True believers can only despair
THE celebrated psychoanalyst Carl Jung once said: “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.”
In many respects, former federal Labor leader Mark Latham is the self-appointed psychoanalyst of the Labor Party and he most certainly understands the darkness within the ALP.
A devoted student of the Labor Party and a talented writer, Latham reserves his harshest criticisms for those he describes as the “machine” men and women, who can be broadly defined as career politicians with little or no experience outside politics.
These so-called “machine” men and women typically start their working lives as staff for state or federal MPs, with perhaps a short stint as a union organiser to ensure factional backing, before pre-selection as a candidate and eventually election to parliament or at least a senior role within the union movement.
During an ABC radio interview in 2003, Latham said: “The new divide is between the true believers, those who want modern Labor to stand up and fight for our policy beliefs, fight for our convictions, get them out there and fight for them at every opportunity and within the party. Within the party, the divide is against the machine men with their over-reliance on polls, spin doctors and the daily media cycle and a command and control style of politics.”
A hallmark of the modus operandi of the machine operative is to target opponents at a personal level and to the point where the long-term interests of the state or the nation seem an almost non-existent consideration.
Its most brutal practitioners are almost entirely interested in the attainment and exercise of power to reward supporters and punish opponents.
Many within the Labor movement have watched with dismay as the party established to represent the interests of the working class has been hijacked by the machine operatives.
The past few months in particular have marked a disturbing tipping point in the internal culture of the Australian Labor Party and the union movement.
The campaign of vilification against Kevin Rudd is easily the most brutal public character assassination of a serving cabinet minister by his colleagues in living political memory.
The attacks were focused on Rudd’s personality, management style and values, all designed to undermine his popularity with the Australian public. Hence senior members of the federal caucus viciously attacked the character and personality not only of a colleague but also a former Labor leader and prime minister.
The campaign against Rudd must have been orchestrated or at very least approved by Julia Gillard. It is inconceivable that such a campaign could take place otherwise, and tellingly the Prime Minister did not rebuke her ministers for the concentrated verbal assault on Rudd.
What was extraordinary about the recent Labor leadership battle was the absence of arguments about policy. There were no major rifts over the management of the budget, for example.
It is apparent that the decision that most undermined Rudd’s authority with the public was his decision to delay introduction of an emissions trading scheme.
Yet his decision was only taken after vigorous lobbying by then deputy prime minister Gillard.
When the public fallout occurred she was nowhere to be found and Rudd found himself isolated.
Gillard is busily rewriting history with her claim that Rudd was removed as prime minister in 2010 over policy differences. The truth is that the machine operatives were spooked.
First, Rudd’s popularity was in free fall and there was a view that he was on track to lose the election. Second, there was a fear among the factional warlords that Rudd would support reforms to the party structure that would greatly reduce their control over the factions.
Some observers believe it is the second factor that most contributed to Rudd’s downfall.
While many were shocked at the ruthless way in which Rudd was removed, the more recent attacks on his character reveal a darkness at the heart of the party.
The parallels between the Rudd character assassination and the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh’s concentrated smear campaign against LNP leader Campbell Newman, his wife and her family, are apparent.
Bligh’s attacks on the financial links between Lisa Newman and her father’s business interests represent a new low in Australian politics.
Campbell Newman’s father-in-law, Frank Monsour, is a highly respected oral and maxillo-facial surgeon and a director of that surgical unit at Royal Brisbane Hospital.
While his work in itself does not absolve the entire family of any wrongdoing, the fact that Bligh and Labor did not hesitate to pursue a respected member of the community so ruthlessly calls into question their moral compass.
Similarly, in recent weeks the Gillard government has sought to personally attack and denigrate Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest.
The crime of all of three high-profile individuals is that they have been prepared to stand up to the federal government.
This was a surprising tactic, as Forrest in particular was once something of a darling of the progressive Left, with his Generation One indigenous employment initiative.
Gillard Labor did not bother to enter into a debate about the rights of individuals to take issue with government policy. Instead, senior members of the federal government launched a personal attack designed to demonise three highly successful Australians.
While our billionaires are more than capable of looking after themselves, a pattern is emerging where Labor’s default response to any challenge is to personally denigrate anyone perceived to be an opponent.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has been forewarned, and is presumably forearmed, for the inevitable relentless Labor assault on his character, which will no doubt gather momentum as the federal election draws near.
That may be all well and good if one assumes that the end justifies the means.
But there is a very real danger that the Australian public is becoming tired and cynical about such tactics and is no longer listening to anything incumbent governments have to say.
Currently this seems to be strongly the case in Queensland, and perhaps even more so with regard to our federal government.
The latter, in particular, could be a much bigger threat to our democracy than anything Rinehart, Palmer or Forrest might do with all their billions.
Ross Fitzgerald’s latest book is the co-authored satire Fools’ Paradise, set in a fictitious Mangoland during a state election.
The Weekend Australian March 24-25, 2012