Whenever Labor’s opponents run out of cogent excuses for attack of the party’s ideals & ethos, they always seem to turn to Ben Chifley’s “Light on the Hill” speech, delivered to the ALP National Conference in 1949.
That occasion was 62 years ago, delivered to a different Labor Party, in a different time. Four years post-World War Two and just prior to the Korean conflict, 1949 must have been seen by many as a time and opportunity awaiting acceptance. I wouldn’t know. 1949 was eight years prior to my birth. It’s a shortish speech, but it does contain – other than the core phrase, “light on the hill” – some pertinent and poignant statements. In particular, in reference to the Party leadership, Chifley said, “It is a man-killing job and would be impossible if it were not for the help of my colleagues and members of the movement”. So it is a “man-killing job”. It killed John Curtin, and ultimately political life killed him too.
I will always remember my father telling me that the best societal philosophy to follow is that which provides the greatest good for the greatest number, and it is this philosophy which Chifley personified. The Labor Party we have today, 62 years after Ben Chifley strove for that “light on the hill” is not the Party of Ben Chifley. It’s not, because that Party has changed, evolved with the times and struggles to meet the new demands being placed upon it by an ever more demanding society in concert with the death of true Liberalism, and the rise of extremist Conservatism. For decade after decade, Labor has only had Liberalism to deal with. Today the Party faces a political foe that will stop at nothing, absolutely nothing, in order to take power in this country. The evidence is in the form of the current conservatively controlled coalition parties. No policies, no genuine leadership and no intention of ever adopting a non-partisan approach to any issue as long as that non-partisanship gives succour to its ideological enemy. Politics in this country has become an uncivil war of attrition, as nasty and personal as any street fight or pub brawl. It plays to the lowest common denominator and has ceded authority to the media in all important respects.
Australian politics needs to be dragged, shrieking it’s lungs out as needs be, out of its self-enforced doldrums. How is unclear, but it must involve proper leadership capable and willing to bring the people with that leadership. The drive for power has to be cast aside in lieu of provision of satisfaction and justice for the people, delivered by the people through the democratic process. Not via the demands of newspaper editors, radio shock-jocks or current affairs television hosts. Certainly not through the auspices of conservatism constantly blowing the shrill dog whistle of populism. Democracy is not about who is popular and who isn’t. Democracy is about the greatest good for the greatest number. Currently, under the separate leaderships of both major parties, Labor and Liberal-National coalition, there is no drive to lead democratically. Labor is beholden to lesser players simply to remain in power. The conservatives desperately want that power and have surrendered any pretence of rationality and willingness to provide a viable alternative to those who would run their own agendas in the media. One need only scan the pages of the conservatively oriented Courier Mail in Brisbane to realise that Pauline Hanson never really died, she simply underwent a sex change. It’s this kind of stupid, narrow-minded and bigoted representation we voters, as a whole, need to wake up to and spurn. These attitudes are NOT Australian. They are NOT egalitarian and they are NOT justified.
I am unsure whether I agree with Phillip Adams. Whilst Kevin Rudd might well embody the ethos of Labor, his modus operandi leaves much to be desired as a genuine leader of men and women. It is absolutely certain and has been evident to me since 24 June 2010 that Julia Gillard and those who plotted the downfall of a sitting Prime Minister out of unreasoned fear and personal loathing, are not leaders of men and women. They are short-term political opportunists and as such, are no better than their nemesis, Tony Abbott. Whether Rudd makes a comeback, only time and popular opinion will tell. Whether Rudd, or indeed any other current serving Labor MP, can save Labor before 2013, seems unlikely as long as a combined onslaught from a populist media, a free-riding opposition and rabid Hanson-like minor players are allowed by Labor to hold the prominence of the people.
To lead a political party is a “man-killing job”. To lead a political party without leading the nation it supposedly governs is killing this nation.