Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges


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Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia

But unlike many of those who make careers in the offices of Labor politicians, Bramston also has a deep knowledge of party history. In this sense, he is a commentator in the best traditions of the NSW Labor Party, which has long seemed to take its history and traditions more seriously than state branches have elsewhere.

Looking for the Light on the Hill is crammed with references to the party and leaders of yesteryear; in comparison, the modern party is often found to be wanting. On the whole, a party that allowed itself to be guided by the renovated objective that Bramston outlines in his book would do Australia much good.

Lessons for Labor - Saturday Extra - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

And when he begins to explain how these broad goals might translate into specific policies, his commitment to a just and humane politics could not be clearer. All the same, there is too little sense here of the historical contingency of most definitions of what the Labor Party stands for. It has only been in recent years that we have needed to ask the question.

A generation ago, and right back to our founding at the end of the nineteenth century, we knew the meaning and purpose of Labor.

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Labor is a social-democratic party. Western Australian Labor also used it briefly, but it might not have been widely applied to the Labor Party again until it was picked up by Australian admirers of Tony Blair and the Third Way in the late s. In the first place, socialism is a discredited ideal, and the socialisation objective no longer reflects the actual goals of party members. It is therefore a barrier to the kind of rethinking of its mission in which the party needs to engage.

As Bramston shows, Labor has quite a lot of problems at the moment; is it wise to alert the ignorant to something most see as an irrelevance? The Conservatives had been in office for fifteen years, the Labour Party had moved well to the left, especially under Michael Foot, and there were concerns about radical groups within the party, such as the Militant Tendency, which had recently been active in the anti—poll tax campaign.

But the attempt to repeat it in Australia in might well be a farce. Bramston also believes that the objective should be dropped because Labor is not and has never been a socialist party. Bramston is right to point out that there has always been much confusion about the meaning of socialism. Whatever else they have disagreed about, socialists have usually believed in a more equal society.

Reduced to minority government after just one term and tanking in the opinion polls, it requires a new vision.


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Written by party insider and Rudd government advisor Troy Bramston, this account examines the ALP from the inside and outlines a series of reforms to increase party membership and boost engagement with the community and party activists. Get A Copy.

Troy Bramston

Paperback , pages. More Details Other Editions 2. Friend Reviews. To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up. To ask other readers questions about Looking for the Light on the Hill , please sign up. Be the first to ask a question about Looking for the Light on the Hill. Lists with This Book. This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Community Reviews. Showing Rating details. But would he be surprised that Australia had had a woman prime minister?

He might be too tactful to recall that following that hung parliament, Labor won an election - and with a thumping majority - rather than lost one. He would be familiar with the problem of a low primary vote. Labor polled In the election, the one before Curtin gained the leadership, the ALP polled He would remind his modern friends how he rebuilt the vote. The ALP primary vote in the next three elections was They would tell him about Clive Palmer, and the power he will have in the Senate. In his day, caucus was more powerful and independent than under Rudd or Gillard; it is hard to see the s caucus tolerating such a change of Labor tradition and culture.

Steering his marquee issue, the introduction of partial conscription, through the party was a major enterprise, compared with, say, the cakewalk Julia Gillard had when she sought to get a tick from the national conference for selling uranium to India. He might marvel that trade unions still retain great power in Labor, and wonder how this could be so, given the plummet in the proportion of Australians who are union members. Perhaps Curtin would raise an eyebrow at how many MPs who get into parliament through their union affiliation have never been blue collar workers, but are university educated men and women who have often served as political staffers.

Similarly, he could tell plenty of tales of trouble makers and backstabbing, but he would wonder at the Rudd-Gillard story of disloyalty and mutual destruction.

Looking out at the other parties, Curtin would easily recognise the Liberal party and the Nationals, despite name changes. And who are these people on your left now? These Greens? Curtin, with his plain style, would be uncomfortable with the celebrity aspects of the modern prime ministership.

Nor Curtin, who was fond of his roast lamb, whipping up a dish for her. When he was PM he gave twice daily briefings to journalists in his office: much of the war information he passed on was highly confidential, to be relayed on to the proprietors rather than published. But he might be uncomfortable with media dogging his every step, and startled by both the need and the capacity for a prime minister to be constantly in touch. Banks had seen at the Niagara Cafe in Gundagai a plaque in honour of a visit there by Curtin.

It was dated Wartime Gundagai would have been a media free zone. Curtin would have been amazed, incidentally, at the sleek VIP planes on which modern PMs travel, but not necessarily envious — he hated flying. Climate change as a great moral challenge of our time would be an eye-opener.


  • Description.
  • Looking for the Light on the Hill.
  • Magazine of the Socialist Party in Australia.
  • Gone Away: Into the Land!

But he might say, when the Labor figures talked about this as the greatest crisis since the Great Depression: well yes, but the Depression was just so much worse for the ordinary people who were our constituency. And we need to be much more upfront about this than we have been. Curtin would find much of the modern Labor party unrecognisable. But, being a pragmatist as well as an idealist, he would no doubt rethink many of his old positions in light of modern circumstances. And he would turn his mind to giving sound advice on coping with the exigencies of opposition.

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Curtin, who became leader by one vote in and led Labor out of the wilderness and into minority government in and election victory in , was a party unifier and builder. He was a plain man who could crystallise his messages in those days, that was via compelling oratory rather than the short grab. And he connected with the public. Now, in another century and other circumstances, Labor and its leaders have a rebuilding job; challenging, but much easier than that faced by Curtin.

Leaving the days of Curtin, it is worth comparing the situation of contemporary Labor with the two most recent experiences of defeat, which also requires comparison of the three preceding periods of government. Labor had had only a brief period in office after 23 years in opposition. So the failures of that government made a deep impression on the voters.

The ALP had in particular to convince the public that it had learned about the economy. The public would not revisit Whitlam — was another landslide — but by there was a swing to Labor and a victory at the following election. The Keating loss was more a case of Labor, in office since , having worn out its welcome and Keating himself having lost focus and community support. It was reluctant initially to claim the reforms, perhaps because it failed to see they could be distinguished from the later personal unpopularity of Keating. While these Labor governments were very unpopular at the time of their defeats, their legacies have been substantial, and increasingly recognised as the years have gone by.

The reform record of the Hawke-Keating years in opening up the Australian economy now wins praise across the political divide. Labor in each of those periods did more of lasting substance than it achieved in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd time. Leaving aside the important and symbolic apology to indigenous people, the biggest single achievement of Labor in this last period was getting Australia through the global financial crisis without it falling into recession.

Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges
Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges
Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges
Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges
Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges Looking for the Light on the Hill: modern Labors challenges

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