ALP's desperate rebadging could mask a shift to right

Construction worker protesting at 2009 ALP national conference with caricature of Julia Gillard as Margaret Thatcher. Photo by P

Breaking story (last updated June 25): Socialists and progressive trade union and social movement activists have reacted sceptically to the leadership change in the Australian Labor Party (ALP) federal government of Australia. Julia Gillard displaced Kevin Rudd as PM on June 24 after a surprise leadership challenge that came into the open the night before. She became the country's first woman PM. Wayne Swan replaced Gillard as deputy PM.

Australian mining shares shot up on the stock exchanges as soon as Gillard's takeover was announced. One of her first announcements was that her government was halting its media information campaign on the proposed Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT). She added that here door was open to the mining companies for negotiations. The Minerals Council of Australia responded by suspending its multi-million dollar advertising campaign against the RSPT.

BHP Billiton and Fortescue Metals CEO Andrew Forrest welcomed the change in leadership.

Green Left Weekly spoke to progressive activists about their reactions to the Gillard's takeover as PM.

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Sam Watson, Murri leader and Socialist Alliance lead Senate candidate for Queensland:

"This leadership change is all about saving the ALP from defeat in the coming federal election. The decision-making was made by the Labor machinery. It has nothing to do with changes that might benefit all Australians.

"The ALP machine has dumped Kevin Rudd and promoted Julia Gillard in a move to save themselves in the next election.

"For Aboriginal people, it is a case of 'same horse, different saddle blanket'. We need to call on Gillard to end the NT Intervention as soon as possible.

"Socialist Alliance welcomes the opportunity to challenge the ALP in the coming election, as part of the campaign to build a real political alternative in this country."

Robynne Murphy, steelworker, veteran leader of the Wollongong Jobs for Women Campaign and Socialist Alliance member:

"When the ship's sinking put a woman in charge... I've seen in many times at work."

Helen Said, community activist:

"It was Julia Gillard who first publicly proposed cutting off income support payments to poor families with troubled children who avoid school. She is part of a government that has upheld Howard's Welfare to Work legislation and changes to the Child Support formula, which has condemned many single mother families to a life of poverty.

"Julia Gillard is a woman PM of Australia, but not a PM of the women of Australia. Run a socialist candidate against her. It's high time the Left had a presence in Melbourne's outer working class suburbs anyway.

Richard Downs, spokesperson for Alyawarr people and organiser for the July gathering of elders and leaders:

"In Julia Gillard's address to the nation, there was no mention of the first Australians and owners of this country on the way forward.

"She did mention how wonderfully the previous PM Kevin Rudd's apology to the first Australians was given. Little does she know this has all been a farce and now gone by the way side, blown across all directions with the wind.

"Until the new PM acknowledges the racism and discrimination policy that has been imposed on our people across the NT, until the NT intervention is abolished; until a new chapter of engagement and consultations begins to create a joint partnership with us... nothing will ever change as we as Aboriginal people have lost all confidence with the governments at federal and state levels.

"Yet we leave our door open for the new PM to meet with myself, elders and leaders from all different language groups on the new way forward. We advise the PM to remove all previous baggage, including Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin, who we have no confidence in, to achieve the goals set by the federal government in closing the gap."

Tim Anderson, activist, writer and lecturer at Sydney University School of Political Economy:

"After the excitement of a Rudd-Gillard ‘transition’ dies down we should remember that all power plays in Australian politics have to do with the Australian oligarchy - that peculiar mixture of banking, mining, investment conglomerates and media.

"Labor has its own problems, but something different kicks in when key oligarchy interests are challenged: such as by a mining tax. Labor has been disciplined over such matters before.

"Remember the media campaign against the Whitlam government in 1975, the mining campaign against Aboriginal land rights in 1983-84, the mining and pastoral-led deceptions over ‘Native Title’ in 1993, and the various media campaigns for new taxes, work contracts and war. They get what they want from the big parties.

"Who could have imagined, a few weeks back, that an election might be fought on the basis of a tax on the super-profits of a handful of the super-rich? Why would there be any popular support at all for a tiny group of super-fat cats, unless they controlled the daily means of public debate?

"Let’s remember, for example, that on the boards of all the corporate media companies sit the captains of finance, and that finance and mining in Australia are deeply interlocked.

"The directors of Australia’s four major banks are also directors of the major mining companies. Indeed, the major shareholders of Australia’s major banks are much the same companies: JP Morgan, National Nominees, Westpac Custodian Nominees, ANZ Nominees, City Group, Chase Manhattan, HKBA and HSBC. Finance, mining and media are well coordinated and act together on any threat.

"So when Julia appears with her ‘new’ package, watch out for the deal done over the mining tax."

Tim Gooden, Secretary Geelong Trades Hall Council and Socialist Alliance member:

"The new leadership of the Labor government has an opportunity now to introduce a real response to climate change, to undo the damage done to refugees by the Howard government and under Rudd, and to resolve the outstanding issues with the trade union movement, including abolishing the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC).

"But I am not holding my breath.

