Tomorrow we will see one of the most exciting sights of any democracy: a Labor leadership ballot.
Many countries around the world will be watching on in envy at this display of Australia’s robust system of governance. Some people might have thought that the thrill would have worn off the Labor leadership process since 2010, when Labor changed its constitution to require a leadership challenge every three weeks, but amazingly, the experience of living through an ALP top-job tussle remains as exhilarating and awe-inspiring as ever.
Every time this venerable political institution selects another chieftain, one feels that one is living through history, and you only need to consider the legendary names who have served in the job in the past to see what an crucial stanza in our national poem this ballot is. Every leadership hopeful carries within his or her heart a dream of being the next Simon Crean or Frank Tudor.
The question of whether boyish union superstar and factional sorcerer Bill Shorten, or thinking woman’s sex symbol and parliamentary headbutt-distributor Anthony Albanese, will head up the ALP in its transition from government to confused rabble in desperate need of another leadership ballot, is indeed an important one, but it’s not the only one that must be considered.
There are also the broader issues of where the Labor Party fits into a modern, tech-savvy, post-feminist Australia. Essentially, Labor must decide what direction it should take if it wants to return to being what Liberal Party frontbenchers, when they were just about to call Julia Gillard a skank, would always call “this once-great party”.
Firstly, Labor needs to address the elephant in the room: Kevin Rudd; and I don’t just call him an elephant because, as news.com.au reported during the election, he has recently become an enormous disgusting greedy pie-gorging pig. The question is, what is to be done with Rudd, or to put extremely originally, we need to talk about Kevin.
There are a few options as to what Labor could do to neutralise Rudd as a destabilising force.
Firstly, they could have him killed, an option with a lot of attractive elements and no obvious drawbacks. Secondly, they could keep him alive, but severely maim him so that his capacity to leak and background is severely restricted due to journalists being unwilling to gaze upon his ravaged visage. Alternatively, they could bribe Rudd to keep his mouth shut, by giving him a much-coveted job as Sports Minister or Parliamentary Secretary for Superannuation. In the end, though, the simplest solution is probably to keep him busy, distracting him by giving him a book of Sudoku, or a Rubik’s Cube to solve. “A busy Rudd is a safe Rudd”, as the old saying goes.
Once that’s taken care of, the party can turn its attention to the biggest part of any party’s business: union influence.
Many commentators have had their say on union influence in the Labor Party, and why there should be less – the Australian people just don’t see the relevance of unions anymore, we’ve moved on, industrial activism is passé, the Labor brand is being poisoned by its association with helping poor people: it makes them seem pro-laziness. Also, the modern union spends an unusual amount of time visiting brothels and fighting same-sex marriage.
However, despite all this, Labor needs more union influence, not less. Look at Kevin Rudd: he’s a non-union man, and he is now widely acknowledged as Australia’s first serial killer prime minister. Look at the election campaign: chaotic, confusing, unfocused, and poorly-dressed. If the Labor Party needs anything right now, it needs discipline, and nobody is better at maintaining strict discipline than a union boss. The ALP needs crafty, ruthless men to pull it into line, keep it on-message, and make sure nobody steps off the reservation. Put the party completely under union control, and see how all MPs begin pulling in the right direction, knowing the horrible fate that awaits them if they don’t (see above re: Rudd and Sudoku). Putting Paul Howes in the Senate will be a good start, if only because it reduces the number of hours available for him to interact with members of the public.
But what about policy?
Modern political scientists argue furiously about whether parties should have policies or not, and the jury is still out on this vexed question. In the recent electoral unpleasantness, howls of protest were frequently raised from the Left about the Liberal Party’s total lack of policies, rivalled only by the howls of protest from the Left about how terrible the Liberal Party’s policies were. The question for Labor is, now they’ve been defeated, do they follow the Liberal Party approach of having no policies, or do they follow the Liberal Party approach of having terrible policies? Both approaches are clearly popular with the public, but which will be more effective at nullifying Tony Abbott’s earthy charisma?
In my view, the Labor Party should have policies, because everyone needs a hobby. But in some ways, the decision as to what your policies should be is almost as important as the decision to have some. What sort of policies does the new Labor Party have to pursue to win back public trust?
Well obviously they should promote social justice. For example, the Coalition won many hearts with their generous paid parental leave scheme, which will ensure that mothers everywhere will be well-provided for as long as they already were. Labor needs to return to its rightful place as the progressive party by one-upping the Libs on this: formulate a new paid parental leave scheme whereby, instead of mothers getting paid at their own salary for six months, every new mother gets an entire year’s wages at the pay rate of the job they’d rather be doing. This is fair, and it’s aspirational: perfect for a modern centre-left party.
But of course not everybody has children, and the ALP needs to consider what to do about them. Here the electorate’s feelings are clear: families are important. Therefore, those who don’t have children should be herded into some sort of holding area as a quarantine measure. Pro-family: that is the Labor Party’s core attitude.
And what about the economy? If Abbott’s victory has made one thing very clear, it is that people do not like taxes, and they do like receiving money. Labor therefore needs to immediately announce a plan to abolish taxes, and give more money to everyone. “Labor: We Will Give You Lots Of Money” has to be the new slogan. It’s time the ALP realised that fiscal policy in the 21st century must be responsive to the needs of the average voter, and the average voter really needs money. Who is Labor to deny it to them? What’s more, giving people money will hugely stimulate the economy, which will in turn boost the tax revenue which the government is no longer collecting.
Asylum seekers are also a vital issue: many people attribute the Coalition’s success to its tough stand on boat people. Labor must not allow itself to be outflanked on this issue anymore.
Abbott claims he will stop the boats: Labor must go one step further and actually criminalise boats. Under a Labor government, boats will be punishable by lengthy jail terms. Also the ALP must promise to excise the southern hemisphere from Australia’s migration zone, and establish a new class of visa: the Temporary Beating Visa, or TBV, under which those who are found to be genuine refugees will be given temporary residency, but will have to submit to daily beatings for the duration of their stay.
With these policies, Labor should have a real shot at returning to a competitive position by sometime in the mid-2020s. But of course it will all be for naught if they don’t sell the policies right, and tomorrow they have the chance to choose their salesman. Whoever they choose will need to be tough, hard, uncompromising, and physically attractive, but with a certain gentle sensitivity underlying their powerful masculinity.
Let’s hope they make the right choice, because there’s no doubt that a strong democracy needs a viable opposition to keep the government accountable and blah blah blah all that stuff everyone always says. So let me just send a message to the new Labor leader: the people have spoken, and they have chosen Tony Abbott. So try to be as much like Tony Abbott as you can, and you’ll be fine.
I have a good feeling about this.
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