Anthony (I’m aspirational too) Albanese is the new federal ALP leader. Darling of the NSW left, Albanese quoted Billy Bragg at his first press conference and claims to “have strong values [and] strong ideas”.
Following Labor’s shock election loss, media outlets and political pundits, as well as some in the ALP, are arguing that the party let certain victory slip out of its grasp because its election agenda was too ambitious and veered too far to the left. Only a rightward shift to the centre, they argue, can salvage the party’s electoral fortunes.
Well, they can put their trust in Albo. He’s spent the last few years sucking up to the Murdoch press and the big end of town, consistently positioning himself to the right of Bill Shorten. As the Australian reports, he has vowed to return the party to a “Hawke-era pro-growth economic policy model, reopen the door to business and abandon the class-war politics that threatened to ¬divide the nation”. He’s as aspirational as anyone in the Coalition, passing on his mother’s advice to all those struggling to get by in capitalism’s brutal system: get a good job, own your own house!
Laughably compared with British Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn – if only because, like Corbyn, he’s featured as a one-time DJ on a radio show – Albanese has shown little interest in smashing up the political traditions of the party’s right wing, as Corbyn has tried to do. Also unlike Corbyn, Albanese has never once put his career at risk by voting against Labor’s right wing line in parliament. He served loyally during the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd fiasco, backing every bit of reactionary legislation from WorkChoices-Lite to the rotten Malaysia “solution” for refugees. While he turns up at Mardi Gras and the odd demonstration, he’s never been actively involved in coordinating any mass opposition to refugee or climate policies.
On refugees, he has tried to humanise the despicable offshore detention and turn back the boats policies. In his Gough Whitlam Oration in 2018, he said, “You can be tough on people smugglers without being weak on humanity. You can protect our borders without losing our national soul”. His humanity is sure missing now, with not a word about the recent boat turn-backs, nor the Tamil family from Biloela, desperate to stay.
He’s equally despicable when it comes to the climate. He ran a vicious anti-socialist campaign against his Greens opponent in 2016 and was rewarded with a front page “Save Our Albo” endorsement from Murdoch’s gutter rag, the Daily Telegraph. His commitment to business interests – the market is the solution – and the Coalition’s disastrous climate policies was on full display at his press conference, where he argued “the time for ongoing conflict [with the Coalition] over these issues surely is over”.
You will look in vain for any indication that this is a leader of the left ready to fight for our side.
None of this should surprise us. Although they join their comrades singing “Solidarity Forever” or “The Internationale”, there’s little that’s radical about the ALP left. And that’s been the case for decades now. More than elsewhere, Australian social democrats have been responsible for ushering in neoliberalism. They have imposed crushing austerity policies and have proved more than willing to back business against workers.
The ALP left has diligently toed the line, despite occasional efforts to change party policy on issues such as refugees and industrial laws. Always, at the last minute they buckle to the right so as to keep their seats at the table.
Ged Kearney as ACTU president spoke out in favour of refugees, but, once a candidate for parliament, declared she would accept the ALP’s policies. In 2018 she supported the Coalition and Labor in closing a loophole in Labor’s 2013 legislation that would have allowed Manus and Nauru refugees to appeal their detention in Australia’s offshore processing hellholes.
On his way out the door, the left’s Doug Cameron, who carved out his career implementing the disastrous Accord, has suddenly rediscovered his “socialist” credentials, warning Labor, “We must not capitulate to News Corp and the big end of town by becoming Liberal-lite”.
In his long career with the manufacturing union, the AMWU, Cameron was an economic nationalist, collaborating with employers and overseeing one of the most dramatic falls in union membership and wholesale erosion of workers’ rights. Elected in the 2007 WorkChoices election, the government he was part of left a legacy of anti-union laws that are among the worst in the world. He served his real masters, the employers, well.
Nor is Albanese facing any pressure from the so-called left unions. The failed Change the Rules campaign put few demands on Labor, and there hasn’t been a peep out of them in response to Albanese’s determined push to the right, his abandonment of workers in order to consolidate ties with business.
Instead of shoring up Labor’s working class base, Albo is busy lamenting the loss of talent from the Coalition front bench: the likes of Julie “Asbestos” Bishop, the execrable Christopher Pyne and Arthur “send me dollars” Sinodinos. Even Bill Shorten – no working class hero – is prepared to attack the ruling class in the wake of Labor’s loss, reportedly telling the caucus “powerful vested interests” who spent millions “advertising, telling lies, spreading fear” were to blame.
In his grovelling appeal to the Coalition to make nice, Albo signalled, “I’m not Tony Abbott”. He’s right. Abbott was a class warrior, executing a wrecking operation on Labor and other political enemies. Albanese is a class collaborator, an appeaser of capital who you would not want on your side. This is how low Labor’s left has sunk.