Labor's sinking ship


Labor's sinking ship

The parade of former prime ministers on the ABC's AM program last week was enough to show to what extent the political landscape has altered for the worse after 10 years of Labor dominance in state and federal parliaments.

The irony that Malcolm Fraser should be the one to focus on the increasing impoverishment of many sectors of Australian society was not missed by many people. Federal Labor, under Hawke-Keating, simply adopted Fraser's austerity program — and took it further to the right.

The demise of SA Premier John Bannon signals the beginning of the end of the Labor era, which roughly covered the decade of the '80s. The Labor ship sailed for 10 years on the financial waves of the speculative boom, and is now being sunk by the predictable economic collapse of the '90s.

Labor remained in office in the states and federally less by its economic savvy than by simply taking on board the conservative-monetarist-IMF agenda. Now, Liberal hopeful John Hewson (and with him Jeff Kennett and others) stands ready to take over at the same wheel.

What is there to relieve the gloom cast by the Labor experience? Only the likelihood that more and more people are becoming convinced that Labor is not a suitable vehicle for attaining the political, social and economic interests of the workers' movement or other progressive causes. The growing vote for independent candidates is welcome evidence of this understanding.

Rather than defending the working class — its supposed historic role — Labor hobbled the unions (which in many cases willingly cooperated) and put its faith in the banks and the likes of Alan Bond. Now, all are going down together.

The sudden conversion of the economic rationalist, Paul Keating, to proponent of the social market economy should fool very few people. Even Germany's conservative Helmut Kohl government pledges support for the "social market". The dole queues will be no shorter. And when Keating says Social Democracy has emerged well from the '80s it is stretching credibility far beyond a bad joke.

John Bannon's departure shows all the signs of a captain deserting a ship that is going down, not one that has emerged as the strongest in the fleet. What will be left behind when Labor goes? The apparently unsolvable problems of permanent unemployment for one worker in every 10 and a debt burden weighing down crushingly on average living standards.

Labor's most significant legacy will be the creation of a permanent underclass of people who have no chance of participating in the broader economy.

Hewson proposes a deeper plunge into the same anti-worker pool. But it must be taken as read that whatever Hewson proposes now in the context of an approaching election, Keating is sure to adopt in some form if he happens to be returned next year.

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