Saturday, December 28, 2013
I had a great deal of amusement recently listening to an Australian Labor Party Senator make what I presume was his maiden speech. (I certainly hope someone who had been in the Australian Senate for any period would have lost such dewy eyed idealism. Though I admit that some politicians specifically stand for election on lists of stupid things, and therefore have to pretend to support those impossible and often even criminal concepts even when they realise that the very idea is ridiculous - if they want to stay in their nice cushy jobs.)
His basic premise was that the Australian Labor party had 'won' the twentieth century because their ideals had prevailed, and that it was important that they 'win' the twenty-first century too.
His samples of the ideals that were 'ALP', that had defined and 'won' in the last century ranged from the realistic, to the fantastic, to the head in the sand.
Let's start with the obvious. The party of entrenched racism.
The Australian Labor Party was the firmest bastion of the White Australia Policy of the first half of the twentieth century. Its unofficial lead sheet - The Bulletin Magazine - ran under the heading 'Australia for the White Man' for decades. Immigration from Asia and Eastern Europe and other places was opposed by the Australian Labor Party for a bigger part of the century than it was supported by it.
For an idiot politician to claim that the ALP's comparatively recent discovery that they could milk votes from 'multiculturalism' – which caused its belated embrace of that policy – proved that Labor ideals had won 'the twentieth century': is either pure ignorance of his own party's history, or naive acceptance of its rewriting of real history, or just cynical self blinkering of the truth. (Or a combination of all three probably.)
In reality, the historical inevitability of immigration ground the ALP's original policy to dust, and forced the ALP to adapt.
How's that for a win?
He was on a bit firmer ground with Socialism.
Not of course that version of socialist that the party supported for most of the century - communism - with its nationalisation of banks and industries claptrap (that reduced the British economy from second in the world to sixth or eigth in less than 25 years). That version was an unmitigated disaster. Both in the way Communism left millions dead and billions impoverished, and in the way that communism schismed the ALP and kept it out of office for 20 years. (A crucial 20 years, that very fortuitously saved Australia from the disasters the British economy faced under such stupid experiments with nationalisation.)
Still the version of socialism that provides a safety net for those who need it was undoubtedly always a central concern of the ALP. Certainly their contribution here has been useful.
On the other hand, this assumes that no other political party believed in a safety net. Which is ridiculous. Universal state funded schooling predated the ALP by quite a bit. Education of women; votes for women in some states; rights for Aboriginals... these things were elements of the colonies long before the ALP was thought of. One of the reasons they were not included in the original federal constitution was through opposition from people with policies like, oh, say, 'Australia for the White Man'!
Take university education for instance. The ALP claims great credit for making it 'free' (for a while). Unfortunately the previous scholarship systems provided by Liberal and other governments actually seems to have done a better job at getting the genuinely disadvantaged into the system. So the 'free' bit seems to have just been an early example of middle class welfare for those who didn't really need it. (And the later HECS was a reversion to straight loans whether anyone wants to admit it or not.. in fact one far less likely to get the genuinely underprivileged involved than the original scholarships.)
The recent no holds barred 'anyone can go' to university appears to be simply a way of reducing youth unemployment, not really doing university level training. Admittedly a basic degree these days is to prepare people for the modern version of factory work – tax office call centres – not anything like a real tertiary education. But the fact that achieving 42% on school leaving certificates is apparently good enough for many 'university' courses, and the incredible drop out rates – two thirds in many courses – makes it clear that real education is not the target here. (Meanwhile the ALP's fantasy that everyone should go to Uni has gutted trade training and led to a huge whole in apprentices... one only made worse by the recent Union 'victory' that requires trainees get full adult wages... something that should lift youth unemployment to European levels with amazing speed.)
What we need of course is a smaller and better focused university system with real scholarships for those in genuine need, and a much stronger TAFE system. (And reinstated youth training wage rates to reduce youth unemployment.) These are the exact opposite to ALP policy, and make a bit of a mockery of the ALP having 'won' education.
