Labor’s explanation for their election loss is to decry “disunity” in government ranks brought on by the leadership debacle. Others, like The Greens’ leader Christine Milne, have echoed these comments and complained of a “conservative tide”.
All these explanations take the blame away from Labor itself. Abbott didn’t win because his politics are shared by voters or because voters were duped by his cheersquad, the Murdoch press. The road to Abbott was paved by Labor’s dual commitment to running the system in the interests of big business and to chasing the Coalition to the right on nearly every issue.
From 2007 to 2013
Rudd came to power in 2007 on the back of a mood for change, with mass anger against WorkChoices, but also against the war, and in support of refugees and action on climate change.
But by this election, Labor had sold out on workers’ rights, refugees and climate, and had nothing to campaign on and sell as a concrete example of what Labor had done.
What can working class people identify as something that improved in their lives under Labor? The two big ticket items don’t exist yet—the Gonski money for public schools hasn’t arrived, and the disability scheme doesn’t kick in until 2015.
Late in the game, Labor’s election ads focused on the threat of Abbott’s intention to cut back jobs and attack workers’ rights.
But this doesn’t resonate when Labor has delivered so little protection. Jobs have been slashed at the banks and in manufacturing as Labor stood by.
Just weeks before these ads, Rudd announced Labor would cut 5000 public sector jobs, on top of 5000 cut in the previous year because of Labor’s “efficiency dividend”. They started Abbott’s work early by announcing $2.8 billion cuts from universities and attacking single mothers payments, ripping $140 a week from their pay.
Joe Hockey even said when Labor slashed universities, “the easiest cuts to make are the ones that Labor makes for us.”
On parental leave, Labor opposed Abbott from the right, decrying his increase to corporate tax to fund his scheme. After backing away on the mining tax as soon as the billionaires raised a peep, Labor never again dared go after the super profits of the miners or the banks. In fact they went to the election promising to turn the Northern Territory into a special economic zone!
On climate, Rudd initially promised big. But then he came up with a useless emissions trading scheme, gave up on it, and lost a million voters in the space of a fortnight. This was the beginning of Labor’s trouble in the polls, not when they changed leaders in an attempt to resurrect themselves.
Gillard’s carbon tax only compounded the problem. It was a useless solution that did nothing to reduce emissions and allowed Abbott to parade as concerned about living standards and rising electricity bills. In 2013, rather than deliver spending on renewable energy, Rudd turned the carbon tax into an emissions trading scheme earlier and then dropped climate altogether. The net result is that tinpot climate denialism is able to get a hearing again.
Labor went to the election promising another conscience vote on same-sex marriage in 100 days. The conscience vote last year enabled right-wing Labor MPs to ensure the legislation’s defeat.
But if Labor had taken a binding vote in favour of marriage anytime between 2007 and 2013, we would already have it. Instead, Labor leaders spent almost all their time in power promoting homophobia by defending “traditional marriage”.
After pulling troops out of Iraq in 2007, Rudd revelled in being the most hawkish over Syria this election.
In his campaign, Rudd preferred stunts to policies, pulling former Queensland Premier Peter Beattie out of retirement to run for the seat of Forde. That Labor could think someone hated for their support for privatisation would help them is telling.
Every time their popularity sunk, Labor responded by implementing more Liberal policies and moving to the right, particularly over refugees. Rather than deliver anything for working class voters they stirred up xenophobic sentiment.
All the anti-refugee lies that the refugee campaign undermined under Howard were given a new lease on life by Labor, and the result is Abbott’s proclaiming he has a mandate to “stop the boats”.
Understanding this is crucial for building the fightback against Abbott. Voters are disgruntled and angry, but they are not going to be a cheersquad for Abbott’s austerity measures and cuts. It was those same policies that turned some of them against Labor. Our job is to win them to fighting alongside us against Abbott’s attacks.
By Amy Thomas