Cleary urges 'progressive independent' candidates
By Pip Hinman
MELBOURNE — "The ALP has lost its way and the Opposition is a joke," Phil Cleary, independent MP for Wills, told a public meeting of about 200 people on July 9. The meeting on "New Political Directions for Australia and New Zealand", sponsored by Green Left Weekly, also heard from Matt McCarten, president of the New Zealand NewLabour Party, who said that the economic rationalist policies that have devastated NZ are now being implemented in Australia.
Cleary said he would like "a coalition of left forces" to challenge the Labor Party at the next state and federal elections. "Over the next six to 12 months, we need to set about developing alliances and work out what should happen. If we run a number of progressive independents at the federal election, we could possibly take the balance of power. But we would have to look at it and choose the candidates carefully."
Cleary said he thought the most likely candidates would be community-based activists with a good local reputation.
The Wills campaign, said Cleary, raised a number of important debates, significantly the question of tariffs and protection as part of the ALP's industry policy. "While tariffs are not a cure, and we don't want to hark back to the old days of featherbedding industry, the issue symbolised a widespread concern about what industries would be able to survive, and where the jobs were going to come from."
Relating the experience of the NZ NewLabour Party, McCarten said that the move to beak from the Labour Party and set up a new party was prompted by the refusal of union and Labour lefts to take on the fight against the then Labour government's corporatisation/privatisation drive. "Labour may have been good on foreign policy ... but it left the economic agenda to the right."
According to McCarten, the people who broke from the Labour Party to form NewLabour in 1989 saw the need for "an organised alternative to the Labour Party, as opposed to just trying to influence them". Since then the party has grown to more than 8000 members, leaving the pro-Labour left in "absolute disarray". NewLabour has 62% support from among NZ's 300,000 unemployed.
McCarten described NewLabour as "unashamedly left, with an interventionist economic program. It is not about trying to influence change in NZ, rather it's about putting together a viable political alternative."