It’s occasionally been forgotten since he left the Labor leadership nearly a decade ago, but when he chooses to engage in policy, Mark Latham has a lot to say. He is optimistic about the intellectual and organisational future of the Labor Party, and appropriately proud of the role we have played in opening up the Australian economy in the 1980s and 1990s and dealing with climate change today.
One big question Labor thinkers are always willing to wrestle with is how the party’s guiding philosophy should evolve. Political parties invariably adapt as society changes, but Labor’s options have particularly opened up as the Coalition has shrunk into what Anthony Albanese has tagged ‘the noalition’. When Tony Abbott calls for a ‘people’s revolt’ against a market-based mechanism for dealing with climate change, it’s hard to know whether to criticise him for abandoning conservatism or trashing liberalism.
In the United States, if you want to insult a right-winger, call them a ‘liberal’. In Australia, if you want to insult a left-winger, call them a ‘Liberal’. In both countries, liberalism has become detached from its original meaning.
It’s time to bring Australian liberalism back to its traditional roots. Small-L liberalism involves a willingness to protect minority rights (even when they’re unpopular) and a recognition that open markets are the best way to boost prosperity.
Per Capita Reform Agenda Series
‘The Future of the Left in Australia:
Embracing Social Liberalism?’
Corrs Chambers Westgarth
5 December 2012
Exiled in the Polish town of Poronin in 1913, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin had plenty of time on his hands. Having already spent three years in a Siberian jail, he was biding his time to return to Russia. And so the man who would soon serve as Russia’s first Communist leader turned his attention to the antipodes.
Like many around the world, Lenin was struck by the way that the Australian Labor Party had swept into parliament. Just a few months after the party’s formation in 1891, Labor won 36 out of 141 seats in the NSW Legislative Assembly. In 1899, Labor won government in Queensland (it lasted a week). In Australia’s first national elections, Labor won 14 out of 75 seats in the House of Representatives. In 1903, Labor’s share of the vote doubled. In 1904, Chris Watson became Labor’s first Prime Minister. Other parties were struck by the strength of Labor’s support, and the energy and youth of their leaders.
And yet Lenin was puzzled. In 1913, he wrote:
‘What sort of peculiar capitalist country is this, in which the workers’ representatives predominate in the Upper house and, till recently, did so in the Lower House as well, and yet the capitalist system is in no danger? … The Australian Labor Party does not even call itself a socialist party. Actually it is a liberal-bourgeois party, while the so-called Liberals in Australia are really conservatives. … Continue reading ‘On Labor and Liberalism’ »
I’m speaking at Per Capita in Melbourne next Wednesday, on the topic of liberalism and the ALP. Details here, and below.
Reform Agenda Series: The Future of the Left in Australia: Embracing social liberalism?, with Andrew Leigh MP, 5 December 2012 Please join us in Melbourne for this Reform Agenda Series event featuring guest speaker Andrew Leigh MP, Member for Fraser.
Prior to entering Parliament, Andrew was a Professor of Economics at the Australian National University. Has has a PhD in Public Policy from Harvard, and has written extensively on economics and social policy. At this forum, he will be discussing why the ALP should embrace the legacy of liberalism – egalitarianism, minority rights and open markets; with a response by Dennis Glover, Per Capita Fellow, speechwriter and political columnist. This will be followed by an open Q & A session.
Venue: Corrs Chambers Westgarth – Level 36, 600 Bourke Street, Melbourne
Date: Wednesday 5 December 2012
Time: Light refreshment served from 10.30am. Forum 11.00am – 12.00pm
Cost: This is a free event
To RSVP for this event, please email Allison Orr on a.orr<AT>percapita.org.au or call 02 9310 5000.
In the latest Quarterly Essay, I’ve penned a response to Laura Tingle’s discussion of the role of government, social spending, and whether Australians are congenitally cross.
Response to Laura Tingle’s Quarterly Essay ‘Great Expectations’
Published in Quarterly Essay #47 (2012)
In 2002, David Moss described the role of government as being the ultimate “risk manager.” Governments, Moss believed, ought to act as a backstop for things that might go wrong in our lives. Just as we buy private insurance to pool our risk with other customers, so governments allow us to pool social risk across other citizens. You can think of your taxes partly as an insurance premium.
The notion of government as risk manager doesn’t cover the full gamut of what governments do, but it does encapsulate many of their important roles. For example, governments help guard against overseas threats and keep our streets safe. Managing risk explains why we have a social safety net to guard against the risk of poverty, a public health care system to deal with the risk of illness, and a public education system to remove the risk that a poor family might not be able to afford to educate their child.
