1. For the past decade, beginning in the late-2000s, the major Australian parties seem to be racked by internal feuds and, in the case of labor, successive coups by rival leaders. What explains this seemingly strange phenomenon? What are the factors that have contributed to what seems like personality politics overtaking ideological coherence and party discipline?
If you look at Australia’s 116-year old federal parliament there are many examples of similar past leadership changes. However modern media and communications has provided unprecedented access and real-time coverage for such leadership challenges which have often been conveyed only in terms of personalities. This has obviously lifted the level of accountability on political parties and in 2013 Labor introduced significant reforms to its leadership election process to ensure future stability and this has paid dividends for Labor with an unprecedented unity and stability since 2013. The Liberal-National government continues to suffer from internal leadership dissent.
2. Australian politics have been unusually volatile even by Western standards. This seems ironic, given how the country has done much better than most of its peers vis-à-vis the Global Financial Crisis. What is going on here? Are we witnessing the “Americanization” of Australian politics? Is there deep-seated ideological polarization in the country?
The Labor Government of 2007-2013 provided Australia with strong economic leadership which protected hundreds of thousands of Australian jobs and saved the Australian economy from the fate that befell many of its trading partners in the region and across the globe. However many working Australians still feel the same disenchantment that has caused the surge of populism for anti-establishment candidates in other advanced democracies around the world. However, one of the effects of compulsory voting has been that Australian politics is less susceptible to the sort of extremist rhetoric that has recently been seen in the US and Europe. Australian Labor has always been the party of fairness and egalitarianism. We continue to develop policies that respond to the desire for more fairness and accountability amongst voters. At the recent election our focus was on fair access to healthcare, education, job opportunities and tax reform – policy initiatives that would mitigate the effects of globalization and inequality which are hurt working people around the world.
3. A bout of right-wing populism and anti-immigrant sentiment has bedeviled both America and Western Europe in recent years. What about Australia, given its stringent measures against illegal migration? What about the response to the recent terror-related events, with ISIS-affiliate individuals engaging in violence against civilians? Should we be worried about the rise of Le Pen-like, if not Trump-like, figures in the country? Or Australian politics is expected to remain ‘boring’ and ‘stale’ in relative terms?
Australian Labor is proud of our multicultural society and the anti-discrimination and anti-hate protections federal and state Labor governments have put into law. We will fight to keep those protections in place despite support for their reform within the current government and amongst some right-wing fringe groups. Despite the success of Australian multi-culturalism, Australia is not completely immune to anti-immigrant sentiment, but it is important to note these views do not have widespread support in the Australian community. Labor strongly opposes the types of anti-immigrant sentiment espoused by Trump-like leaders around the world.
4. What is the state of the Progressive-Left movements and parties in the country, both at the state and federal level? How do they compare with their peers in the Asia-Pacific region and the West? With the decline in the minerals-export industry, which may heavily affect medium-skilled workers, do we expect an increase or decrease in support for Leftist groups?
Progressive parties in Australia (as well as the rest of the world) must continue to work hard for popular support. We can never take voter support for granted. The Australian Labor Party has a detailed, ongoing process for policy reform and internal party debate about the many economic and social challenges facing Australian workers and their families. The modern decline in manufacturing, the growth in automation and the digital economy and economic challenges around global warming and economic globalisation are regular subjects of debates at ALP national, state, territory conferences and we hope our party’s detailed policies continue to address these concerns and shape Labor government policies.
5. What is the short-to-medium term impact of the latest federal elections in Australia? It seems at least the fears of a hung parliament were overblown, but do you expect more legislative gridlock? Or more sweeping powers for the current conservative government? Amid increased cost of living and housing cost in Australia, how could the Liberal party push with its pro-business agenda? DO you expect backlash or a lurch to the left by the government?
At the most recent election, the ALP campaigned on decent healthcare, quality education, decent job opportunities and a fairer tax system. Campaigning on these issues, we achieved a substantial swing towards us and came close to winning government. We now have a mandate to hold the government to account in these policy areas in the current parliament.