Reform and Reaction in Australia: The Story of the Whitlam Labor Government

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Whitlam addresses protesting supporters in Canberra following the dismissal

By Cory Anderson

 

The Australian government of 1972-75 stands out as one of the most successful reforming governments in history, comparable perhaps to the first Labour government here in Aotearoa or Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ in the United States. Led by Gough Whitlam, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) introduced significant reforms, including free tertiary education, increased pensions and healthcare funding, brought troops home from Vietnam and ended the racist ‘White Australia’ policy. Part-way through its second term however, it was thrown out by the Governor-General and the Liberal Party in what can only be called a legal coup.

 

Immediately after entering office, the Whitlam government set about business. They ended the draft after just 30 minutes in government, intervened to support equal pay for women, dropped sales tax on contraceptives, banned sports teams from apartheid South Africa and took steps to support Aboriginal land rights and culture.

 

But in spite of heading perhaps the most progressive Labor government in Australia’s history, Gough Whitlam came not from the left but the right-wing of the ALP. He cut his teeth campaigning for “modernisation” of the party and a reduction in the influence of unions. He wanted a more respectable, middle-class party with a media friendly image: more suits and less socialism. Under his leadership the party tacked to the right on Vietnam and he intervened to remove the left-wing leadership of the ALP’s Victorian branch.

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The Budget: a socialist response

budget 2018“Budget 2018 sets out the first steps in a plan for transformation.” That’s how Grant Robertson introduced Labour’s first Budget. Hopes for transformation brought Labour, the Greens and NZ First into government last year. A glance around at the inequality, underfunding and social suffering that have become normalised after nine years of National shows how much needs to be transformed. There is a $2.7 billion gap in health funding between 2010 levels and now, according to Council of Trade Unions research. About one in eight children live in poverty. Workers have faced years of stagnant wages, and students have seen cuts to allowance eligibility and caps to the number of years they can receive a loan. The Salvation Army describes poverty levels as “critical”, with almost 40% of families facing food insecurity. Unemployed workers on benefits face the punitive and demeaning culture of WINZ, while families with at least one member in full-time employment make up about 40% of those in poverty. This is the background to Budget 2018, and to the kind of transformations needed by workers, students, and the poor.

 

Labour campaigned on a series of reforms that, since they won office, have seen their popularity increase: removing fees on the first year of tertiary study; an increase in the minimum wage; a healthy homes guarantee; a winter energy package for retired workers; extension to paid parental leave. These are all reforms socialists should support, but they are just a small fraction of the range of measures needed to address the scale of the problems working people face.

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Labour must turn left to win support

by Martin Gregory

Andrew Little

All is the fear and nothing is the love;
As Little is the wisdom, where the flight
So runs against all reason

The Labour and Green alliance could win September’s general election outright, without being held to ransom by Winston Peters. This statement defies the conventional wisdom of commentators, who are fixated by opinion polling that has Labour on around 30% of the vote. Unlike dialectical Marxists, the commentators struggle to grasp that stasis can give way to rapid change. On these polls, Labour’s support has edged up by 5 percentage points since the 2014 disaster. It is quite within the realms of possibility that between now and 23 September Labour could climb by a further 10 percentage points to reach 40 percent and the Greens to hold on to over 10 percent. [Read more…]

Blame the bosses – not migrants!

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Indian students fight deportation in Auckland. Migrant workers are part of the struggle – not victims to be pitied.

by Dougal McNeill

So this month saw the end of Planet Key. Bill English’s ascension gives us an opportunity to survey political possibilities for our movement. There is plenty for workers to feel angry about, and plenty about which the Government has nothing but the feeble excuses. From the housing situation in Auckland to the recent embarrassing back down in the face of union opposition to further education ‘reforms’, the last year has not gone all the government’s way. What has been missing, as usual, is any sort of concentrated opposition. There is the grounds to organise a credible opposition to National – just look at the inequality, poverty, and job insecurity that is the norm in New Zealand at the moment. But, shamefully, Labour have decided to pursue an anti-immigrant line. This is not helping them electorally, with September registering some of the worst poll results for Labour in a long time, and, more dangerously, it threatens to pull the whole 2017 election in a racist direction. This will be a disaster for working people. Instead of rejecting Labour’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, too many leaders in the trade union movement have accepted its logic.

 

Immigrants are not to blame for workers’ problems, and that we need to focus our political fire where it belongs – at the capitalist class and the National government.

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The origins of the Labour Party

The Waihi Strike set the scene for Labour

The defeat of the Waihi Strike set the scene for Labour

By Martin Gregory

 

I might state that the museum up on the hill known as Parliament House has little attraction for me but if that machine can be used to benefit the working man and foster industrial organisation, I am in favour of it.

W E Parry, January 1913,President of the Waihi Worker’s Union 1909-1912, Minister of Internal Affairs 1935-1949

 

The party named the New Zealand Labour Party came into being at a meeting on 7 July 1916. This event was little more than a name change of the Social Democratic Party, whose annual conference began the day before. In May the SDP National Executive had recommended the change and to invite the right-wing remnants in the Labour Representation Committees, who had hitherto remained outside the SDP, to join. Eleven out of thirteen of the first Labour Party Executive, and the top officers, were SDP members. The Labour Party formally came into being in 1916, but its real political origins, as the SDP, go back to events of 1912 and 1913. [Read more…]

Corbyn, Shearer, and Campaigning Against Austerity

by Cory Anderson

Corbyn's first act after winning was to join a rally supporting refugees

Corbyn’s first act after winning was to join a rally supporting refugees

The left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn was catapulted to leadership of the British Labour Party over the weekend, winning 59.9% of the vote after starting the race as a 100/1 outsider.  Corbyn’s anti-austerity campaign has challenged the Blairite establishment founded on copying and extending the pro-business, neoliberal policies of Thatcher and the Tories.  The waves have been felt far afield, even here.

Corybn’s win has sent shock waves through the British establishment. This isn’t how politics is supposed to work. He’s appealing to working people’s opposition to austerity; he is a known extra-parliamentary activist and campaigner and drew on social movements and the exciting sense that an alternative to pro-business politics exists; and he’s connecting. He wiped out the Blairites in Labour’s race. No wonder the knives are out for him in the newspapers – from the Guardian to the Times – as well as, no doubt, in the corridors of power, the bureaucracy and the Labour machine. Corbyn faces the fight of his life.

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