Hand it to them on a plate …

Thursday, 11 October 2007 

Soft on terrorism, that was the accusation that conservatives kept liberals in check over the last six years. Labor walks right into it with a moralising position on the death penalty and the Liberals stuff it up.

Like most moralising, McClelland’s speech not only takes little regards of people’s views (such as the victims of terrorist outrages, ignored until it came back home to relatives of Australian victims) but is also contradictory. Australian politicians complaining about Indonesians using the death penalty for terrorists tried in a court of law must look especially strange coming from a country that is prepared to embark on two wars to deal with them (one of which Labor supports). As will be shown by wars that will inevitably involve even the death of civilians in pursuit of terrorists, there are always exceptions to a principle.

As a result, the policy could never be taken to its logical conclusion and it is the unreality of such positions that Howard used to be good at exploiting. There was still some sign of his old dangerous pragmatism with such moralising in a classic exchange with John Laws yesterday as Howard happily lived with being inconsistent:

LAWS: Do we have any right to interfere with another country’s laws?

PRIME MINISTER: Well I have argued that it’s a very difficult thing to do particularly when you’re dealing with citizens of another county. I assert the right to argue in relation to Australian citizens and my policy on this, my attitude on this and people can criticise me for being inconsistent and I’ll have to wear that criticism, but my policy is this: I don’t support the death penalty in Australia and therefore by extension if any Australian is sentenced to death overseas I will argue for remission of that sentence, but in relation to the citizens of other countries I find it very hard to argue against the application of the death penalty in particular cases. And when it comes to people who’ve murdered Australians there’s no way I as Prime Minister or as an Australian, as an individual, that I’m going to argue that the death penalty should not be imposed. Now people think that is inconsistent, well I’ll have to wear that criticism.

The danger with McClelland’s speech was that it momentarily revealed Labor’s core weakness. Labor is a party that has lost its historic role and its basis for representing the interests of a significant section of the electorate. Adrift from a real social base, its policies had reflected more the moral positions of a group of individuals like the Australian Democrats than that of a party of government. That was the truth that was glimpsed last election with Latham’s forestry stance and came back again on Monday night.

That was why the Liberals attack on Labor’s speech had some bite as it exposed Labor’s lack of touch with reality. Yet what did the Liberals then do? They spent the rest of the day highlighting the very means by which Labor is resolving that problem. Labor is a party in transformation. The Rudd/Gillard leadership is not only aiming to win the election but to transform the party in the process. Following from what has been going on in the state ALP, Labor is now identifying more with the state and the provision of services than the unions. The change in the Labor party is being driven by Rudd through the marginalisation of the unions and the factions and re-centring the party instead around a narrow cabal of the leadership. This assertion of Rudd’s control was mis-read a couple of weeks ago when he put all the front bench positions in play and the Liberals are mis-reading his slapping down of McClelland now.

When the Liberal leadership attack Rudd for being mean to McClelland what on earth point are they trying to make? It is not just the shameless bald-faced hypocrisy of Howard’s accusation that Rudd is passing blame to his staff, something that even Laws picked up regarding Howard’s conduct on children overboard and the AWB scandal. Or the laughable comparisons with the way the Liberal leadership conducts itself as Downer points out:

I have been the Foreign Minister of Australia for 11-and-a-half very happy years, and […] not on one occasion has Mr Costello or his office rung me and complained about what I’ve said or done, and nor has Mr Howard.

Maybe Downer should wait for his biography. When Howard calls McClelland “a strong Labor man [who] fights for his cause” he is defending exactly the type of Labor party that the electorate has been rejecting for the last decade and has made a political wash-up from the 1980s like Howard look relevant. It is unlikely to be missed that much.

Posted by The Piping Shrike on Thursday, 11 October 2007.

Filed under Tactics

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