Where to Next for Labor?

My Chronicle column looks at the implications of the federal election result.
Legislation Shows Labor Stamp on National Identity, The Chronicle, 1 October 2013

In my lifetime, Federal Labor has only lost office on three occasions: 1975, 1996 and 2013. Unlike 1975 and 1996, the last election did not see Canberrans electing any Coalition members to the House of Representatives. So like Labor supporters across Australia, the typical Canberran is probably feeling a little bruised by the election result.

So the question for the ALP and our supporters is: where do we go next?

In answering this, I’m guided by the stories of two women who spoke to me last month. Joyce, an octogenarian from Ainslie, wrote to say that she remembered living through the Great Depression as a child. She wanted me to know how grateful she was to the government for preventing Australia going through a similar slump in 2008-09.

And then there’s Deb, whose carer pushed her wheelchair up to me on polling day, when I was handing out at Lyneham Primary School, so she could simply say: ‘Thank you for DisabilityCare’.

Joyce and Deb helped remind me that Labor in office did a great deal that was right. Saving hundreds of thousands of people from unemployment was worthwhile, even if we did have to take on some debt to do it. DisabilityCare is a vital part of our social safety net, recognising that each of us is just a ‘shaft of fate’ away from a permanent impairment.

Likewise, Labor was right to put a price on carbon, reducing emissions at the lowest cost. We were right to campaign for – and win – a seat on the United Nations Security Council. And history will judge us well for finally apologising to the Stolen Generations.

Labor would not have performed better if its policies were closer to those of the Greens Party. Nationwide, the Greens Party vote was down 3 percent, perhaps reflecting the electorate’s harsh judgement of a party who voted against the Murray Darling Basin Plan and whose unfair paid parental leave plan looked a lot like that of the Coalition.

But neither does the solution lie in becoming ‘Liberal Lite’. Since Labor was founded in 1891, our party has played a unique role in Australian politics. Our role is to develop new ideas and forge new solutions. What is known internationally as ‘the Australian model’ is in many respects ‘the Labor model’. From the age pension to Medicare, floating the dollar to superannuation, expanding university places to capital gains taxation, Labor reforms have helped shape Australia for the better. It would be a grievous mistake for the ALP to descend into negativity.

So over the next three years, you can expect to see Labor both holding the government to account, but also proposing positive solutions. And as your local representative in Parliament House, I’ll be continuing to take your ideas and concerns up wherever I get the opportunity. If I can help, don’t hesitate to give me a call or drop me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

Andrew Leigh is the federal member for Fraser. His phone number is 6247 4396 and his email is Andrew.Leigh.MP{@}aph.gov.au.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.