In 2006, as Labor opposition leader, Kevin Rudd, made much of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian, pastor and pacifist.
Bonhoeffer took part in the German resistance to the Nazi regime and helped German Jews escape the country.
Bonhoeffer was murdered by the Nazis in 1945.
For Rudd in 2006: “Bonhoeffer is, without doubt, the man I admire most in the history of the twentieth century. He was a man of faith. He was a man of reason. He was a man of letters … He was never a nationalist, always an internationalist. And above all, he was a man of action …”
Today, as the two major parties compete to demonise asylum seekers, ignore the warnings of climate scientists, continue to support imperial wars and further marginalise Indigenous communities, Rudd is eating his words of just four years ago.
In a series of essays for the Monthly magazine, over 2006-2007, Rudd attempted to persuade the nation that Labor represented a set of very different values from then-prime minister John Howard’s “Brutopia”.
Without mentioning “class”, Rudd tried his best to argue that Labor in government would rule for everyone, as opposed to Howard, who he described as a free-market “fundamentalist” hell-bent on “the conscious exacerbation of fear, anxiety and uncertainty”.
Rudd argued that as Howard moved further right in key policy areas, such as industrial relations, “the time has come” for Labor to “restore the balance” by forming “fresh political alliances” with a “new coalition of political forces … who are disturbed by market fundamentalism in all its dimensions … and who believe that this country is entitled to a greater vision than one which merely aggregates individual greed and self-interest”.
Howard’s neoliberal Brutopia, Rudd said, could be challenged by social democrats.
In one of these essays, Rudd argued that Labor under his leadership represented “the social-democratic belief that individual reward can be balanced with social responsibility” and he extolled “the progressive values of equity, community and sustainability”.
Playing to rising concern about climate change, Rudd said: “It is the fundamental ethical challenge of our age to protect the planet … to be proper stewards of creation.”
Condemning the Howard regime for refusing to sign on to Kyoto, he asked rhetorically: “[Is] it ethical to engage in the deliberate sabotage of global co-operative efforts, under the Kyoto Protocol, to roll back global climate change? Or is it ethical instead to become an active, constructive part of the global solution?”
Rudd also condemned Howard’s “Pacific Solution”.
“Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear … That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern.
“We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust, when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of Germany and the other occupied countries of Europe who sought asylum during the ’30s.”
But Rudd’s “Indonesian solution” — in which Indonesia is being subcontracted to do his government’s dirty work — is no better than Howard’s “Pacific Solution”. About 2040 asylum seekers are imprisoned behind barbed wire on Christmas Island. Many more are being holed up in Curtin prison in WA and Villawood in NSW before being given their marching orders — back to detention or possibly death.
Labor’s cruelty towards those seeking asylum shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone: it was the ALP that introduced the prison camps and the excisions. Howard just extended the cruelty.
In a similar vein, Rudd Labor expanded Howard’s racist Northern Territory intervention policy, and is expanding the apartheid-like measures across the country, which will only further marginalise the already dispossessed.
In 2006, Rudd said: “The time has well and truly come for a vision for Australia not limited by the narrowest of definitions of our national self-interest. Instead, we need to be guided by a new principle that encompasses not only what Australia can do for itself, but also what Australia can do for the world.”
But, in government, and under pressure from the right, Rudd declared a freeze on asylum applications from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, because it’s supposedly “safe” to return to those countries.
Phil Glendenning, director of the Edmund Rice Centre, recently disputed this, telling ABC Online on May 19 that least nine asylum seekers who were returned to Sri Lanka by the Howard government were killed. He also said that of 11 people sent back in the past year, all had been arrested at the airport: some had been bashed; one had permanent hearing damage and another had their sight damaged.
Glendenning said Australia has breached its refugee obligations. “Under Australian refugee law, it is a breach of the law to return people to danger.”
As for a “safe” Afghanistan, even the United Nations has withdrawn its staff from Kandahar — before the promised summer offensive by the occupation forces.
And check out this warning from the Australian government’s advice to the “smart traveller”: “We strongly advise you not to travel to Afghanistan because of the extremely dangerous security situation and the very high threat of terrorist attack.
“If you are in Afghanistan, you should consider leaving ...”
In 2006, Rudd said: “There must be a new premium attached to truth in public life.”
As we head into another election, Labor’s extended honeymoon (largely due to the previous Coalition’s disarray) appears to have come to a sudden halt.
Rudd’s popularity is now in free-fall, as it has become clear to many more that he is not remotely a “conviction politician” and that his government's actions are inching ever closer to Howard's Brutopia.
The lie that Labor’s “values” are fundamentally different to those of the Coalition is being increasingly exposed. In government, Labor rules for the same set of class interests as does the Coalition.
While Labor poses as the workers’ party (when it appeals to the working class), with close ties to a large layer of union leadership, it has served loyally for more than 100 years as the alternative party for capital.
However, this systematic deception imposes a short life on a Labor politician’s ability to be seen as a “conviction politician” when in government.
Many people are so, so sick of cynical and lying politicians they feel like giving up on political engagement altogether. But that would suit the corporate ruling elite just fine.
We need new political institutions of participatory democracy to replace the unrepresentative system forced on us. The Socialist Alliance believes that without community and workplace participation in re-shaping our society and economy, society will never be able to seriously challenge the domination of entrenched and narrow class interests that both Labor and the Coalition represent.
[Pip Hinman is standing in the NSW seat of Grayndler for the Socialist Alliance.]