management and dubious behaviour, especially by certain MPs and Trade Union leaders in New South Wales. The public punished such behaviour by a record 25% swing away from Labour in the last New South Wales state election.

Trades unions have a deep impact on Australian society. They are the default provider of private pensions, which every worker has to subscribe to and every company has to provide. These union pension funds have proved extremely popular, with low charges and better returns than commercial pensions. The trade union-led culture of decent pay means that few workers expect tips. Instead workers have a higher level of wages including guaranteed premium rates for unsocial hours. This embedded trade union culture meant that even Tony Abbott – the new Prime Minister leading the Liberal-National coalition – had to pledge to keep much existing employment legislation, in his manifesto.

Given the current fraught discussions in the UK, it was wonderful to see how strong the association between the trade unions and Labour Party remains in Australia. Trade unions and their members were absolutely central to the General Election campaign for Labour. One of the highlights of my time here in Australia was a party fundraising event where Bob Hawke – the veteran Labour Prime Minister – had the whole audience singing ‘Solidarity Forever’. Somehow I can’t imagine Tony Blair doing the same.

Whilst battered, the ALP survived the election in better shape than many predicted. In Victoria this was down to a grassroots campaign using trades union members to canvass friends and colleagues. Because Australia has compulsory voting, this campaign was not about securing turnout, but about understanding Labour’s core values both for this and future elections. The election also saw success for a number of new women Labour MPs such as Clare O’Neill in Melboune, Kate Harris in Adelaide and Alannah Mcternan in Perth.

For UK Labour, with the General Election looming in 2015, the need to maintain party discipline is absolutely critical. It is depressing to see battle lines being drawn up at senior levels over Party and Trade union links. The lesson from Australia is that such links need to be developed at a personal and local level, campaigning and joining together to secure rights at work for all employees, not just existing Trade Union members. Get that right and we could transform our electoral chances in 2015.

  • crosland

    Have the ALP learned anything much though ?

    According to reports like the one in the link below they are still squabbling over the succession, a bit like our party in 2010.

    http://www.news.com.au/national-news/bill-shorten-should-lead-australian-labor-party-says-ex-trade-minister-richard-marles/story-fncynjr2-1226715704702

    Hopefully they won’t repeat the mistake our united party did of having months on end of a leadership election, leaving the incoming coalition the time to consolidate is position and remain largely unchallenged on the message that labour left the country in a financial mess.

    After all, it isn’t exactly an unknown fact that the prima donna’s vying for leadership seemed content to letthe coalition get on with things while they tried to win over a very long leadership contest.

    Hopefully the ALP will try and involve the membership instead of just relying on the MP’s but keep the timescales tighter that ours was, so they don’t give Abbott’s coalition time to build without effective opposition.

Latest

  • Featured Nearly one million people forced to use food banks in the last year

    Nearly one million people forced to use food banks in the last year

    David Cameron and his party may be claiming that the cost of living crisis is over – but perhaps they should speak to the nearly one million people who were forced to rely on emergency food aid from food banks in the past year. 913,138 adults and children received three days’ emergency food and support from Trussell Trust food banks in the last 12 months – that’s a rise of 163% on the number who were helped in the previous financial year. […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Going for the student vote: Postgraduates matter more

    Going for the student vote: Postgraduates matter more

    In a politics dominated by efforts to chase the grey vote it is nice to see a bit of electoral competition at the other end of the generational divide. As Labour weighs up what to do about tuition fees it might seem that a big offer to students could yield important gains next year at the general election, as well as shoring up any post-2010 support tempted to return to the Lib Dem fold. 40.5% of students voted Lib Dem […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Independence won’t deliver for Scottish women

    Independence won’t deliver for Scottish women

    As the referendum debate in Scotland picks up pace, there is an increased focus on how women will vote. So far, it would seem that women in Scotland are steadfastly resisting Salmond’s overtures. It’s no surprise, given that his central offer for more childcare has been dismissed by the experts, and women are starting to understand that the SNP are being led by polls and not principles. Women are asking why, if the SNP’s commitment to equal representation is real, […]

    Read more →
  • News Weekly survey: Cost of living, elections and devolution

    Weekly survey: Cost of living, elections and devolution

    Average wages are set to rise faster than prices – so is there still a cost of living crisis? Ed Balls says there is, the Tories are arguing that there isn’t. What do you think? And with the European and local elections coming up next month – how much campaigning is going on in your area? And when were you last out on the doorstep? Also in our survey – Ed Miliband has pledged to devolve at least £20 billion to be […]

    Read more →
  • News Labour have a mini reshuffle

    Labour have a mini reshuffle

    Labour have had a very mini pre-Easter reshuffle, with two new role announced. Thomas Docherty, formerly Angela Eagle’s PPS, has become Shadow Deputy Leader of the House, while Angela Smith moves from that position to become a Shadow Environment minister. Congratulations to both on their new roles.

    Read more →