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Can Labor Win Australia Back?

Written By: - Date published: 1:07 pm, December 21st, 2021 - 37 comments
Categories: australian politics, climate change, International, jacinda ardern, science - Tags:

Coming up surprising quickly in 2022 is the Australian federal election – and Labor has a good shot.

This matters for a whole bunch of reasons to us and on multiple policy fronts, not only the rapid rise of gangs and violent crime in west Auckland. It can simply be summed that New Zealand and Australia are drifting apart in our politics just as our people and economies are ever-more tightly integrated.

Just three years ago previous Labor leader Bill Shorten waged an ambitious big tax, big government, high redistribution campaign and lost badly. The new leader Anthony Albanese has pursued a small target, policy careful, pragmatic approach: his task is to form government.

It will have been 9 years since there was a Labor government at the federal level – as we know over here, that is a long time. To New Zealand there is no international change of government in the world more important than what’s in balance in May 2022.

We should not expect to see a return to big, bold ideological promises from Labor this campaign. I would also be very surprised if they propose a formal alliance with the Greens. The carbon pricing policy that came out of the formal alliance with the Greens did not go over with the electorate well last time. Australian politics does not consider it a surprise if mining companies wage massive and aggressive campaigns against policies and parties it doesn’t like, and mining billionaires are quite happy to form their own spoiler parties. That’s something like the head of Fonterra and Federated Farmers getting several seats in our Parliament with the aim of taking out the Three Waters programme.

If Labor can survive without getting much in Queensland (where the Coalition holds 23 of 30 seats) and gets in somehow, and doesn’t do a formal coalition, independents and minor parties like the Greens are going to be horse-trading harder: sectional interests for specific issues are going to be put up hard against national interests.

Albanese is no giant. He doesn’t have the communicative clarity of Ardern, the institutional credibility and groundbreaking power of Hawke, or even a brainy bilingual Rudd. The Australian electorate needs to be convinced that the party’s convictions and substance reflect the emerging Australia.

Is the Albanese ALP makeover genuine or cosmetic?

Is it just a tactical con job to fool enough people to win an election?

Albanese’s task is to keep the Australian Labor Party loyalists – the public servants, the youth vote, the climate believers, trade unionists, the working families, health, education and community workers, the tertiary progressives – but march back sufficiently to the political centre and persuade the legions of waverers waiting to be gathered up. That will sound remarkably similar to New Zealand in 2017’s election.

There is, after the pandemic response, no electoral margin for Labor doing a standard leftie thing of claiming that their version of the state is bigger and grander and will look after you better … because the Coalition have already done that. State capacity and force has grown massively under Morrison out of necessity rather than ideology, but grow it did.

Albanese’s best shot is simply to make the election a referendum on Morrison, rather than push out anything bold himself. This ‘keep your head down’ move is a tactic and is definitely not a strategy. Should he win he still has to generate the entire ‘where to next?’

Labor’s weakness in its identity is easily exploited by a populist right, because Labor is a party of dual identities – it is the champion of high-educated, high-earning cosmopolitans focused on climate, inclusion and social justice and it is the party of traditional, low- to middle-income workers in the suburbs and regions. Neither Piketty nor Ardern would have any difficulty with that. Morrison has good angles there.

The strongest defence is Albanese’s tactic of reassurance. He wants to bring the country together in a Bob Hawke-type unity pitch. He has ditched the tax/spend framing. He backs the government’s personal income tax cuts, its AUKUS nuclear submarine deal, and its hard line on China, and he prioritises childcare for working mothers. The question becomes: will the voters buy Albanese as an agent of “safe change” or will the voters remain too suspicious of the Labor brand?

Much depends upon Morrison. He has done a shit job in 2021. His mishandling of the COVID epidemic with deliberate disharmony with Labor state governors, his worsening diplomatic relationships with France and China, his inability to confront the misogyny and bullying of parliament itself – he is now deeply unpopular. Can Morrison himself recover? Can Liberal-National support recover against Labor?

With Morrison likely to frame the election as centred around the economy, his appeal rests on the sustained sound performance of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, playing a similarly downbeat but massively successful role to Robertson in our own government. The Australian JobKeeper programme has been successful in assisting the pandemic economic recovery, and that’s on Frydenberg and colleagues not Morrison. Economic management results from federal action is Morrison’s best shot at re-election.

But should Labor win, opportunities with New Zealand abound: closer partnership over aid and development in the South Pacific’s many weak and marginal states; rebuilding the damaged Pacific Forum into a coherent diplomatic force; ever-closer military interoperability; a faster path for citizenship for New Zealanders in Australia; closer Police operations in drugs and financial crime; a joined-up pandemic response; common alternative fuels capacity; more integrated climate policies; piece by piece form enough fields of common endeavour for the Australia-New Zealand national relationship to reverse its drift and better reflect how deeply connected we are as economies and as people.

Maybe, in time, a wee bit of respect that we’re worth engaging with and useful.

So here’s hoping Labor win in 2022.

37 comments on “Can Labor Win Australia Back? ”

  1. Dennis Frank 1

    Looking good as of Dec 10th:

    ALP support is now at 56.5% (up 1% point since late November) cf. L-NP on 43.5% (down 1% point) on a two-party preferred basis according to the latest Roy Morgan Poll on Federal voting intention conducted over the last two weekends. https://www.roymorgan.com/findings/8878-federal-voting-intention-december-2021-202112092249

    A 13-point differential will be damned hard for ScoMo to overcome. However he's got sufficient resemblance to a koala that female voters could rate him as a comfortable icon. Watch the Oz women's mags to spot the trend on that.

