Frontline editor: 'Logic in Brumby's approach'

August 14, 1996

Victorian Labor Party leader John Brumby has touched off a minor controversy and media comment with his recent proposals to shift the party even further to the right — to the "middle ground". Green Left Weekly's KIM LINDEN spoke to DAVID SPRATT, a member of the Labor Left faction (formerly the Pledge group), and editor of the monthly newspaper Frontline.

"There is a logic in what Brumby is doing", Spratt said. "I think a process that has been going on for years is now coming to its quite hideous but logical conclusion. There has been a longstanding contradiction in Labor's stance. John Dawkins, the former treasurer, said the federal Labor government implemented the agenda of the Business Council of Australia while paying lip service to the ACTU.

"Jeff Kennett didn't start privatisation in this state. He didn't start closing schools and cutting back budgets: that was done by the Labor government.

"So when Kennett came in [the ALP] was faced with a dilemma: did they say, 'Yes, basically you're right because we started it'? That's what they've done. While they may have some disagreements around the edges, they have basically endorsed Kennett's policy. They have been trying to be nice people while implementing a new right agenda.

"Brumby has finally recognised that contradiction and said all right, I'm going to solve this problem by saying explicitly what we've been saying implicitly. While that upsets a lot of people, there is a logic to it."

Those left-wingers who remain in the Labor Party for tactical reasons, Spratt said, "will soon have to rejudge whether it's worthwhile to continue the struggle in that organisational form".

At the moment,"ALPers are resigning in scores each week". Even some Labor MPs are talking privately about sitting as independents if Brumby has his way.

"I think at the same time a lot of unions will think about their ALP affiliation, given that the federal industrial relations climate is likely to cause them some organisational and financial pain, and a lot of unions wonder whether or not their ALP affiliation moneys are well spent in any case."

Even though most party members would be opposed to Brumby's rightward shift, Spratt doesn't see any significant internal opposition emerging. "Most leftists in the labour movement", he argues, "have chosen not to pursue their politics inside the ALP. That's one of the differences between here and Britain."

A lot of ALP members and former members, Spratt said, "think it absolutely necessary that an effective third parliamentary force be created in this country, whether that be an alliance in the New Zealand form or whatever". He admitted, though, that "the recent track record hasn't been that good".