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Labor Right v Greens

Written By: - Date published: 5:29 pm, July 13th, 2012 - 37 comments
Categories: australian politics, greens, labour, Left - Tags:

There’s an extraordinary row going on in the ALP at the moment, with right faction leaders attacking the Greens as financially incompetent and politically marginal. The NSW Labor conference this weekend will debate a motion by the State Secretary Sam Dastyari that Labor not automatically preference the Greens in future elections. Given that they do not do that anyway, one may well ask why the motion is needed. The left faction have now had it amended so  as to stress common factors and leave it as an option.

The spat with the Greens appears a deliberate tactic of the Labor right, as other factional players have weighed in to contrast the Greens as loony and left unlike the centrist major party player like Labor. Further complicating the issue is a by-election coming up next weekend in the formerly safe Labor inner-city seat of Melbourne. The Liberals are not standing a candidate and the Greens Kathy Oke is expected to defeat Labor’s Jennifer Kanis. Some conspiracy theorists are speculating that this attack on the Greens is aimed at destabilising Julia Gillard, with a potential return to Kevin Rudd as leader, or the long-predicted rise of Bill Shorten.

On top of all that, the ALP is undergoing an internal review. Dastyari will also propose to the NSW conference that members be given a say in electing their Parliamentary leader at State and Federal level. That proposal is likely to be referred to a commission in order to kill it, according to one supporter of the proposal. A “compromise” motion to elect party leaders and secretary is expected to fail. Other proposed changes are to allow branch secretaries to forward memberships to the central office, which may reintroduce branch stacking, and not require candidates to be union members in certain cases.

Part of the breakdown in the ALP’s relation with the Greens comes from the refusal to allow off-shore reception of boat people , passed with the support of independents in the House of Representatives but defeated by Greens in the Senate, leaving the toxic issue with its legacy back to Labor’s defeat in 2001 unresolved. Whatever the background, the best comment  in my view comes from the Age’s veteran political editor Michelle Grattan:

While it is undoubtedly necessary for Labor to separate its ”brand” from that of the Greens, this should have been the approach right from the start of the minority government, even at the cost of sometimes making Labor-Green relations testier. Given that it is being done now, however, a more subtle approach was necessary. If you throw insults of ”extremism” and ”loopy” at people after giving voters the impression that they are your friends, you can’t blame the electors if they are cynical.

It’ s not good to see the ALP in its current state – I’ve many friends there and have learnt much from them over the years. Some of the learnings however have been about what not to do.  They (and New Labour in the UK) never understood why we preferred MMP here, so electoral coalitions and minority government are foreign ideas to them. They get tangled up in winner-take-all politics and  fruitless debates about the difference between class and identity politics, allied to a declining membership and an over-reliance on faction-driven branch-stacking and committee voting.

All I saw over twenty-plus years about the way the factions behave in Australia made me determined that the New Zealand Labour Party would avoid factions like the plague, and we have. Some recent comments indicate that the present debate is more factional phoenix-derived,  about what will arise from the ashes of what everyone expects will be a resounding defeat at the next federal election. It’s not a recipe for success in my opinion, as any reliance on reborn factions will strangle efforts to reform the party at birth.

The New Zealand Labour Party’s reform process, which will be signed off by the New Zealand Council this weekend as well, is much more soundly based, and offers much more positive promise than the NSW conference. In contrast with the ALP, the NZLP is building steadily towards electoral success at the next election. Despite the best efforts of those who would promote the union bogey or the zephyr-in-a-teacup from the odd NBC obsessive, Labour here is faction-free and building a mature relationship with the Greens. There’s nothing wrong either with a wake-up call for Labour and the left generally.

One of the most important lessons I learnt in a long time in politics is that when the left splits, it loses. The ALP right seems destined to have to learn that lesson again the hard way, with the Greens this time instead of the DLP-Catholic right  in the 1950’s. Fortunately all the signs here point to the fact that the NZLP and the Greens understand it well.



37 comments on “Labor Right v Greens”

  1. Being as the New Zealand greens are just a sub branch of labor, set up to suck in the ‘organic’ vote, they clearly have no problem talking to each other, if the greeds turned around and started telling the truth – biting the hand of their masters, then we might see a different picture, but while the greeds maintain their lies, they will always be under labors thumb.
    The big green lie is Kiwi Saver – the growth based, planet fucking savings scam.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    What Left are we referring to here?

    With all due respect Mike, Labour is chasing the comfortable middle class and corporate vote with a mildly softer kinder version of free market capitalism. One which has no recognition or ability to deal with the debt and energy driven crisis which we have been in for a few years now.

    Raise the retirement age because we can’t afford super? An FTT at 0.05% or a 1% asset tax on net assets over $1M would have easily done it. Instead, Labour falls into line with the austerity style approaches promoted by the likes of investment bankster-politicians like Draghi.

    • burt 2.1


      You are bang on. The irony of “red = good” Mike’s analysis is that the ALP spat with the greens is pretty much a replay of the Clark governments behaviour with the NZ Green party.