The fact that literacy and numeracy has been in steady decline since the education unions grabbed the wheel and started demanding more and more funding: tells you everything you need to know about the importance of redefining 'winning' to suit your constituents – regardless of the baleful effects on the general population.
In fact the suggestion that an accretion of bad practices, that everyone knows cannot possibly be sustained over time: can only be considered a 'win' if you think that getting everyone used to bad practices is clever. Once you face the fact that vast middle class welfare, huge debt financing, and ever increasing youth unemployment might be bad things, then you start to see that this might not be a 'win' after all.
(An amusing recent comparison on radio admitted that rolling these things back was very painful... rather like taking drugs away from addicts. Which suggests that getting everyone hooked on addictive substances is what is really meant by a 'win' here?)
Lets look at aboriginal policy. Another place where the ALP likes to pat itself on the back. Aborigines had the vote in some states before federation (before ALP). Getting it back for them post ALP took 70 years. The ALP 'revised' version of this is that all the other parties (such as the ones that had given aborigines votes in some states previously) were evil. In practice the aborigines were never going to do well until the 'White Australia' party had a rethink.
Unfortunately the 'rethink' they had was a paternalistic 'for their own good' version that imposed idealised tribalism, and Communist inspired common property rights. Making the inevitably impoverished communities that resulted look good only by comparison with that other outdated bastion of communistic idealism, North Korea.
[I am sometimes amazed to have some people tell me that it is easier to get 'reform' under Labor governments. Yes it certainly is. Recent history in particular indicates that Liberal oppositions support good reform. Labor oppositions almost invariably block any reform. (I will note that the Nationals are also usually opposed to real reforms, being even more protectionist and sometimes almost as racist as the historical ALP.) I also note that that my suggestion here is remarkably simplistic... ie it is lowering itself to the level of thinking being discussed here... But please note that by 'reform' I mean a real and positive improvement. The word 'reform' under the recent ALP government being abused to the point that any increase in taxes for self evidently stupid, and even apparently corrupt reasons, was called a 'reform'.]
Socialism as a safety net is a pretty good thing, and here the ALP has some credence. But Socialism as a centrally controlled crutch to addict citizens to government supervision and support is a self evident social evil, and here the ALP is only outdone by the Australian Greens. Here the ALP should adapt the lessons it apparently failed to learn when it abandoned its beloved Communism to be electable.
Small 's' safety net style socialism – of the style that pre-dated the ALP – has definitely won the twentieth century. But this is despite the ALP's fixation on Centralised Statist Control - or large 'S' SOCIALISM – not because of it.
In fact the evils of statism are so evident, that it would really help if groups like the ALP would adapt a more middle of the road approach before we get the type of lunatic counter swing of the pendulum that is represented by the American Tea Party or by the French 'Le Pen' party. (Whoops, sort of forgot Pauline Hanson and Clive Palmer here didn't I...)
To be fair, Bob Hawke's version of the ALP was better than almost any other part of the ALP's approach to the twentieth century. Despite its mantra of 'Big Government, Big Unions and Big Business' – and to hell with anyone else: it did actually deliver some balanced policies, and some genuine economic reforms that actually improved living standards long term.
Perhaps the Senator in question grew up during that period and is ignorant enough to believe that this period is representative. Perhaps he knows so little history, that he genuinely believes he is not denying and repudiating most of his own parties history?
If so he is an excellent example of what his parties education policies have done to increase the ignorance and gullibility of Australian voters.
Personally I prefer to hope he is just the sort of cynical bastard who parrots things he doesn't believe in to get votes. Otherwise we face the very scary concept of him – and people like him – pushing the policies that 'won' the twentieth century into the future.
Perhaps they will even be able to pursue their ideals to the point of making the Australia of 2060 look like the Greece or Spain of today?