Opinion Piece - Move ALP To The Middle - Tuesday, 14 September 2021

Opinion Piece - Move ALP To The Middle - Tuesday, 14 September 2021 Main Image

By Joel Fitzgibbon

14 September 2021

On election night in 2019 I feared the Australian Labor Party was as far from forming a federal government than at any time in my 25 years in the House of Representatives.

I felt the party had crept too far to the political left, deserted many who had long been part of the party's traditional base, and had lost its focus on the economic aspirations of the millions who benefited from the reforms of the Hawke and Keating governments.

That's why over the course of the last two and a half years I've done everything in my power to turn around Labor's political fortunes.

I've been determined to put the labour back into the Labor Party.

Labor has won a majority of seats in the House of Representatives just once in the past 27 years.

That's not good enough – not for the Labor movement, not for those who need a hand-up, and not for the country.

In our two-party system we owe it to the electorate to win from time to time.

The electorate is growing more progressive, there can be no doubt. But the Labor Party has been running ahead of the Australian community's changing sentiment.

In any case, election wins come by winning not necessarily the most votes, but certainly the right number of votes in the right places.

In other words, in the electorates needed to win.

Every step to the left is sure to win additional votes in Surry Hills, but just as likely to lose votes in the regions.

While rarely in majority, Labor wins more seats at most elections than any other party.

But the Liberal and National parties have a neat trick.

The say different things in different electorates during each election campaigns and then combine their seats to form a majority in the House of Representatives after the election.

By contrast, the Labor Party has been sleepwalking to increasingly strict expectations that its MPs and candidates should speak with one voice.

In other words, our candidates in Muswellbrook and Gladstone are expected to toe the same party line.

This is true even if it's the wrong message in their part of the world.

The Adani mine debacle is but one good example.

This model is strangling the party's political prospects.

Party candidates and sitting MPs must be allowed to reflect the views, challenges, and aspirations of their local communities.

That's what representative democracy is all about.

I'm not advocating anarchy, just commonsense.

On the policy front, the Labor Party must take back the centre ground and focus on the things that matter most to the majority of Australians.

It must resist the urgings of the elitist and idealistic excessive progressives who seem determined to consign the Labor Party to perpetual opposition.

Anthony Albanese's Labor will win if it sells itself as a party of strong economic management and one with strong national security credentials.

A party which encourages economic aspiration.

A party committed to improving job security and lifting real wages.

A party prepared to back our major export industries.

A party committed to equality of opportunity for all, particularly our children.

Climate change is an important issue for the majority of Australians, too. The threat posed by radically changing weather patterns is a real one and the global community must act collectively and Australia proportionately.

But like national security, climate change should not be the subject of constant and shrill political debate.

It's also a fake debate, one full of people who either don't know what they are talking about or know enough to know better.

There are too many idealists and not enough realists. Too many who draw their information from Twitter.

The climate wars are fuelled by think tanks funded by both renewable and traditional industry interests.

Wind turbines and solar panels can't put planes in the air and they can't provide the heat or the inputs to production our smelters and factories need.

Not yet anyway, and not for a long time.

Developing nations to our north will need our relatively clean and efficient coal for many decades. To deny them the resources they need would be a travesty.

Australia's major political parties must rise above the fray. They have a responsibility to build a community consensus on climate change policy.

Neither of the major parties denies it's a problem. Both say we should act.

Yet neither has demonstrated a willingness to take the issue outside the political contest.

That's because both the right and the left continue to see political opportunity in perpetuating the climate wars.

This political game must end.

So far, the fight has hurt the Labor Party more than our political opponents. The tables could yet turn but then again, they might not.

After more than a decade in opposition, the stakes are high for the Labor Party.