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Deja vu

July 9th, 2003

A piece in today’s Oz opens with a slab that looks as if it’s been cut and pasted from a dozen previous outings

WHOM does the ALP represent and what is its core constituency?

Historically, the answer was the working class represented by the so-called Howard battlers in the western suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne.

Since the Whitlam ascendancy, this is no longer the case. Beginning in the 1970s and ’80s, the ALP, in Kim Beazley Sr’s colourful phrase, turned its back on the cream of the working class in its rush to embrace the dregs of the middle class.

What’s striking about this set of boilerplate is that it’s often, as in the present case, used in a piece advocating neoliberal policies that the pre-Whitlam Labor party would have rejected instinctively. I reviewed another example here.

In this case, Kevin Donnelly is advocating voucher-based support for private schools and up-front university fees. He says that these policies would benefit the working class and that it’s the middle-class nature of Labor’s current leadership that makes them oppose it.

It is a matter of historical record that the pre-Whitlam Labor party was bitterly opposed to any form of aid to private schools. More generally, it’s worth reading Donnelly (and other articles taking the same line) then trying to imagine the reaction of say, Ben Chifley or Arthur Calwell.

Donnelly may have some good arguments in favor of the policies he proposes, though they are not evident in this article. But he is either ignorant or dishonest in claiming that they represent traditional Labor policy.

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  1. Bon Scott
    July 9th, 2003 at 17:56 | #1

    Nice catch.

    One question: does anyone actually read the Oz anymore?

  2. cs
    July 9th, 2003 at 19:04 | #2

    I’ve always been bemused by this right-wing mythologising of the ‘traditional working class’, which the inimitable Paddy McGuiness and David Clark traded on for years. By a process of mystical deduction, the working class didn’t comprise women, nor anybody concerned about the environment, Indigeneous people, civil liberties, higher education, public services, peace, foreign affairs, the ABC nor culture generally, and nor were they communists, nor trade unionists who ever went on strike (therefore, deduct wharfies, metal workers, miners, construction labourers … etc), and, of course, they never cared about nor spoke of class conflict or ideology generally … and so on … till they ended up extracting, well, just about the entire content of the ‘working class’, about which Paddy and David (and now folks like Kevin) not only somehow always knew were really credulous economic rationalists who drank beer, but these oracles were also apparently the only ones ever permitted to speak of them in explicit class terms. It’s a wonder they didn’t go blind.

  3. cs
    July 9th, 2003 at 19:06 | #3

    Oh, and Bon, yeah, I’m on the verge of passing up even the Weekend edition … only Bill Leak stands in the way.

  4. Arthur Calwell
    July 9th, 2003 at 19:26 | #4

    I’ve got one sentence to describe the glory days of the pre-Whitlam days, when the ALP had no time for middle-clas trendies: 23 years of opposition.

  5. Jill Rush
    July 9th, 2003 at 21:51 | #5

    There was always a clear division between public and private schooling until the late 1960s when the Liberal coalition began paying for science blocks to be built in private schools.

    Nobody supported giving any amounts of money to private schools except students could take a commonwealth scholarship and use it to help pay fees.

    The latest round of funding for private schools would have horrified both sides of parliament. Support for vouchers for public and private schools shows how far we have come in perverting the purpose of privatisation which is a willingness to pay for something because it is considered important.

    There is no need to put public funds into private education and the taxpayers should be relieved of the burden if that choice is made as there is the option for a public education where social values of diversity and cohesion are promoted. We shouldn’t be paying to set up schools which create division with negative social costs in the terms of what Moslem girls and Christian boys are taught about their place in the world.

  6. James Farrell
    July 10th, 2003 at 10:25 | #6

    Chris omitted one category of people excluded from the McGuinness working class: those who read broadsheet newspapers and have access to email. Anyone who disagrees with him and emails the Herald to say so is ipso facto middle class and inauthentic.

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