The big word on the Left in response to Anthony Albanese’s Gough Whitlam oration was “nothing”.  Bill Shorten observed that “there was nothing in the speech that caused me offence at all”.  Twitter was full of observations that there was nothing to suggest any kind of split or leadership challenge.

I have a mixed reaction. The Press gallery always loves leadership stories and sees everything through that frame, even though Labor’s rules make a leadership challenge virtually impossible between elections. So, the pushback is understandable.

On the other hand, I think we could shorten (sic) Shorten’s response to “there was nothing in the speech”.

Reading the transcript, it’s something that could have been delivered any time in the last 30 years, by any career Labor politician determined not to give offence to anybody except the LNP.  In this version of the story, Labor has always been in the right, and always will be. That’s a position that leads to some obvious contradictions, given the massive shift from Whitlam’s social democracy to the neoliberalism of Hawke and Keating, and the recent move back to the left by Shorten.

A particularly striking contradiction is Albanese’s statement that “Floating the dollar, reducing tariffs and opening the Australian economy to the world” were great decisions, combined with his claim that Labor will ensure that railway carriages are built in Australia, thereby developing  advanced manufacturing.

Albanese says that “Labor must always be in the ideas business”, but the speech gives little evidence of this. After talking about all the good things people want, all he offers is a generic commitment to education and a marginally more specific commitment on infrastructure.

There’s no mention of rising inequality, wage stagnation, or the gig economy, let alone any ideas to respond to them. The massive transformation wrought by computers and the Internet is dealt with by the observation “Technological change affects where and how we work.” That’s typical of the general level of analysis in the speech.

The contrast with Shorten is striking. Shorten’s public image is that of a convictionless machine man, but he has taken more and bolder policy stands than any opposition leader has dared to do since the failure of John Hewson’s Fightback! Yet he nearly won the last election, and Labor remains well ahead in the polls.

And that, in a sense, explains the media response to Albanese’s speech. It reads naturally as advocacy of a small target strategy, to be used as an “I told you so”, in the event of a Labor defeat.

Since Shorten would inevitably leave if he lost a second election, the real target of the speech is Tanya Plibersek, his most likely successor. She wisely responded to reporters by claiming not to have read the speech









15 thoughts on “Nothing

  1. Albo is an intellectual light weight, and a policy featherweight but he does do the Authentic Working Class Labor Man thing quite well.

  2. I admit that I’ve been wondering why MSM people like Katharine Murphy have been flying this particular kite. We all know Labor is a pale ghost of what it once was, so why do politicians and journos pour oil on troubled waters.

    I’m getting the Rudd/ Gillard nonsenses channelling back in, but am amazed at the myopic nature of the vandalism given the overall mess of Ozpolitics and the threat of another three years of Turnbull neoliberalism, its really delinquent.

  3. “We all know Labor is a pale ghost of what it once was”

    There is a lot of revionism about what Labor once was. The sainted Gough was distrusted if not hated by the Left, including the Labor Left, right up until the time that drunkard Kerr gave him the heave-ho. His government’s last budget, delivered by Treasurer Bill Hayden, was pilloried by the Left as a sell-out to neo-liberalism (not using that word, of course),

  4. Gough made some changes that are still with us (e.g. Australia Council, Racial Discrimination Act, No fault divorce, no fees higher education…). He also made mistakes and enemies, but that’s no reason to forget that he was a real social democrat and a courageous leader. And he was contemptuous of economists…

  5. Sorry: some of the things I mentioned have been taken away or watered down, and we are the poorer for these changes.

  6. I will simply mention that the A$ was still tied to gold in some way, so Gough did not have the freedom of action in fiscal terms that the federal govt. now enjoys with its fiat currency. Others may or may not like to comment on that.

  7. There was ‘nothing’ that contradicts the ALP’s current policy agenda in Albanese’s speech. In this sense there is nothing new. It seems to me Albanese’s speech complements the policy agenda. Albanese uses words that feature a lot in the ALP’s main competitor’s language, namely ‘growth’ and ‘aspiration’.
    Isn’t it the case that Albanese suggested a much broader notion of both ‘growth’ and ‘aspiration’ than that used by the LNP?

  8. From today’s Guardian

    After months of declining to reveal Labor’s position, the Labor leader told journalists on Tuesday he would repeal the already legislated tax cuts for firms earning between $10m and $50m, without running that decision past the caucus Anthony Albanese

  9. Albo’s speech was about as inoffensive as it could be. It contained nothing of substance and demonstrated no evidence of any depth of thought. If you gave any undergraduate political science student a bunch of printed ALP paraphernalia from the past 5 elections and asked them to write a speech that said nothing but sounded great, you would end up with something very similar to Albo’s effort.

    My advice to Tanya Plibersek would be don’t waste you time reading it.

  10. In the public square Albo lost the NBN debates pre-election 2015 to Turnbull. Garbled lost to garbage. Useless as. Sure, the msm, including a lickspittle and devious ABC, backed the LNP fraudband deceit, but one on one to camera Albo could not deliver in his allotted role, could not win a point, and lost to repetitions of thin fictions. Hopeless.

    BTW, if anything I thought it more an attack on Wayne Swan’s spruiking his seeing of the light and turn around. Swan has the presidency, Shorten has the leadership, maybe it’s the NSW right staking out a position against out-of-staters?

    And Shorten has upped the ante yet again…

  11. The only noteworthy thing to come out of Albo’s speech is the hysterical and desperate response from the LNP, even to the point where they team tagged with Our Pauline and amplified by the MSM. All of this to a background on the Right of dissension, division and disfunction. The desperation to find fault is pathetic. Furthermore a pointer to the analysis and aggression awaiting a future Labor government where every frisson will be trumpeted under banner headlines

  12. Murdoch’s Telegraph banner headlines got Albanese just over the line to win against a Greens opponent last election. Plibersek’s situation was not much different. These two would have to be as close to the Murdochracy and big end of town vested ultra-conservative interests as Keating ever was except they are beholden to Murdoch whereas Murdoch at first was beholden to Keating.

  13. When I went into the election campaign for the Labor leadership, I expected I would be voting for Albanese as after all, as he was the Left’s candidate, I expected his policies would be more progressive than Shorten’s. But in the end I voted for Shorten as he actually had some interesting policy ideas in his campaign material. Albanese’s spiel on the other hand was almost entirely personality based. ‘ I’m from a working class background so I’m the one to vote for’.
    Shorten’s stuff wasn’t brilliant, but it was better than Albanese.
    Thank you John for your insightful analysis. It worries me that our top political journalists don’t get the points that you so eloquently put.

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