I had no pretension that my critique would be taken up within the ALP , but I did at least expect some of them to heed their own advice. Take for example, that year's darling leftie, Carmen Lawrence who prevailed upon all (after the refugee resolutions went down) to come "back again and again and again" to future ALP conferences until change was won.
Of course Lawrence hasn't done that at all -- now retiring from a political career for a sinecure in academia.
But this time around the left, or what have you, have already lost out such that if anything next weekend's confest is going to be a rout and to save face the game will be that really it doesn't matter all that much about being dogmatic about Work Choices, or refugees or uranium mining. That would be nice, of course..but really, the main thing is (you guest it)getting rid of Howard.
"The reality was that change for refugees was beaten back when the amendments went down. But does it then follow that our one course of action is that advocated by Carmen Lawrence — to now plan to come "back again and again and again" to future ALP conferences, each time arguing for further amendment? Is that what we do next? Lick our wounds and wait for another prearranged national gathering in the hope that policy then could be bent more to our liking?
"Is it enough to console ourselves — as quite a few do — that at least under Latham the ALP has a chance of ousting the Coalition government? The ALP is currently in power in every state and territory in Australia and their implementation of the pro-corporate, economic rationalist agenda is there for all to see. There is no reason to believe that a Latham ALP government in Canberra would do any differently.
"If the ALP left recognises this, it should reach out to the progressive forces outside the ALP to help shift the national political agenda to the left to counteract the ALP's right-wing leadership. This would be a dramatic shift in the ALP left's traditional role, which has been to integrate dissent into the ALP electoral option, not challenge it.
"The problem with that approach is that it assumes that change in this country is hostage to the ALP alone. It is a perspective in dire need of a reality check. This year's ALP federal conference can be compared to the one held 20 years ago, in 1984. Then the ALP dramatically
changed its position — deciding to support the mining and sale of uranium.
"Immediately there was a massive reaction. Labor's turnaround was met with anger and disgust. Few anti-uranium activists were interested in coming "back again and again and again" with a cap in hand full of amendments. As a direct result of that conference decision, the
Nuclear Disarmament Party was formed.
"The formation of the NDP and its subsequent, if brief, electoral success, dramatically challenged the monopoly the ALP had over the progressive side of politics in this country. It kicked off twenty years of rich experimentation — both success and failure — to the left of the ALP.
"We can draw nourishment from this experience. We can talk about the various forms this process has taken, but there is no contrived remedy we can point to. But we do know one thing: a party for real change can and has to be built outside the ALP. That has already been proven, especially with the continuing electoral success of the Greens."