Living in the 80s
If you want to see why the Labor party is in so much trouble, it’s useful to read this piece in the Oz by Paul Howes, one of the brighter lights on the right of the party. Howes says
For a generation or more we have witnessed a flowering of tory political culture. We have watched ideas flowing out of places such as the Sydney Institute and the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne. The IPA, the HR Nicholls Society and the Sydney Institute may propose policies that are abhorrent to me, but they’ve created a culture of ideas to nourish conservative politics.
This would have been an unremarkable claim to make in the 1980s (a generation ago). But today ?? The Sydney Institute is Gerard Henderson, who hasn’t had a new idea since the “Federation Trifecta” in 1990. Around the same time, the IPA with John Hyde rose briefly above its history as a conduit for business donations to the Liberal Party and its present role as an advocate of anti-science delusionism on issues ranging from tobacco to global warming to the Murray-Darling Basin (the latter not quite so much since the departure of Jennifer Marohasy). The HR Nicholls society has been moribund for years – its last notable contribution was as the 2006 venue for Nick Minchin’s disastrously leaked suggestion that WorkChoices had not gone far enough (he was bagged for this by John Howard in his autobio)
Howes goes on to mention, and dismiss, a plethora of leftish thinktanks (Per Capita, the Centre for Policy Development, Catalyst, the Australia Institute, the Evatt Foundation, the Fabians (Disclosure: in one way or another, I’m associated with most of them)) any one of which has had more new ideas in the last few years than the moribund shells he describes have had in decades.
Howes’ assessment reveals that, like most Australian politicians and commentators he is still in thrall to the 1980s agenda. The fact that, far from coming up with “brilliant new ideas”, Howes is sticking with an orthodoxy that was already solidifying when he was born in 1981 wouldn’t matter if these old ideas had proved their worth. But they have comprehensively failed, most notably in the current global crisis.
Howes is no fool and has at least made explicit what is merely implicit in the thinking of the average Labor politician (Bligh, Fraser, Keneally, Gillard and Brumby being obvious examples). But it is little wonder that the Greens are making such headway when the major parties offer a bipartisan consensus on such tired and failed ideas.