Views expressed at the NSW ALP Annual Conference on Labor's relationship with the Greens
Sydney Town Hall, 14 July 2012
A week before the NSW ALP Annual Conference we – the Labor Party – orchestrated a public debate on preferencing the Greens.
We chased headlines.
We got them!
We’ve been immersed in an argument about the distribution of preferences while ignoring the reality: you have to win primary votes to have preferences to give.
And in case you haven’t noticed our primary vote is low and getting lower.
Our Party is facing a crisis of organisation and a crisis of belief.
Instead of grappling with these threats to our survival as a party of Government – the only Party of organised labour in Australia to have ever been able to put our policies into practice and fulfil our great aim of ‘making and unmaking social conditions’ – we are posturing about the minutiae of political tactics.
With too many voters forming the opinion that our Party believes in nothing but the pursuit of power, they are hardly likely to be reassured that we are a Party of conviction and ideas by a public debate on just which backroom deal is most likely to deliver office!
We cannot change views and votes by talking about tactics, and fixes, and preference deals.
We cannot build a consensus behind our vision for reform by discussing slick electoral manoeuvres while remaining silent on our core values and beliefs.
It’s time to get real. The Greens are winning votes from us. They are winning seats from us – upper and lower house, state and federal.
They have gained the loyalty of the best part of a generation of activists, and they will gain the loyalty of the best part of a generation of voters as well, if we don’t stop talking about means and start talking about ends.
We must give people a reason to vote for us.
And there are reasons to vote Labor – the values we have always stood for.
The Liberals argue we are too much like the Greens. The Greens assert we’re too much like the Liberals. But, we are neither.
We are the only political party that believes in a community defined by who it includes, not who it excludes – the only political party that doesn’t judge Australians by their income, or education, or type of employment or where they live.
Labor is the only political party that understands that people's lives are affected by circumstances beyond their control, and that the concerns of those in difficult circumstances deserve to be addressed.
Ours is the only political party to stand for the equal value of all, and the equal rights of all to live with dignity, and without want or fear of want. We know no government should sacrifice the security and well-being of some Australians in the service of policy purity. We are the only political party to know that policies should be made to fit people, not people made to fit policies.
Labor is the only political party to understand that economic rights are human rights: to understand that commitment to political freedoms is inadequate without that economic security that underpins all participation in our democracy as free and equal citizens.
Of course, none of this should be a revelation. But the sad truth is that for many would-be and once-were Labor voters and supporters, it would be!
When we choose to spend a week talking about our preferences, is it any wonder that more and more Australians are deciding that their preference isn’t us?
Sometimes it’s what you don’t talk about that makes the most noise, and our silence this week on belief and policy has been deafening.
Tactics without strategy, policy without belief, victory without purpose, are the things we have always condemned in our political opponents.
Our values, our beliefs, our principles and what we offer Australia are ignored when we are tub-thumping about preference deals.
Those arguments, are arguments over what voters can do for us, not, as it should be, about what we, the Labor Party will do for them.