In the Global Mail today, I have an article that expands on the argument kicked off in my first speech: that Labor is the natural party of both egalitarianism and liberalism. I’m an economist, not an historian, so thanks to a raft of people, including Dennis Glover, Emily Murray, Tim Soutphommasane, Macgregor Duncan, Louise Crossman, Troy Bramston, Dennis Altman, Damien Hickman, Nick Terrell, John Hirst, Nick Dyrenfurth, Judith Brett, David Lowe, Michael Jones, Barbara Leigh and Michael Leigh for valuable comments on earlier drafts. Note that several of these people strongly disagreed with my conclusions, so responsibility for errors of fact and argument are mine alone.
And yes, I haven’t missed the irony of praising the Global Mail for not raising the opinion/news ratio, and then writing a essay for them. In my defence, editor Lauren Martin does an excellent line in arm-twisting.
In the ACT ALP journal Lobby, I have a piece with Will Isdale about the party’s achievements since 1891.
Andrew Leigh & William Isdale, ‘Labor’s Proud History’, Lobby, July 2012
There is no unambiguous birth certificate for the ALP, but the most common account is that during a bitter pastoral strike in 1891, some 3000 shearers came together and formed the party under the speckled shade of a gum tree that came to be known with affection as the ‘Tree of Knowledge’, in Barcaldine in rural Queensland. On other accounts, the party sprung to life in bustling Balmain in the same year – an area known for its shipbuilding and boilermaking.
I spoke in parliament last night about the late Frank Walker.
19 June 2012
Frank Walker did more in public life than many of us can ever hope to do. During his time he suffered more than any of us probably ever will. He lost his two sons, Michael and Sean, to suicide. Both died at age 33, and he found both of them. But he contributed an extraordinary amount to our public life. He spent his first years in a Coogee housing commission home. His family moved to New Guinea in 1948 after his father, Jack Walker—a brickworks dragger and a member of the Communist Party of Australia—was black-listed. He was a campaigner for the underdog, and perhaps part of that was formed by those early years in Papua New Guinea, sitting alongside indigenous children in coastal villages.
I spoke in parliament today about the passing of Helen Fraser.
13 March 2012
On 4 March 2012 Helen Whitton Fraser passed away, aged 91. Helen Fraser was the wife of the late Jim Fraser, after whom my seat is named. At the memorial service for Helen Fraser her son, Andrew Fraser, said that hers was a life of ‘strength, love and fun’. She met her husband to be on a tennis court when she was aged 16 and he 29. They did not get married for another 22 years. By that time Jim Fraser was already the local member for the ACT. This was well before self-government, so he was the only political representative for the ACT and looked after more electors than anyone else in the parliament.
I spoke in parliament yesterday about the passing of left-wing activist and Newtown bookseller Bob Gould.
Bob Gould, 30 May 2011
I rise to pay tribute to Newtown bookseller Bob Gould, who passed away on 22 May 2011 aged 74. Bob was part of the progressive left in Australia for the better part of the post-war era. From the Vietnam War to asylum seekers, he has marched and argued for what he believed in. As former New South Wales MLC Meredith Burgmann noted, ‘He was involved in most of the great political protest movements of the time.’
With the release of the ALP National Review, there has been some commentary recently about how the Labor Party can improve its membership base and engagement with the community. I think it’s critical that we do better, but we also shouldn’t forget the good work that’s currently occurring. So I spoke in parliament this week about some of that activity.
Constituency Statements, 22 February 2011
Australian Labor Party
There has been some public discussion recently about the role the Labor Party plays in the local community. This is an important debate, and I am glad we are having it. Australia’s oldest and greatest political party has a long tradition of being enmeshed in the local community. Sports clubs were a feature of party life in the 1930s, as were camps and excursions in the 1940s. In recent years the Labor Party has struggled to retain members. In this we are no different from hundreds of other mass membership organisations. As I documented in a book last year, Australians are less likely to join the Scouts and the RSL, to attend a religious service and to know their friends and their neighbours well.
I put out a press release today on the beaut ‘Shake Your Family Tree’ events that the National Archives are running. In the process, I couldn’t resist mentioning one member of the family you mightn’t expect – my great-great-uncle Robert Beckett (pictured), who served as a non-Labor MLC in the Victorian Parliament 1913-17.