by a News Weekly contributor.
When the Australian Labor Party was trounced for a second time at the 1977 election following the humiliation and shock of the post-Dismissal election of 1975, the party went away for one of the most important resets in its history.
Then, the Labor Party decided to take a genuine hard look at all its policies, including and especially, its economic policies. There were a series of papers written by Labor shadow ministers and other leading lights in the party that constituted a genuine effort to prepare for being a good government after the chaos of the Whitlam years.
It was an arduous process, but this hard work during the seven long years in the wilderness of the Malcolm Fraser years paid enormous dividends and laid the policy framework and the foundation for the most successful Labor government in the postwar period, the Hawke-Keating administration.
To date, there are no signs that the Labor Party of today is doing any such thing with its policies since the election defeat in May.
All the “progressive” policies and the genuflections of the elites to political correctness in all its forms remain in place.
Labor’s fierce defence of the CFMMEU in the face of the Government’s quite reasonable Ensuring Integrity Bill also indicates that the party is wedded to its industrial base even to the point of protecting a militant, law-breaking union.
Indeed, the ALP remains so shell-shocked from its unexpected election loss that the response has been to crab- walk away from its unpopular tax policies (though even this is not yet official) and hope that the economy turns south for the Morrison Government.
The “strategy” – if there is one – is to go small target next time, chip away at any Coalition Government mistakes and missteps, and wait till late in the election cycle to announce any policies.
But this will not work because it is a superficial response to an election that Labor really should have won.
First, dumping its unpopular tax rises also has to involve ditching many of its big-spending policies on the other side of the ledger. This will require a rethink of all of Labor’s extravagant education, child-care, health and welfare positions.
Second, relying on any faltering of the Coalition Government, especially one led by Scott Morrison, who is the most politically responsive Liberal leader since John Howard, is not a reliable strategy. Morrison will simply tack in a different direction or respond to a weakening economy with strong alternative policies.
In other words, Prime Minister Morrison will not vacate the policy space even if the economy turns downwards. The next election will be hard fought and the Coalition will be better prepared than it was last time.
And third, and most importantly, it is no way for Labor to win Government and it would be a betrayal of everything the Labor Party stands for.
Labor’s “mission”, if there is to be one, is to rediscover its roots, ditch its left-wing agenda, and try to find its raison d’etre in contemporary Australian society.
It has to connect with people in the suburbs and in regional Australia; it has to connect with small business and with aspirational Australians; and it has to connect with ordinary, hard-working Australians who are socially conservative.
And somehow it has to find an economic narrative that will work for people and the future prosperity of the country.
It is a tall order and the question is whether the modern Labor Party has the capacity or the people to come up with policies that match such aspirations.
Anthony Albanese, despite coming from the left, appears less inclined than Bill Shorten to embrace every trendy policy proposal.
One small example was when the Government introduced laws to prevent protestors invading farms. Albanese’s response was to support the Bill, arguing that Labor had no obligation to support “vegan terrorists”.
This was despite a sizeable portion of the Labor Caucus wanting to oppose the Bill.
But one swallow does not make a summer and Mr Albanese will have a lot of work to do to drag his Labor colleagues to the centre of Australian politics.
Labor has the time to think deeply about where it would take government if it won the next election.
Opposition is the opportunity to do that.
Of course, it has to keep the Government of the day on its toes, but the last election may turn out to be a great opportunity for Labor to spend the time to build a genuine policy platform that matches the aspirations and needs of everyday Australians.