      The real point is that it epitomises major party arrogance. Something that’s should have been kicked out of Labour in 2008. All I see in Labour now is what you point out; a sell out pretending as always that it can be all things to all people.

      • Tiger Mountain 2.1.1

        “a sell out pretending as always that it can be all things to all people”

        C’mon Burt, that is what all parties bar Te Mana currently, and the Workers Party and Māori Party for one election each try to present. Cross class.

        How can the Māori party for example credibly back the Natz when most of their constituency is being well rogered. At least the MP adventures have well exposed the limitations of “identity” politics.

        Many people’s thinking tends to lag behind events and change and the Aussie LP is no different.

  3. Georgecom 3

    Viper, indeed, much to be done. My view is this. Starting the debate does not mean that the debate is finished. I think Labour is starting the debate. The Clark-Cullen third way Government would not have endorsed policies like a GCT or FTT, debated the need to change the Reserve Bank Act or weaved a narrative of resource constraint through speeches. Those debates are happening now. Still along way to go and some important issues economic, environmental and social that have to be acknowledged, confronted and dealt with. The debate however is starting, it isn’t yet finished. If so, Labour is finished as well.

    • Colonial Viper 3.1

      The Right Wing MPs of the Labour caucus aren’t interested in any debate, I can assure you.

      • Georgecom 3.1.1

        Could indeed be the case however a good dose of resource constraint might assist them with their thinking. If not, I guess they will become marginalised. I think the sort of debates that the likes of you and I are waiting for will only intensify.

  4. Socialist Paddy 4

    Despite the best efforts of those who would promote the union bogey or the zephyr-in-a-teacup from the odd NBC obsessive, Labour here is faction-free

    You mean that the Labour Party caucus does not have factions?  You mean that David Parker is the finance spokesperson because shyte like this is actually going to stop the ultra rich becoming even wealthier and will actually address climate change and peak oil?

    You mean because Parker is going to actually talk about a Tobin tax like David Cunliffe has

    You mean because he is better than Cunliffe?

    Come on Mike.  It is clear that there are factions in the Labour Caucus.

    And the right wing is in control.

    • Colonial Viper 4.1

      its the right wing who are currently suggesting that unions have a much diminished role in future leadership selections, and that 30-40 people caucus should have a bigger say than thousands of Labour party members put together.

  5. Ad 5

    You are right that New Zealand Labour has a far gentler politics than that in Australia. And we should be grateful.

    However I have seen no evidence for your assertion that there is a mature relationship with the Greens. There have been no joint initiatives, no compacts, no joint announcements or speeches of any kind, no well-coordinated attacks, not even a free-fire zone. Not sure where the “growing maturity” there is.

    I think your narrative of gradual success towards 2014 is supported by the polls, but still wrong. Labour is still polling at the level it got soundly defeated on last time. The membership is at its weakest ever and deserting in droves to the Greens. There is no money in the bank. There is no outstanding new policy. There are no charismatic leadership in the top three.

    We won’t win by being not-National.

    • Colonial Viper 5.1

      35% LAB
      17% GREEN


      • Ad 5.1.1

        Labour on that number didn’t win in 2008.

        Admire your optimism for the Greens.
        Their numbers are not hard.

        • Colonial Viper

          Sorry, I know, missed the [sarc] tags.

        • People said that before this last election and then got a bit of a shock when they turned out to be pretty close to polling.

          I’m not saying you’re guaranteed to see a 17% result or anything, but it might not be wise to totally discount it either.

        • Fortran


          Labour will take all Maori seats (ex Hone) as maori Party disintegrates shortly.
          So its a win win as Nats have no partners (Dunne is done and retired).
          Banks a no go in Epsom.

    • Jim Nald 5.2

      Confucius said – leadership weak, membership weak 😉

  6. prism 6

    My favourite from Confucius from Thinkexist.com

    “By three methods we may learn wisdom: first, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third, by experience, which is the most bitter.”
    Confucius quotes (China’s most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, 551-479 BC)

    And then there are those who will never learn (wisdom) who fall outside the quotation.

  7. Dr Terry 7

    I think what might be meant here is that Labour here is COMPARATIVELY faction-free. I am not sure that Labour is building a mature relationship with the Greens; more likely the Greens are taking such initiatives themselves. Labour must not become “defensive”. I agree “There’s nothing wrong with a wake-up call for Labour” – especially for the Labour Right.

  8. Ad 8

    Speaking of “Labour Right Versus the Greens”, people should read Fran O’Sullivan this morning in the Herald, principally because she agreed with me.

    She says Shearer’s principal threat is Russell Norman, who appears succinct and focussed and leaves no one in any doubt what the Greens stand for.

    Whereas Shearer, propped up by Labour’s right, was given a good schooling by Sean Plunkett this week, never looks comfortable in politics and can only ever reach for mango-skin variant stories, and couldn’t walk a straight policy line at a breath test.

    It is quite startling this morning that Fran said what the great majority of this site have been saying for months. When it’s a head to head Labour versus the Greens, the Green leader is superior to the current Labour one.

    Which shows also people are switching popular support to Labour DESPITE Shearer, not because of him. Sigh.