  2. barry 2

    "He backs the government’s personal income tax cuts, its AUKUS nuclear submarine deal, and its hard line on China,"

    So why would voting for him be any use? All he is offering is a "promised" more competent version of Morrison.

  3. Tiger Mountain 3

    Talk about about a bold plan to under promise and under deliver by the ALP!…

    Australia has its LINO (Labor/Labour in name only) just as we do in NZ. Though the Ardern Govt. has delivered scores of useful reforms many would be only dimly aware of–reinstating support to various NGOs that Sirkey removed, School Lunch programme, keeping a foot on the throat of Charter Schools, free period products, etc.–and many more if you care to look them up.

    I know some Australians and have a brother who has lived there from the 70s in Queensland–and frankly some of them make provincial New Zealanders seem enlightened intellectual giants. No wonder they only gave indigenous people the vote in the 1960s, a bit of a convoluted story in itself, and regularly vote for the likes of Johnny Howard and Reverend Morrison who relish the role of Australia being the US Pacific Deputy Dog.

  4. UncookedSelachimorpha 4

    Labor in Australia don't look terribly left to me. For example, they now back the Lamington and Stage 3 tax cuts that are a direct transfer of wealth from the poorer to the better off. Likely they will be better than the current lot, by a small margin.

    The new Juice media video gives the best recommendation – Australians should vote for a non-shit party.

  5. UncookedSelachimorpha 5

    An analysis of the tax cuts that both Labor and the Coalition support, demonstrating the net effect of transferring wealth from poorer to richer.

    (sorry, struggling with linking to youtube properly today)

  6. coge 6

    Yes, Albo is in with a reasonable chance. He's not as cocky as Shorten (in my view) And this is a good thing. But the fact is the ALP still isn't united. And Scomo is seen as a safe pair of hands, something important to the Aussie electorate. So have to see how it plays out.

  7. Blazer 7

    Who's ..Rupert backing…?devil

    • tc 7.1

      Good question.

      With a family associate chairing the ACCC (thanks joshy) he may freewheel the campaign knowing whoever wins hes ok either way.

    • tc 8.1

      It's been entertaining to watch Keating savage the muppets in Canberra.

      The 'media' responds why he's wrong on behalf of the subjects of his savaging who don't directly challenge Keating but leave it their media mates.

      Pk will be keeping the best for the run in to polling day. As the architect of superannuation and a govt that achieved major economic reform he’s always good copy.

  8. Stuart Munro 9

    In the wake of Slomo, anything is possible.

    Especially as Rupert must be starting to slow down.

    Actual left parties should be encouraged by the election in Chile: 'We will bury neoliberalism': Global celebration follows leftist victory in Chile – Alternet.org

    Burying neoliberalism may be worth more votes than the so-called 'centre-right' imagine.

    • Ad 9.1

      The new Chilean guy will walk back his extremism even faster than the Peruvian leftie extremist did.

      • Sanctuary 9.1.1

        The most encouraging thing I took from the Chilean election was Kast rang to congratulate Boric on his victory. This is what happens in mature democracies. Now Boric has to realise he has to govern not just in the interests of the 55% who voted for him but also for the 45% who didn't and Chile will have achieved the most difficult democratic feat of all – peaceful transfer of power where both sides accept the result.

        I actually hope Chile has puts the instability of radicalism of both the left and right behind it. It's people deserve peace and prosperity at home. Boric now has to try to enact genuine change within the framework of legitimate democratic discourse. I wish him well.

        • RedLogix


          Yes – Latin America is slowly becoming less radical over time. Still bumpy in places but we are seeing stable democratic cultures become more established and secure.

          • DS

            You are aware that Chile prior to Pinochet was one of the most secure and established democracies in the Western Hemisphere?

            • Ad

              You mean runaway inflation, sustained economic depression, capital flight, then hyperinflation, then food rationing, then wilful destabilisation by both the CIA and KGB, then a military coup and execution of the President?

              Such security.

              • Stuart Munro

                That's the price of giving Chicago boys free rein. At least Chile threw them in the chokey when they figured it out – our economic criminals are still at large.

              • DS

                I mean that Chile – almost uniquely among Latin American countries – had negligible history of dictatorships prior to 1973. Treating it as some sort of banana republic that has only just now come to appreciate democracy is a bit rich, seeing as (prior to Pinochet) it was a beacon of constitutional government on a continent generally lacking in it.

                (And, yes, I am aware that there was overt external sabotage going on under Allende. But Allende was not a dictator, and the events of September 1973 were not normal for the country).

      • ghostwhowalksnz 9.1.2

        Self protection for the Peruvian President from the Free Peru marxist party. Already an attempt to impeach him./

        'Removing presidents in Peru is easier than almost anywhere else on earth. Castillo could be gone if 87 lawmakers — a two-thirds majority — opposed him in an impeachment vote. Former President Martin Vizcarra was impeached last year, and nearly every Peruvian president elected since 1985 has been impeached, imprisoned or sought in criminal investigations.'


  9. adam 10

    What Aussie really needs

  10. Corey Humm 12

    Don't get your hopes up. ALP constantly out polls the coalition and everyone thinks a change of government is upon us and then boom coalition wins.

    With preferences it's even harder for ALP.

    Also don't expect too much of a change to the gang deportations if ALP gets in. Just like kids are still sitting in cages in USA, nothings gonna change on that front it's too damaging to domestic politics.

    The ALP has also stopped singing Arderns praises recently, with Shorten and others calling her foolish on things like smoking so it's not gonna be too different a relationship than the one with scomo.

    Im more interested in what Arderns relationship (if any) with the new socialist Chilean president will be, one of our trading partners, who just beat a hardcore Pinochet worshiping hard right lunatic. Good on Chile

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