The Liberal convention


The Liberal convention

The Liberal Party is the only thing in Australian politics capable of making the Labor Party look relatively good, and the Liberals did their darnedest to that end in their July 2-5 national convention in Sydney. Besides their woeful $3-an-hour youth wage proposal, they signalled their intention to remove important restraints on destruction of the environment and Aboriginal heritage, hand much of the welfare system over to private charity, and a great deal more. The whole Fightback package is designed to shift the social balance even further in favour of the corporate rich against the rest of us.

The difference between Labor and Liberal is not so much that the Liberals are proposing to do very much that Labor won't also do. Labor's policies over the past decade have led to a serious increase in social inequality, and Labor's commitment to the environment is still marginal and opportunistic. Both parties are committed to policies that tie the well-being of all of us to the whims of a thin layer of corporate heads who have no idea how most of us live, no concern except the state of their balance sheets and no long-term vision of our society and its role in the world.

Nor is the major problem the fact that the Liberals want to move further and faster than Labor in this fundamentally anti-social direction. Certainly, that's important; anything is worthwhile if it can slow the growth of social inequality and the spread of environmental ruin. But the main reason Labor remains the lesser evil is that the possibilities for struggle are greater under Labor. Particularly since the semi-collapse of the corporatist prices-incomes Accord, pressure from the ranks of the trade union movement and from community organisations more easily translates into concessions from government under Labor.

That doesn't mean all is lost if the Liberals win the next federal elections. Experience under Greiner's Liberals in NSW shows even they can be defeated by direct political action. Well-organised forest protests and legal actions conducted on shoestring budgets have fought the state government and powerful timber interests to a temporary standstill, though there are undoubtedly more important struggles to come, even in this area.

Unfortunately, all this means that Labor, for all its unforgivable crimes of the past decade, is still the lesser evil when it comes to electoral politics. The process of constructing a genuine alternative is proving very protracted and complicated, though it remains the only long-term solution. Meanwhile, the Liberal convention has just given us a very capable demonstration of how much worse they would be if let loose as the government.