    • RedLogix 8.1

      Shearer is doing the job about as well as I would. Earnest, well-meaning and probably doing lots of worthwhile things out of the spotlight. But nonetheless a bit of a muppet.

      Politics is a hard game and it takes years to become any good at it, if you have both the talent and desire. I don’t think Shearer has the talent, nor crucially the desire. Labour took a big risk in choosing someone so relatively inexperienced in politics and while Shearer’s only been 8 months in the role he’s not showing signs of becoming any more comfortable in the role yet.

      I’m comparing him with Helen Clark who languished in the polls as Opposition Leader through much of the 90’s, yet it was always apparent to anyone looking closely that she had what it took to be a great PM.

      DS is a good guy and I like him a person; but so far he looks like the right man in the wrong job. By the end of this year Labour really has to ask some hard and honest questions about how well the gamble is going.

    • mike e 8.2

      ad he’s not scaring to many horse’s which is why he is seen by those who voted national and peters as a safe bet.

  9. lefty 9

    The leadership of both the Greens and Labour are moving to the right.

    Norman is doing it in a succint and focussed way that leave no doubt in any thinking persons mind that he has totally bought into the free market capitalist model under the guise of ‘green growth’.

    Many betrayals and disappointments will follow for those who don’t bother thinking and observing him carefully enough.

    Shearer and Robertson are moving to the right in a confused and contradictory manner that casts doubt not only on their integrity, but also their competence.

    Ideally the left of Labour and the left of the Greens would leave their right wing leadership to play their servile games with their capitalist masters and form a left anticapitalist party.

    • RedLogix 9.1

      free market capitalist model under the guise of ‘green growth’.

      For the simple reason that most of the voters absolutely depend on the ‘capitalist growth model’ to pay their rent or mortgages.

      Until someone can convincingly demonstrate an alternative people will stick with pond they are in. Regardless of how unpleasantly warm it becomes.

    • ghostwhowalksnz 9.2

      Matt McCarten is waiting for your call.

      Hones party with 1% was the highwater of the ‘left anti capitalist party’

    • prism 9.3

      It’s good to have forward thinking vision and an objective view of what changes are needed to prepare for the future. Then Russel Norman and the Greens starting to push moves towards such action is not necessarily turning Right. It’s just the NZ version of the herculean sport of the strong man towing a train. The inertia of NZ could be measured by checking all the things that other countries that are definitely developed nations have done, and what we haven’t and still refuse to initiate.

      • Colonial Viper 9.3.1

        There’s no complexity as to what is needed for the future. $50B in investment over the next 10 years in robust, highly efficient, highly degradable energy, transport and comms infrastructure.

        Deep reaching changes in financial, banking and tax structures to enable it.

        There is a shit load of skilled work which needs to be done to get this country ready for the second half of the 21st century. And we can’t afford any idle hands. Everyone who wants a solid paying job can have one.

  10. Fortran 10

    Greens cleverly moving towards the right -YEA !
    Do you really actually believe they will keep their word ?
    They crave power at all cost, and always being right : effectively they Ron Donald and others, created and moved MMP to suit their own purpose, and in 2014 they will achieve what has taken them almost 20 years of planning.
    The Nats will have the most seats, but Labour, the Greens and Winston will have the most together to form the Government.
    The real problem which is now being recognised, even if only by the media, is that the Greens will hold the coalition of power to serious ransom.
    Labour cannot hold that back, and will have to give them whatever they want.
    Norman has, on more than one occasion, said that he wants Finance (and Dep PM) and Turei Social Welfare. And that’s for starters.
    Winston will take Foreign affairs to keep him out of Wellington as much as possible – he like baubles.
    I say take care – this Green movement is like rust – never sleeps, and can never be trusted.

    • prism 10.1

      Fortran Greens plotting and planning for 20 years, deep secretive and destructive sounding! Not.
      They are just an example of the minority of NZs who are trying to think our way into the future, not just bulldoze the way forward to the sea, like heavy lemmings.

    • Colonial Viper 10.2

      What what fevered conspiracy theories you dream about in your mind.

    • mike e 10.3

      fartrain Winston is finished he won votes because labour didn’t have a charismatic leader and centrists weren’t happy with national and didn’t want national to have an easy ride the next term.
      Winston has lost his Mojo for good.

      • Colonial Viper 10.3.1

        Winston has lost his Mojo for good.

        Yeah I remember the NATs writing him off as ancient history in 2008/2009

        See how that worked out eh.

  11. Murray Olsen 11

    My impressions:
    Australian Labor Party = New Zealand National Party
    Australian Liberal Party = mixture of ACT, Conservative Party and the worst elements of NZ First
    Australian National Party = Louis Crimp, Greg O’Connor, Garth MacVicar and Paul Henry
    The only vaguely left wing grouping they have is the Greens, and I think they’ll move rapidly to the right with Bob Brown gone.
    Australia is in a bad way politically and there’re not many signs that anything will improve soon.

  12. Everything happens for us to learn. New experience, new learning. New failures, new learning. New success, new learning. Politics is a very complicated scene. Very much complicated.

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