"Gillard has already begun to sell out to the mining companies on the RSPT- no wonder the mining stocks shot up!

"She's already sold her soul to the right wing of the ALP. This is a re-run on her performance on workplace laws. How many meetings did she have with the bosses over them?

"We saw how arrogant she was with the teachers. She's not called Guillotine Gillard for nothing and she has the best poker face.

"The ALP leadership is looking to gain some votes for putting in a woman PM but sisters should not expect any favours. Remember Margaret Thatcher was a woman.

"The ALP leadership is simply cynically responding to the polls. They have proved over and over again that they have no respect for their party's rank and file's attempts to determine policy.

"They have shown no leadership on the refugee issue. Real leadership means having the guts to demolish the lies about refugee numbers and tell the public that it would take 30 years to fill the MCG with refugees on current arrival numbers."

Jess Moore, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Cunningham in NSW's South Coast:

"Julia Gillard's ousting of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is a blatant attempt to re-brand the Labor Party.

"In the face of Rudd's epic nosedive in the polls since April this is a desperate attempt by Labor to re-brand itself. But the swearing in of Julia Gillard as Prime Minister will only mean more of the same for the people of Australia.

"As Kevin Rudd's deputy she has been as complicit as anyone in the actions of the ALP. This is a desperate attempt to re-badge a political party in crisis.

"But Labor's trial of this same tactic in NSW with Premier Kristina Keneally shows that, while it works in the short term, over time the focus shifts back to the issues.

"People are angry with what Labor has done - and failed to do - in government. We need real change, not more factional maneuvering from Labor.

"Gillard has been responsible for some of this government's most anti-social acts. As federal workplace relations minister, she maintained the Australian Building and Construction Commission which
denies construction workers basic human rights. As education minister she allowed damaging school league tables to be used by the media, stigmatising those from disadvantaged schools.

"We shouldn't let the scrapping of Rudd fool us. We need a political alternative to the major parties.

"We still need to fight for real and immediate action on climate and for workers' rights. We have to continue the campaign against racism in this country, in particular the racism directed at asylum seekers. Australia must let the boats land and close the detention centres.

"In this federal election, we need real change, not more of the same."

Rachel Evans, the Socialist Alliance lead Senate candidate for NSW:

“If the first female PM of Australia supported abortion rights, for equal pay for women and for same-sex marriage rights, I’d be celebrating.”

“Gillard was just as complicit in Labor’s cruel policy towards asylum seekers”, said Evans, a refugee rights activist.

“As the shadow immigration spokesperson, 2001-2003, Gillard did not disagree with mandatory detention – after all it was Labor’s idea orginally. In government, she’s helped orchestrate the ‘Indian Ocean’ solution – forcing Indonesia to take asylum seekers bound for Australia.”

Pip Hinman, Socialist Alliance candidate in Grayndler:

“Despite Gillard’s so-called left credentials, Julia Gillard has proven to be as conservative as the rest of the ALP leadership – on refugees, workplace laws and foreign policy.”

“Gillard’s statements backing away from insisting on the mining companies’ super profits tax as a clear signal that she is ready to do a deal with the mining bosses”, Hinman said.

“All their talk of needing to ‘share the wealth’ comes to nothing when there’s an election hanging in the balance.”

Hinman believes that Gillard’s ascension to the leadership of the ALP, and to the PM’s job, is a desperate attempt to re-badge a party in crisis.

"In the face of Rudd's epic nosedive in the polls since April, this is a desperate attempt by Labor to re-brand itself.

“NSW Labor used the same tactic with Kristina Keneally. But when the superficiality of the stunt wears off, people still want to know what real change will come from the shuffling of the deck chairs”, said
Hinman.

“People want real alternatives: they are fed up with these non-conviction politicians.”

Gemma Weedall, the 21-year-old Socialist Alliance candidate for Adelaide:

"Unfortunately a change in leadership is unlikely to mean a real change to Labor's unjust and inadequate policies.

"Gillard has a history of undermining and attacking unions, whether it is through the support of the ABCC or the introduction of NAPLAN testing in schools.

"Her committment to 'throwing open the government's door to the mining industry' shows her inability to stand up against the big polluters and take real action on climate change.

"Working people need a real political alternative to the ALP. The Socialist Alliance seeks to build an alternative party that consistently represents the grassroots and puts people before profits."

Alex Bainbridge, the Socialist Alliance candidate for Perth:

"How galling to see Julia Gillard in her first media conference pay tribute not only to previous right-wing Labor prime ministers but to Howard and Costello as well.

"She also commended Kevin Rudd for reinforcing the unjust war in Afghanistan.

"Kevin Rudd was elected under the banner of 'change' and 'new leadership' but didn't deliver anything like the progressive changes that we need. Gillard has now become prime minister precisely because people are still hungering for real change and genuine progressive leadership.

"I will be cheering as loud as anybody if the ALP under Gillard turns towards a progressive agenda including: replacing coal power with renewable energy; bringing the troops home from Afghanistan; dismantling the ABCC and truly ripping up all the anti-worker laws in this country; ending the NT intervention and ending detention of asylum seekers.

