The Party's Not Over For Labor


What does the ALP stand for? The Australian Labor Party? Well yes, but that doesn’t really get us very far, does it? What we really want to know is what does Labor mean in today’s modern, fast-paced, social-media-savvy, microwave-safe, hustle-bustle, hurly-burly, hugger-mugger, Australia’s Got Talent world? Why does the Labor Party seem to not appeal to ordinary folks anymore? And how can we fix it?

On the weekend we had the Labor National Party Conference, a major event where Labor people from all around the country gather to drink heavily and try to avoid Bob Ellis. At this conference, the burning issues of the day were thrashed out by delegates, in the spirit of open expression and debate that Julia Gillard so memorably demanded when she told her party, "I want a fair dinkum Labor Party conference", rejecting the lie-fuelled orgies of the Rudd years.

And so the Laborites stood without fear or favour to spew forth their views on all matters of import, and a lively time was had by all. Nobody was restricted from speaking their mind, nobody was muzzled for fear of reprisals, nobody missed an opportunity to use the word "robust". And after this wonderful cross-pollination of ideas from the foremost political bees of our age, the party came to some very definite conclusions:

1. The Labor Party shall henceforth be in favour of same-sex marriage, but will balance this position by making sure it never actually happens, thus pleasing everyone.

2. The Labor Party shall henceforth be in favour of selling uranium to India, as long as there are appropriate "safeguards", meaning they have to promise not to use our uranium to nuke Pakistan; they can only use the spare uranium that our uranium frees up to do that. Strict!

3. The Labor Party shall henceforth mention "party reform" a LOT more often than they did before.

4. Everybody hates Kevin Rudd’s guts.

Those are the main points decided at the conference, and there’s no doubt these decisions will allow Labor to move forward a bit more confidently into "the Asian century" — so called because its ears are slightly smaller than the African century’s — and grapple with the issues confronting a modern democracy.

After all, nothing captures the imagination of the young voter more than uranium sales, and as for gay marriage, the rock-solid commitment to hypothetically approving of it is sure to win over today’s homoerotic man in the street: nothing warms the homosexual heart more than straight people saying they’d love to give you what you want but they’re scared of Christians.

And of course party reform is vital — no modern party can succeed unless its members say the words "party reform" as loudly as possible. And as long as they keep saying it, the voters will keep faith no doubt.

But is it enough? Given the sorry state the Labor Party finds itself in, besieged by a remorseless Opposition and polls showing that over 80 per cent of voters are stockpiling machetes, can these worthy reforms really make up the mighty rudder-tug required to change the ALP’s electoral course and dodge the iceberg of humiliation and irrelevance currently hurtling towards it like a mighty meteor, allowing it to continue to sail through the ocean and/or space?

Might not the ALP need something a bit more dramatic to overcome the structural problems and complex similes that beset it? Might we not need a bit more if we are to live up to the words of Ben Chifley, who so famously sang, "I’m over the edge and down the mountain side/I know they’ll tell about the night I died/in the rain when the lights on the hill were blinding me"?

Where are the Chifleys of today, who are willing to drive their trucks off cliffs for the cause? I’ll tell you, Bill Shorten couldn’t commit vehicular suicide if his life depended on it. There’s the root of the problem right here.

And so, having no desire to see the Australian Labor Party go the way of the Australian Democrats or innovative 1980s drama "Misfits of Science", I have held my own private conference — not a sexual thing — and come to some conclusions about how the Labor Party can haul itself out of the quagmire of policy stagnation, internal bickering, and union-funded prostitutes that it currently finds itself in.

I share them with you now, in the hope that somebody — hopefully Graham Richardson or Paul Howes — will read it and see sense, and then give me a high-paying consultant’s job.

First of all, we need to re-energise the base. And who is the Labor Party base? Mostly they are stupid people — why else would they still like the Labor Party? What this means is that Labor leaders need to do more to reach out to stupid people, and get them excited about politics. This can be done in myriad ways — handing out balloons, jangling keys, doing guest spots on Packed to the Rafters — but the important thing is to connect. The fact is, since Tony Abbott became Liberal leader, idiots have been going over to the Opposition in droves, and Labor must try to recapture the spirit that once made it the party of choice for morons everywhere.

Secondly, focus on the future. Young voters must be Labor’s lifeblood, and currently they’re just not listening to the Labor message. They prefer the easy answers and hemp-scented idealism of the Greens. Labor needs to redress this. And how do you reach young people? Well, easy. All current research indicates that young people are very into mind-altering intoxicants and promiscuity — the party simply needs to tap into these proclivities. This doesn’t necessarily mean Labor members should be trying to get young people as drunk as possible at voting booths, though that obviously will form a large part of the strategy.

It’s also about marketing — a slick advertising campaign making it clear that Labor is the party for getting smashed, dropping acid, and ferocious, animalistic couplings, the youth will flock to the party like moths to a flame. "Vote Labor — the party that makes poor decisions in social situations" should be the message. Let the kids know that if they want to be politically engaged and still put themselves at high risk of brain damage, street violence and venereal disease, there IS a party that caters for them, and it ain’t those button-down squares at the Greens!

Thirdly, give the people something to believe in. People need to be inspired. They need to feel their leaders are leading them somewhere exciting. We can look for an example to the film The American President, where Marty McFly tells the president his people are eating sand, and he immediately bombs Libya. That’s the kind of inspiration we are looking for, as ordinary boring citizens. The ALP must urgently alter its platform to include a solid commitment to bomb at least one country every three months. It should probably also specify that this country should not be Australia. Remember the old proverb, "A bombing country is a happy country", or the even older proverb, "A man firing missiles at Tongans is a man not huffing paint in a public toilet". The ancients truly possessed deep wisdom. What’s more, a country at war is united; there’s nothing better than the threat of a retaliatory invasion for really binding folk together behind their government.

Lastly, concentrate more on policy. Stop obsessing over focus groups and the media cycle and the prime minister’s rusty, moss-covered womb, and start looking at the things that matter: hard-working middle Australian families who believe in the dignity of work and are not rich just because they have a lot of money. Let’s focus on policies that help these proud Australians achieve their dreams of setting the clock early and going to work until they die. Labor should strive, at all times and in all things, to move the country forward and make people’s lives better. But only in a mainstream way: don’t fiddle around the fringes with gay marriage or human rights or any of that queer stuff that mainstream people don’t worry about when they’re hard at work waking up and getting on trains. We have to stick to what matters, which is basically interest rates and refugees — they should both be lower. Everything else is just details that can be dealt with later.

By following this blueprint, I believe the Labor Party can not only survive, but thrive in this new century, remaining the vibrant and noble force that led so many of us into its warm, welcoming bosom, believing it to be a genuine alternative to the stultifying conformity of the Natural Law Party. I believe Labor CAN be great again. It can turn the polls around, it can reverse the decline in membership, and it can peel off Tony Abbott’s artificial skin to reveal the devious orc-prince beneath.

The ball is in your court, Labor. Try not to break any more windows with it.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.