"If we are to get any of these advances it will only be because we step up our campaigns now instead of waiting to see what Julia Gillard will do. Gillard does not deserve a 'honeymoon period' - we need real action now."

John Gauci, secretary Inner City Teachers Association (Sydney) and member of the NSW Teachers Federation executive:

"Teachers have already exerienced the reactonary politics of Gillard in the school league tables campaign. Gillard was fully conscious of the damage that school league tables have had in Britain yet she persisted with their publication in Australia.

"Although she has some union background, Gillard was also prepared to threaten the WA branch of the Australian Education Union with deregistration simply for taking industrial action in the campaign."

Stuart Munckton, co-editor Green Left Weekly:

“The dramatic fall of Kevin Rudd came after he lost record levels of popular support. Rudd was swept to power on the basis of anger at the policies of the Howard government, especially on workers’ rights, climate change and refugees. People expected change. But Rudd largely continued the policies of Howard.

“The issue of climate change proved the big turning point. Rudd came to office declaring climate change the 'greatest moral issue of our time' and then, at the first sign of political difficulties, dumped his proposed ETS. Environmentalists had actually pointed out this policy was never going to result in action to tackle climate change, but in the public perception, Rudd had just abandoned what he had assured them was an absolute key principle for him. People voted him in partly on this basis, because Howard was a dinosaur who refused to even acknowledge the problem.

“After abandoning the ETS, Rudd’s popularity began to dive and never recovered.

“The treatment of refugees was another issue for many, with Rudd continuing much of Howard’s inhumane policy and, whatever Rudd now claims, waging a 'race to the right' on the issue with Abbott. This unnerved sections of people who helped put him in power and, along with the climate change issue, this helps explain why the Greens are polling a record 16%.

“Having shown himself to be just another cynical politician, when Rudd tried to claw back lost ground by proposing his mining tax and taking on the powerful companies (with the backing of other sections of big business), he was unable to sell the tax and defend it from the well-funded campaign against it.

“Why would anyone believe this was not just a cynical move by Rudd, who had revealed himself nothing but another cynical politician who seemed willing to sacrifice any principle, even over an issue as dramatic as climate change, in pursuit of power? Who could believe that Rudd would not launch a 180° about face if he thought it suited his interests?”

“In short, who on Earth would want to follow Kevin Rudd into a fight with powerful multinational corporations?”

“So the Labor party dumped Rudd and installed Julia Gillard — who they hope to sell as a fresh face, despite her central role in the Rudd government.

“But if Gillard takes the same route and fails to implement the change people desperately want, especially in tackling climate change, she too will go the same way as Rudd. You can only bullshit people for so long.

“Even if Gillard-led Labor holds Abbott off in the coming elections, it will give ground to right-wing lunatics in the Coalition of it follows Rudd’s cynical path. Labor can’t be trusted to keep the Liberals out — the need for a left alternative is growing greater ever day.”

Ewan Saunders, Socialist Alliance candidate for the federal seat of Brisbane:

“The sacking of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his replacement by Julia Gillard is to a considerable extent a result of the campaign by the multinational mining corporations and the media monopolies to prevent the federal government forcing them to pay fair tax on their massive super-profits.

“The Australian Workers Union and other right-wing faction leaders in the ALP, in moving to dump Rudd, were essentially acting as a tool of the mining and media bosses, in their determination to allow no limit on their right to rip off the mining wealth of Australian working people and Indigenous communities.

“This whole operation has the mark of a 'Second Canberra Coup,' reminding us of how big business and the media combined to bring down Gough Whitlam in November 1975. While Gillard is no Malcolm Fraser, the role of the ruling class in determining who is allowed to lead the country is the same.

“The Labor Party was forced to act against Rudd to try to save its skin in the coming federal election, where it was facing potential disaster, because of a number of factors - but in the end because of the lying scare campaign of the mining companies, which had accelerated the plummeting support for Rudd in the electorate.

“Now is the time for the trade union movement and the community to say enough is enough. We must demand that Gillard and the ALP stand up to the mining giants, and refuse to back down on the government's proposed tax on mining super-profits.

“We need to rally to reject the dictatorship of the giant corporations, and demand genuine popular democracy -- where the interests of ordinary people prevail over the rampant greed of big business."

Sharon Firebrace, Koori activist and Socialist Alliance Senate candidate for Victoria:

"Julia Gillard is going to be following the same path as Rudd and be just as anti-union as he was. With the eleciton of Gillard, now is the time to push for the removal of fines against unions and the removal of the ABCC and other anti-union laws. We need the right to strike but there is no way the ALP will ever support the right to strike.

"There is no sign that Gillard will do anything to reverse the racist apartheid laws in the Northern Territory where indigenous people have lesser rights than non-indigenous people. Indigenous workers get paid as low as $4 an hour in the Northern Territory. That's exploitation of black labour. It's weakening us economically and disempowering us.

"The ALP government has also been promoting racism towards refugees and migrants. Some migrants are working for as little as $8 an hour. That is exploited labour.

"We need a united workers party. That is the only way that we'll change things."